KATIE'S BLOG: Back to School…. Post Lockdown

I don’t know about you, but usually at this time of year, I’m just back from my summer holiday and rushing around the shops with my brood miserably traipsing behind me, looking for the last remaining pair of size 10 black trainers (yes mum we are allowed those as school shoes!), regulatory grey v neck polyester sweater and a geometry set that will never actually see the day of light.

So how different does this year feel?

Well for me there are two massive factors at play for September 2020.

Firstly, for the first time in 20 years I’m never going to have a school run or station drop off/pick up again (well that is until I become grandma extraordinaire in the next decade hopefully).

With a 23-year-old working full time, a 21-year-old at drama school, an 18-year-old about to start uni and a 16-year-old who will be making his own way to sixth form college, my days of chief chauffeur are well and truly over (I’m trying not to cry!).

But secondly, and more importantly, there is a post-Covid lockdown anxiety that has deep rooted itself in the pit of my stomach and the thought of waving my brood off to their various destinations next week fills me with irrational fear.

Lockdown for me, dare I say it, was actually a much-needed mental break. Yes we were very worried about jobs and the health of our family and friends, but on the whole, I mostly enjoyed it.  Not having to pick up and drop off kids at stupid o’clock, not worrying where any of them were or when I would see them next, not nagging them to do their homework or revise for exams (GCSEs and Alevels were cancelled so my younger two were work free), having meal times and watching a lot of Netflix together.

I’m not saying it was full of the joys of spring every day. There were lots of stressful conversations about jobs, about who was cooking for 7 (daughter’s boyfriend had moved in!) – mainly me, who was clearing up for 7 – mainly me, who was doing the laundry for 7 – mainly me….. you get the picture.

But they, and I, felt safe.  Safe from harm by an invisible virus, safe from the dangers of walking the streets at night, safe from the mental health issues that had plagued some of them this year for all sorts of reasons.

So actually the slow ‘unlocking’ of lockdown, has been in step with the slow ‘unlocking’ of my anxiety.  “Take a mask, take a hand sanitizer, take your temperature, who did you see, where have they been, how do you feel, what if, what if, what if……”

I’m normally a very calm and rational mum and not much phases me, but this is out of my control and totally out of my comfort zone.

Will uni and college even open? If they do how long before it shuts again? How will that affect their mental and physical health and long-term goals? Will my daughter keep her job? Will theatres ever open again for my son to strut the boards? All these questions keep running around my head late into the night.

But I’m not alone. You only have to read the papers this week to see that it’s a really big worry. Many mental health charities have also declared their helplines were used far less during lockdown and now they are starting to see a spike in calls again.

So I guess there’s nothing for it, we all have to dip our toes back in the water, and hope and pray the schools, colleges and universities will follow the Covid safety measures as much as they can. We will just have to settle into this new normal, full of uncertainty, until a vaccine is finally available and we can go back to living within the safe parameters we are used to.

You may also find it helpful to see our Q & A Covid Back To School Anxiety video with Dr Philippa Kaye.

In the meantime, if anyone is worried about their own or their families mental health, especially as they start to go back to school next week, our expert psychotherapist Caron Barruw* shares five practical ways to help yourself and others below:

Five practical ways to help you and your children manage the anxiety of back to school

  1. Never say it will be fine / don’t worry about it or you will be ok - Start by validating how it feels – for example ‘I know you are worried/sad/anxious should we talk about it.’
  2. Do not rush through the first few mornings - Allow extra time to get ready. Go over the morning routine. Get everything ready the night before.
  3. Plan a calming breakfast with calm music, favourite meals and calm voices - This will set the tone of the day.
  4. Discuss the anxiety, worries and the solutions ahead of the first day - Keep the conversation open, it will be an ongoing discussion.
  5. Visualise the beginning of the day, from wake up to arrival - Go through all of the concerns and think through solutions.Mental preparation can help decrease the intensity of the anxiety.

Remember, it’s normal to feel anxious and the most important thing is to allow the anxiety to be expressed. That said, the success of these tips may vary depending on any existing anxiety. Anyone suffering from generalised anxiety disorder may find it particularly difficult and may need to speak to a therapist to help deal with it.

If you need further help, please visit our helplines page where there are many agencies that can support you in this next step of the pandemic.

*Caron Barruw MSRD,LCSW is a qualified psychotherapist and USA/UK Bacp member. You can find her on her website www.caronbarruw.orgor by calling  07932463384
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