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Back To School and Work - Why Change is Hard, and How to Manage it Better

Let's face it. Most of us would prefer to be waking in a leisurely fashion tomorrow morning, perhaps after 9am if we are lucky, after falling asleep tonight without setting an alarm whilst fielding worries about what tomorrow holds. For the majority of people the reality of the end of summer holidays is hitting, if it hasn't already, and it hits harder for some than others. 

The dreaded school shoe shopping lines where nidifugous 17 year olds are forced to line up alongside rookie 5 year olds still sucking their thumbs to be fitted for sensible shoes, heralds the end of extended holidays for most industries in Australia alongside a mass return to study and school. It's the same year on year. Speed cameras are turned back on as the pace of life seems to hurry more than a little.

Given we know it is coming, why do so many find it so difficult year on year? Put simply, we are creatures of habit and comfort and the end of holidays means a change in both. 

Whether you are a parent, a child starting a milestone year at school or someone changing gear to get back into a different headspace; a change in routine can be difficult and take a while to get used to. One study suggests that it takes, on average, 66 days (around 2 months) to form a new habit. If this is the case, we can expect February and March to be months where most of us will find it hard to bounce out of bed earlier in the morning or bounce into bed earlier. in the evening. Of course, i refer to the vast majority of people. Some do not miss a beat while changing routines, while others have dreaded this day since the 1st January. 

Can we do anything to make it easier? The answer is, of course! It is up to you how you choose to manage change. All change is uncomfortable. Especially so when we don't choose it. Here are some points to consider if you think you may find getting into a new routine difficult as you start back school, study or work. They help if you are starting anything new really, not just at this time of year. Some are behavioural habits, some habits of mind, both effective in helping you navigate the next two months with a greater sense of control and compassion.


You do NOT have to be a glitter bomb of enthusiasm every day. Not even on day one. Or on any day in fact. You also do not have to be a nail bomb of negativity who pops everyone else's balloons. Your ‘self talk’ (the voice in your head) should be compassionate. Acknowledge that, OF COURSE, you'd rather be on holiday but also that you can and will support yourself through what might be a rocky adjustment period by doing the best you can.


School, study or work is not inevitable, though legally mandated for some, but change is. The sooner you embrace it the better. It's GOOD for you. Change and development helps you live longer, have more satisfying relationships, learn more, evolve. It also means you need to wake up an hour earlier than your body wants you to, yet. Be patient. You will adjust. Help yourself by not sabotaging the change in routine, this only extends it!


Curiosity is anxiety's kryptonite. Replace your 'What if...' thoughts with 'I wonder...' thoughts. By using a more curious and less anxious mindset you slow down your thoughts and they tend to be LESS distorted and catastrophic. 'I wonder who will be in my class?' rather than 'What if Jo isn't in my class?'. The first encourages wondering, the second fear. 


Don't focus on what it ISN'T. The teacher you DIDN'T get. The class you DIDN'T get into. The bus that got cancelled. What everyone and anyone else is doing. By focusing on LACK you create a scarcity mindset and a negative confirmation bias. This means your mind looks for things to PROVE that things in the new routine are bad. OF COURSE you will not only find them, you will miss the good stuff. Yes, there is a LOT of good stuff, if you look for it (repeat step 3!).


And on time. You can significantly reduce stress and increase confidence when you sort your stuff out before and arrive on time. Uniform or clothes, bag, charging devices, bus timetable, opal card, lunch, sensible shoes. We feel like we are being unfaithful to our love for summer and holidays by doing these tasks a moment earlier than we have to. You WILL thank yourself. Being lost, late or unprepared only amplifies stress to cosmic levels, and usually makes you mad or upset or both.


No two moments are the same. It sets us up for disappointment to think any two days/classes/people will be the same. Alongside curiosity and acceptance, being more mindful about the situation you are in allows you to cope with what comes without crippling expectations, assumptions or perfectionistic ideals that can ultimately focus us more on lack in an all or nothing mindset.


This may seem trite, however, when you consider that some people are not able to study or work, even if they want to. They don't have the education system we do (I know it is FAR from perfect, but, still), they may want a job or a university place but don't yet. Maybe they are fitting into old shoes that are too small, don't have friendly faces to greet them at the lockers, didn't sleep last night. Change your thinking from 'I have to...' to 'I get to...', it will change how you feel almost immediately.


To yourself and to others. Always. Life is hard. Give people a break. If someone does something wrong, don't draw attention to it but quietly let them know. Just like you would not like to be humiliated or judged for your mistakes do not judge others. If there is a new person sitting alone, go introduce yourself, or at LEAST smile at them. You have the power to change their day as well as your own.


Be authentic. No one loves every subject they study, or every aspect of their job. Focusing on what you don't like instead of what you do means it dominates your focus. This is true for how you treat your self too. We all have parts of us we like more and parts we like less. Accept all the parts of you, no judgement. You don’t have to like them. You often can’t change them. If you are not great at Math, reframe that as, 'I'm better at PE'. Focus on what you ARE good at. What you water grows.


For yourself and yourself only. Every experience teaches you something. Getting 100% sometimes teaches us less than a 10% result. Take all feedback on board with curiosity and acceptance and ADJUST YOUR BEHAVIOUR ACCORDINGLY. Blaming, comparing, complaining rarely accelerates learning or growth, it deflects from the power we have to change things ourselves. Mistakes are the single most efficient way to learn. Make them. Embrace them. Often. Not 'everything counts'. Nothing counts more than integrity and being proud of who you are.

You may feel you want to adopt only one or all ten of the above suggestions. When used, they can help you make an inevitably uncomfortable period for most of you slightly less so. As with everything at Change Rooms, our recommendations and advice is intended to be 'One Size Fits One' so take them and season them with your own personal flavour. Nothing works for everyone, but everything works for someone. All are evidence based practices that positively enhance wellbeing. They require effort though, and conscious decision making. 

Trying to stay on summer holidays is a little like trying to stop the sun from setting on your day. Although night is very different in almost every way, its inevitability is constant, just as the rising of the sun (and the coming of the next holidays) is too. And as Caroline McHugh so wisely pointed out, "it's never NOT a lovely moon". 

I wish you the very best as you adjust into the new season of your life. 

Always in love,


The advice in this article is general in nature. Please reach out if you would like more specific guidance or you can contact your GP or local health professional for support. We acknowledge the difficulties faced by individuals struggling with extremely severe levels of difficulty, ill health or adversity. If you are worried about yourself or a loved one please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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