How to cope when ‘back to school’ stress strikes…
It’s back to school time. Shiny new pencil case, shiny new shoes, shiny new class timetable but suddenly your middle name is “multi-tasking”. For many parents, the return to school signals the return to a rigorous schedule – with soaring stress and blood pressure levels to go with it.
It comes as no surprise that the metaphor we use when we feel that we’re overwhelmed by too many simultaneous tasks or responsibilities is “juggling”. Professional jugglers take years to juggle 5, 10 or even 12 balls.
So when the lunch boxes need to be packed, homework needs completing, the children need feeding – and that’s before you’ve started on your own professional and social “to do” list - what can we learn from those well-versed in the art of juggling?
1. The one in the air rule: When you’re juggling three balls, for much of the time only one will be in the air, whilst the other two are resting safely in your hands. Which means really, you only need focus fully on that one priority ball in the air – and delegate two lesser balls to other people. Until the time comes when you may need to switch. By channelling your focus in this way and letting others take some of the strain, you’ll immediately soothe the noise in your head.
2. The top of the arc rule: Jugglers toss ball A when ball B is at the top of its arc in order to give themselves the maximum possible time until their next catch. You can do the same with your tasks. Work out how long multiple things on your list will take to do, half this time period – then add it to your original guess to get a new total. This way, you’ve built in extra time for things going wrong – and may even get ahead of schedule.
3. The repetition rule: As every juggler will tell you, practice makes perfect. So when something goes right – you delegated, you gave yourself time and it all worked out beautifully – take note. Try and work out exactly why it worked in this particular instance – then repeat it.
4. The radical rule: Brace yourself: Because this rule involves simply dropping all the balls. Go on – try it. Just for 5 or 10 minutes. When we’re super stressed, we tend to convince ourselves that we have no time to drink water, go to the bathroom or even breathe in and out. Basic needs that the body requires to function and perform under stress. Ideally, take a walk around the block or reboot your mind with a five-minute breather on a park bench. Your brain will reward you for the break by helping you pick up those balls and start juggling more efficiently again.
5. The long shot: In the long-run, the aim is to stop juggling, identify one main ball that’s the priority at any given time – and simply keep this one airborne until the next, more pressing ball comes along to take its place. After years of being told multi-tasking will get us ahead, experts now say that’s it’s curtailing our productivity, zapping our energy and ultimately, making us less happy so focus on one thing at a time for best results.