It’s that time of year again when we transition from summer fun to back-to-school business. Heading back to school is a challenging endeavor in and of itself, but for fibro parents, it has a unique set of struggles. Here are some back-to-school struggles (with tips) for fibromyalgia parents to have a successful school year.
Struggle #1: Afraid of the Unknown
Not knowing how each day will go in terms of feeling well or flaring symptoms limits the ability to help kids with getting ready for school, helping with homework, or other school-related issues. Flares limit our ability to help our kids with getting ready for school in the mornings, helping with homework in the afternoons/evenings, attending school functions, and more. This uncertainty causes stress and anxiety which heightens our symptoms.
Not knowing what to expect at school in terms of the new school environment, teachers, or classmates. (Yes, parents can be fearful of this as well). We have questions such as “How will the teacher respond to our questions/issues – especially if they are frequent?” “What will the new school environment be like for our kids?” “Will our kid get along with the other students?”
Not knowing how to handle an unexpected situation that arises. We have learned how unexpected fibromyalgia symptoms can be and that anything can trigger these flares. Experience also tells us that no matter how well we plan, anything can happen.
These are all natural worries and are developed over time from living with fibromyalgia.
Tips for Conquering Fear of the Unknown
Accept that ‘an unknown’ will happen. When it happens, keep in mind: It’s okay. An unknown can include suddenly not feeling well, having a flare in symptoms, or not being able to help the kids in the mornings or afternoons. Don’t be hard on yourself or berate yourself with unkind thoughts. Your body can hear your thoughts and will react such as increased stress and/or anxiety.
Trust yourself to know what to do. No one knows your body and how to respond to it better than you. Clear your mind, listen to your mind, and think “What does my body need right now?” Pull from your experience about what has helped in the past and try it.
On the days you are feeling well enough, make a plan for the days you are not feeling well. This can be stocking up on frozen meals, ready-to-make pantry meals, or gathering items to make a flare kit. It’s hard to think about what helps when you’re not feeling well, so write down what helps you to feel better when you’re able to think clearly.
Talk with your child about each of your fears for the ‘unknowns’ of the approaching school year. Start with your own fear so they feel encouraged to speak about their own fears. Come up with solutions together. Talking with your kids about your fears will make them more comfortable to open up about their own fears.
Encourage them to talk to a counselor or teacher if they don’t want to talk to you about it (don’t be insulted or make them feel guilty).
For younger kids, read books or watch videos about going back to school.
Struggle #2: Becoming Overscheduled
One of the easiest back-to-school struggles we ALL have is saying ‘yes’ to too many extracurricular activities at the start of the year with hopes of doing more than in previous years. We do this because we feel obligated to volunteer for school activities to compensate for the guilt of living with fibromyalgia. It’s natural to have this guilt.
It’s so easy for us to always say yes but it will ultimately lead to a flare in symptoms or make current symptoms worse. Worse, it can become a bad habit to do this each and every year with the same results. It’s okay though because there are ways to reverse this inclination to become overscheduled.
Tips to Avoid Becoming Overscheduled
Ease into the school year by limiting extracurricular and volunteer activities for the household. As the year progresses, take on more or drop some to accommodate the family as a whole. Remember: Nothing is concrete. You can make changes as you go along.
Do volunteer opportunities you are passionate about and will cause you happiness. Avoid stressful activities or ones that will overextend your body.
Opt for a routine rather than a schedule, and allow time for transitioning from one activity to another, waking in the mornings, or resting time so as not to add more stress. A routine is free from the confines of time constraints. It allows your family to flow from one activity or task to another. This makes room for transitioning or any unplanned events without causing more stress to you or other family members. Read more about this in the article Why Routines are Important with Fibromyalgia.
A good way to start creating a routine is to think about habits you and your family have at certain times of the day. These daily habits work together to make your family routine. Some considerations of what to include:
- Morning habits such as waking (allow time for difficulty waking you and/or your kids), hygiene, eating breakfast, getting out the door for school, etc.
- Chores are completed throughout the day, which time of the day is best for your body without overexerting yourself, which days of the week you do chores, etc.
- Afternoon habits such as coming home from school, snack time, and homework assignments.
- Evening habits such as eating dinner, watching TV or other entertainment, preparing for the next school day, getting ready for bed, etc.
Struggle #3: Depleted Energy
For some of us, it’s hard to get moving in the mornings. It takes extra time to get moving in the morning due to stiff joints, inability to wake properly, morning headaches, and other issues.
In the afternoon, we are ‘hitting a wall’ and lacking energy after school. This makes it harder to help with snacks, homework, and engaging with our kids. School events that take place in the evenings are especially difficult. It’s not only physically hard, but if we aren’t able to attend, we grapple with guilt and other negative feelings.
Having little to no energy makes chores and other household tasks challenging. It can seem overwhelming especially when the dishes and laundry are piling up.
Tips for Depleted Energy
A tasty way to overcome energy back-to-school struggles is to eat foods that boost your energy such as greens (kale, spinach), good carbs (oats, sweet potatoes), and Vitamin B-enriched foods (pumpkin seeds). Be sure to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
Avoid the foods that drag you down such as sugary, processed, or refined foods. These foods give you an energy spike but inevitably lead to a crash in energy. Other foods to avoid are gluten and dairy especially if you experience abdominal upset or leaky gut.
