Overwhelmed by what life looks like this fall? Expert advice for navigating a very different September

From how to ask someone to wear a mask to how to tell if your kid is coping, these tips may help.

From how to ask someone to wear a mask to how to tell if your kid is coping, these tips may help

(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

With worries about students going to school (or not), challenges with working from home or working safely during a pandemic, and fears around getting sick, the end of summer is a reminder there is a stretch of time ahead that promises uncertainty, certainly.  

It's easy to become overwhelmed, anxious and burned out dealing with our new normal. There are so many more issues to grapple with, from mask etiquette to adapting to very different school, work or home scenarios — and simply trying to avoid the sniffles this year. Here, experts weigh in with their suggestions for navigating some pressing concerns we may have around managing responsibilities and moods, and keeping well. And for help with tackling a to-do list made even trickier in this time, check out this roundup of articles with practical advice for the tasks at hand. 

I hate the idea of asking an acquaintance or colleague to wear a mask so much that it makes me nervous about being around people. Are there tips to make it less awkward?

"At the end of the day, it's on each and every one of us to practise these good public health measures to reduce virus spread in our city as we move forward," says Dr. Vinita Dubey, associate medical officer of health at Toronto Public Health. Dubey suggests framing the ask like so: "I wear a mask to protect you. Please wear a mask to protect me." And you can "politely take a few steps back and remind the person that we are seeing a resurgence of COVID-19 in our community and we want to do what we can to reduce the spread." She says there's also the option of "ending the face-to-face meeting and continuing the conversation virtually, which will be safest." However, Dubey reminds us some people may be exempt because of cognitive, mental health or medical conditions — which could include being hearing impaired — or because they are unable to put on or remove a mask without help. 

This September, I'm feeling overwhelmed with work, back to school and taking care of family. Are there things I can do to feel balanced or at least slightly more in control in my life?

Clare Kumar, a productivity coach and professional organizer, says if we want to strive for satisfaction and excellence in life, we have to articulate what success looks like. "You have to know what you are aiming for," she says. Kumar advises us to "[separate] the planning from the execution [and have] a task list you can work from." She generally recommends a focused list of five tasks for the day, as well as lists and structured schedules to help achieve the tasks. "[Be] clear with what your intentions for particular chunks of time are," she says. "If you haven't planned your time, you can just spin."

I've never been more concerned about getting a cold or flu than right now. Are there things I can do that will help me stay well?

"Thankfully, a lot of things that will keep you safe from COVID-19 will keep you safe from colds and flus ... in general, all the things we are doing already — wearing a mask in public and indoor spaces, staying away from large gatherings and spending more time outside," says Dr. Melissa Lem, a family doctor and clinical assistant professor at the University of British Columbia's faculty of medicine. Lem recommends we get our flu shots this year, and also suggests tried-and-true lifestyle practices for cold and flu season, including getting enough sleep and exercise, eating well, keeping stress at bay and bundling up as temperatures dip. "There is some research that shows our nasal immunity against viruses is impaired in cooler temperatures ... Dress for the season," Lem says, adding, "Dryer noses tend to fight off viruses less easily. Hydrate yourself inside and out." 

I feel worried about my child's anxiety levels now that they are going back to school. Are there any signs to look out for in my child to gauge their feelings?

Psychologist Jennifer Boyce suggests parents will notice if their child is anxious simply by being attentive and that the key is to address the issue directly. "You know your child and when something is a little off," Boyce says. "Pay attention to your child and if they are not acting the way that they typically do.... Don't just let it go." She suggests saying, "Hey, I've noticed you've been a little more snippy. Let's talk about it," to get into a real discussion. "Yes, they're snippy," she says. "But the question is — why?" 

I am really nervous about my kid going back to school, and I'm struggling to keep perspective. Are there ways I can keep my fear in check?

Boyce says the breath can play a big part in keeping feelings in check. "Yes, I am a psychologist, but I am also a certified yoga therapist," she says. "One of the tools I readily go to is conscious breathing. It allows the breath to be long, slow and deep.... [It's] very simple, portable and potent." She also suggests you "create some routine and regularity in your life ... and don't forget fun. Maybe that fun is ice cream night — or ice cream night with a friend on Zoom.... There has to be a time to relax, kick back and do something silly."  

I'm feeling burned out working from home. Do you have any suggestions for how to stay focused and motivated?

"We are all actively tolerating uncertainty," says workplace psychologist Jennifer Newman, who sees anxiety resulting from trying to control things we simply can't. "We constantly have to divide things into two buckets. One bucket is what I can control and the other bucket is what I cannot control." While focusing on what we can control, Newman also encourages further exploration: thinking about what's actually going wrong and determining whether the problem is layered. "So that's the first step," she says. "Define what the problem is. See if there are various problems, and figure out what you want to work on first. But give yourself the space and time to think about it."

I've chosen to homeschool my children, but I am nervous about doing this well. How can I make sure I am doing my best both as a parent and educator?

"Every single person on the planet on some level is doing their best. And that's all you can ask [of] yourself," Newman says. Her advice is to give yourself a break by acknowledging that you're doing your best given the situation and that we are all in the same boat. "No one is doing better than anyone else," she says. "Do what you can where you are with what you have." She goes on to say this type of thinking will ultimately help in many situations. "It's about learning to tolerate the uncertainty," she says.

Vanessa Magic is a freelance writer, storyteller and award-winning costume designer. Currently, she is in development with CBC to make an afrofuturist science-based kids show. She loves making up magical stories and singing songs to her adorable four-year-old son. When she is not in mama mode, she facilitates mentorships and workshops with Inclusive Stylist Toronto

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