How to master your back-to-school routine

The holidays are over, and for some this can mean a sudden and overwhelming onset of the end-of-holiday blues.

You’ve had a few weeks of doing pretty much whatever you want, then overnight it’s back to waking up early, wearing school uniform, and homework (shudder).

So what can you do to avoid that shock to the system? Believe it or not, the key to making the transition back into a a strict routine as smooth as possible is by having a routine of your own.

Sweet dreams are made of these

While holidays can be loads of fun, “time can drag as well”, Rachel Boyd, Head of Information Content at mental health charity Mind, explained to BBC Bitesize. She said keeping a bit of structure throughout the break can make life easier for yourself when the starts of term rolls back around.

A good place to start according to Rachel is by keeping your sleep regular. During the holidays it’s likely you’ll have lots of late nights and lie-ins, and so going from that to a strict 7am alarm during the week can be quite difficult. Changes to the times you go to bed and wake up can disrupt your body’s internal clock (or to use its scientific name, circadian rhythm), and this can really impact how you feel during the day.

The NHS recommends that 16-year-olds get nine hours of sleep a night.

Rachel said that some symptoms of irregular sleep could include making it "harder to focus, making you feel tired or maybe a bit anxious or a bit stressed as well." This can make going back to school feel really difficult, so it’s good to get your sleep pattern in check as soon as you can.

The NHS suggests things such as regular exercise, cutting out caffeine and limiting screen time as ways of ensuring you get a good night’s sleep.

Slow and steady wins the race

But after a long period of being able do pretty much whatever you want, whenever you want, the transition back to a strict-ish routine can be very difficult. Rachel’s advice was to go “slowly but surely”, taking small steps and not trying to change everything all in one go.

So for example, she said: “If getting to bed on time is something that you’re really struggling with then just focus on that one thing for now.

“If it’s about having enough energy to get through the day then you might want to focus on some things like what you’re eating and drinking to have good energy reserves… and if you’re feeling a bit low or struggling then talking to people can really help.”

Focusing on one thing at a time can make the change feel less overwhelming, but it’s important to remember that if you’re struggling a bit, it’s completely normal as it is a big adjustment. Rachel adds:

“If that first week feels hard then that makes sense because it’s probably the biggest change, but helping yourself understand that it will feel a bit different in a few months time or a few weeks time even, that you will get back into it.”

A nutritious lunch can help you keep up your energy throughout the day.

Organised fun

It can feel like it’s not the most fun task in the world. The word ‘routine’ can sound strict and, let’s face it, boring, but there are ways to help make them fun.

Well, maybe that’s a bit of a stretch. But Rachel says while scheduling in things like work and sleep are obviously important, a key component of a good routine should also be about blocking out time to do the things you enjoy, too.

She said: “Routine can also be about how you build in things that are good for you and that you really enjoy, which, again, are great for mental health.

“So that’s spending time with friends and family and having those social connections, whether that’s a hobby you really enjoy, whether that’s something you do for yourself in terms of a creative pursuit or listening to music or reading or anything like that.”

On top of that, a routine can help you feel like you’re taking charge of your life and what you want to do with it. Rachel says young people often “have routines imposed on them quite a lot by things like school and by other family events as well”, so by scheduling your own time you can feel more independent and in control.

Know when it’s not working

One thing to look out for though, is that you’re not sticking to your routine so strictly that any sort of deviation causes you to panic. Life gets in the way of even the best laid plans sometimes, and things don’t always work out the way we want them to. If this causes you excessive stress and anxiety, you’re going to run into problems.

Rachel explained that while routines can be great for our mental health, we need to be wary of them unintentionally becoming the source of our anxiety.

“What you’re really looking for are healthy coping strategies, and if your coping strategy becomes something that makes you anxious and worried then it’s not working well anymore, and you might need to think about a new one,” she said.

She also suggested taking a slightly different approach to your routine, and giving yourself more time to do the things that you need. So for example, if you want to exercise on a weekly basis, don’t just say “I need to go to the gym on Tuesday”, say to yourself “I need to go to the gym this week”, and so this gives you more opportunity to be flexible.

If this still isn’t helping, it might be worth speaking to someone you trust, such as friends, family, or your GP.

Going back to school, or anything after a long break can feel like the last thing you want to do in the entire world. However, with a routine that not only keeps you on top of your work as well as scheduling in time for fun, it doesn’t have to be so daunting.

If trying to stick to your routine is causing you a lot of worry, try making it less strict.
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