Save activities/tasks for the times of the day you DO have energy. Note: Use this to help shape your daily routine. For example: Do a couple of chores in the morning, rest for the middle part of the day, and then tackle school-related tasks when the kids get home from school. Make changes according to your body and how your body responds to chores.
Space out errands/chores throughout the week instead of doing them all in one day and incorporate them into your daily routine. (Create a visual family calendar. More about this further down in the article.)
Don’t overdo it or overextend your body. It’s not worth it. We all overdo it and say “It’s worth it”. Is it though? No, it’s not really. Be kind to yourself and your body by breaking the task into smaller, more manageable chunks.
Give enough time for rest between tasks. This is so important to keep in mind. To help keep track of time and create rest breaks, set a timer for a set amount of time. When the timer goes off, stop what you’re doing and rest. Setting a timer for rest is important, too.
Prepare for the next school day by preparing the night before. It can be packing lunches, gathering backpacks, having clothes laid out, and having shoes by the door. There will always be something kids will forget in the mornings. Always. It’s okay. We can minimize this impact by preparing the evening before. Have the kids involved with this routine and it will become natural for them to do it even as they get older.
Choose slow cooker meals and prepare them sooner in the day if dinner time is a challenging part of the day. This is also good for flare days.
Best Topical Creams for Fibromyalgia
Topical creams are one of a few ways to manage fibromyalgia symptoms. A benefit to having more than one topical cream is to have more in case you run out of one of the other creams.
Struggle #4: Feeling Overwhelmed
Thoughts of upcoming activities, meeting new teachers, and the feeling of being more involved will lead to feeling anxious and overwhelmed before school begins. We also can have the feeling as though our symptoms are out of control leading to negative thoughts about our abilities as a parent. There are feelings of being lost on how to transition from summer to a school year schedule. All of this can lead to us shutting down and not wanting to do any of it. This is one of the biggest back-to-school struggles we have as fibromyalgia parents.
Tips for Feeling Overwhelmed
Don’t worry about any possible future activities and focus on the current week. Take it one day at a time. This is where your family calendar is going to come into play which leads us to the next tip.
Put it on paper. Take it out of your mind and put it down on a family calendar, or an electronic calendar on your phone. More about creating a family calendar in the next section.
Establish a routine (not a schedule) with your kids before school begins and start to practice it in the weeks leading to the first day of school. Make adjustments to the routine as needed. Refer to the previous section about creating a routine in ‘Tips to Avoid Becoming Overscheduled’.
When starting to feel overwhelmed – whether it be thoughts or something that’s happening in your space – take a step away and do something that brings you happiness. Activities to help calm can be gardening, reading, or listening to music. Listen to your body and do whatever you feel needs to be done in order to get calm in that particular moment. Keep in mind that it changes each time. What you need in one moment may not be what you need the next time.
Struggle #5: Fibro Fog
What exactly is fibro fog and how can it affect the body?
Fibro fog is a common symptom of fibromyalgia and a majority of people living with fibromyalgia experience it. In a broad definition, having fibro fog refers to cognitive issues that make it difficult to think and understand clearly, concentrate, and say what you want to say. It can affect your memory, and ability to process information, engage in conversation, and decision-making. All of these difficulties can add to back-to-school struggles and leave you feeling anxious, overwhelmed, and stressed out. However, there are ways to overcome it which we will discuss in the tips section.
Struggles with Fibro Fog:
Not being able to remember the appointments, school events, extracurricular activities, etc.
Inability to concentrate to help with school assignments, process school information, or have proper conversations with teachers.
Not able to think clearly to make informed decisions about your child’s progress in school or the best way to help with a school activity.
All of this leads to feeling defeated, resigned, or withdrawn. It’s natural to feel this way when experiencing fibro fog.
Tips to Help with Fibro Fog
Create a family calendar to track upcoming appointments, school activities, and other important events. This can be a paper or electronic calendar, but a paper calendar may be better for the entire family to view. Seeing your activities on paper will give you a better sense of control. Visual aids help many fibro parents.
Review your calendar each day in order to better organize your thoughts for the day or week. Make this a part of your daily routine.
Put ‘stickies’ of reminders in places you will see them.
Additional Tips for Back-to-School Struggles for a Successful Year
Some additional back-to-school struggles include:
Rest periods throughout your day in whichever way you can. If you work, take a short break by walking around or leaving the work area to sit outside. If you’re at home, sit outside, talk for a short walk, dance to music, and do yard work/garden.
If you become overwhelmed, frustrated, or fatigued, immediately take a short break. Take a walk outside, meditate, do some stretches, practice deep breathing, or grab a book to read.
Create healthy sleep hygiene for everyone by sticking to a nighttime routine. Here are some Tips for Better Sleep.
Find ways to release the stress that you enjoy and encourage your kids to do the same. This is part of self-care and should be practiced daily regardless of age.
Let your kids help with what they can. Give age-appropriate chores to each one (can be daily or weekly chores). This not only teaches them to work together as a family but also helps them complete household tasks.
Find tutorials online about school assignments or get inspiration for school projects.
Find a support system for you and your family. Support can be a friend, an online community, or a loved one.
If your back-to-school struggles last throughout the school year, don’t hesitate to reach out to the school counselor. Counselors are there to help both the student and their families and have a wealth of resources.
Family Care Centre based in Ontario, Canada: School Mental Health Backpack