As August winds down, the start of the new school year here in France is just around the corner.
Are you feeling ready for the rentrée?
Whether you’re starting at a new school — perhaps even in a new country — or whether you’re going back to the same school this fall, the rentrée can be a time of both excitement and some anxiety. Between academics, extra-curricular activities, social challenges, and family pressures, many teens feel stretched thin and stressed out.
On top of all that, the teen years are full of their own challenges: figuring out who you are, clarifying what’s important to you, exploring new relationships, and renegotiating relationships with family members as you gain maturity and independence. These are exciting but challenging times, and all of the changes can send you on a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and unsure of yourself.
How can you start the year off right to ensure that you don’t get bogged down with stress or emotional upset? Here are some tips to keep in mind to start your school year off on the right foot!
1) Come Back to the Present Moment (Your Breath is Your Anchor)
When your mind is racing with so many different thoughts, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.
Most of us spend a lot of time thinking about the past or the future — but not much time in the present moment.
We go over past events, thinking about how we wish we had said or done something differently. Or perhaps we ruminate, wondering what something meant (Why did my friend say that? Is she mad at me?). Or we worry about some future event such as a test or class presentation — or even some completely hypothetical event (like an uncomfortable social interaction).
While it can certainly be helpful to think about the past and the future — to learn from our mistakes or to plan and be prepared for things coming up — sometimes this planning and worrying just stresses us out and doesn’t get us anywhere. So it’s also important to know how to come back to the present moment. When you’re feeling anxious or upset, the present moment can be a place where you can find some relief. Right here, right now.
Use your breath as your anchor. It’s always there with you, wherever you go, and you can use it as a tool to ground yourself when your thoughts may be spinning out of control. There’s no need to try to control your breath or make it do anything in particular. Just let your attention rest gently on your breath as it moves in and out, one breath at a time, one moment at a time, bringing you some peace and quieting the storm.
2) Be Your Own Best Friend
Have you ever really paid attention to the way you talk to yourself in your own head?
Most of us aren’t very nice to ourselves.
A lot of people criticize themselves, put themselves down, or tell themselves that they shouldn’t be feeling the way they’re feeling. Some of us even call ourselves names, tell ourselves we’re “stupid” or “an idiot.”
Does this sound familiar?
We say things to ourselves we would never in a million years say to our friends — and if we did, they probably wouldn’t want to be our friends anymore!
We may think we’re “just being honest with ourselves,” or giving ourselves “tough love,” trying to motivate ourselves to do better, not letting ourselves off the hook. But the messages we give ourselves — and the tone of those messages — really impact how we feel, so we need to be kind to ourselves.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be honest with yourself or hold yourself responsible when you make a mistake. But even if there are things you think you could do better, you don’t have to beat yourself up. You can take responsibility and resolve to do better next time, while still recognizing how hard you’re trying and that — like everyone — you’re a work in progress.
Treat yourself the way you would treat your best friend. Take time to remind yourself of the things you appreciate about yourself. Offer yourself some kindness, even as you also resolve to keep improving.
3) Remember: Other People Aren’t Thinking About You as Much as You Think They Are
Many teens feel self-conscious and worry about how other people are seeing them or judging them.
A social interaction doesn’t go as well as you’d like, and you might worry about it for the rest of the day, wondering what the other person thinks about you or what they’re saying behind your back.
While it’s true that some people can be mean and talk badly about other people behind their backs (usually because they’re feeling insecure themselves and think that putting other people down will make them feel better about themselves), the fact is that, when you’re not right there in front of them, most people probably aren’t thinking about you as much as you imagine they are.
In fact, they’re probably too busy worrying about themselves.
So when a friend isn’t as friendly as usual or doesn’t say hi as they pass in the hall, remember: it’s probably not about you. You might still check in with your friend to be sure and to see how she’s doing, but try not to jump to the immediate conclusion that it means something about you or your relationship. Maybe she’s just not having a good day. Or maybe she was distracted and didn’t see you.
The same thing goes for people noticing and judging your appearance or things that you do. That zit that feels so visible everyone must be staring? It’s way more visible to you than to anyone else. The fact that you didn’t know the name of the song everyone was talking about? They probably didn’t really notice — or if they did, it was just a blip on their radar. They’ve already moved on, so you can too.
4) Actively Look for the Positive
Have you ever noticed how, when you’re having a bad day or just feeling down, it’s way easier to just keep seeing the negative in everything?
When you’re stressed out or upset about something, it’s easy to overlook or discount anything positive. If we let it, the negative can seem to overshadow everything else.
But most of the time, our lives are actually a mix of both positive and negative — and everything in between.
Try to get in the habit of actively looking for and acknowledging the positive things in your life — big and small. This doesn’t mean that you have to force yourself to stop feeling whatever you might feel about the negative things. You’re allowed to feel those feelings too, while also making some room for noticing the positive. It’s about allowing there to be space for both.
See if you can set aside some time each day — perhaps at the end of the day, just before going do bed — to reflect on one or two things that you felt went well that day or something you appreciated. Maybe it was a small success you had. Maybe it was just appreciating the support of a good friend. Or a funny movie. Or the time to relax and read a good book. It doesn’t have to be earth-shattering to be worth appreciating.
The more you get in the habit of seeing the positive, the more naturally it will happen without you even trying, so why not start building the habit now?
5) Take One Day at a Time
When you’re having a hard day or something doesn’t go your way, it can be easy to jump to conclusions about how things will go in the future. One disappointing grade can make it feel like you’re going to fail the whole class. Or one argument with a friend can feel like the end of the friendship.
But most of the time, these fears about the future don’t actually come true. We’re really good at thinking up worst-case-scenarios and convincing ourselves that they’re really likely. But today is just one piece of the bigger story. And the story isn’t over yet. So try not to get too ahead of yourself. One day at a time.
Each new moment, and each new day is another chance to move things in a different direction, to turn things around, to shape your own story. Even if you wish you had made different choices today, you’ll have another opportunity tomorrow. So try to take one day, one hour, one moment at a time.
6) Live Your Values
Living your values means figuring out what’s important to you — what you want to stand for — and making choices that feel in line with those values.
Maybe you value being a good friend, or standing up for people who aren’t as powerful, or appreciating cultural differences. Maybe you value artistic expression or intellectual curiosity or pushing yourself in a sport. Maybe you value being an inspiration for others.
You may still be figuring out what your values are — and that’s ok! It can be a lifelong discovery, and our values can evolve over time. Pay attention to what makes you feel really good about yourself — not just momentarily, but in a lasting sort of way. What do you feel really proud of? How do you want to be remembered?
Different people have different values, and that’s fine too. You can be true to yourself and allow other people to be responsible for their own choices.
7) Talk & Get Support
Everyone needs support from time to time. Talking to friends and family about what you’re going through — both good and bad — can help keep you grounded.
Not only does talking help you feel less alone, but friends and family may be able to share a different perspective on whatever’s going on, and this might help you shift your own perspective as well — or at least see multiple ways of looking at the same situation.
Talking and checking in regularly helps keep the lines of communication open, so your friends and family get where you’re coming from when you really need them. The same goes the other way around: when you talk and share what’s going on in your life, your friends are more likely to do the same, allowing you to support one another in a way that feels mutual.
Keep in mind that your friends and family can’t read your mind so they don’t always know what you need. The best way to ensure that they know how to be there for you is to talk to them about what’s going on and to ask directly for the type of support you want. If you’re looking for advice, let them know. If it’s just a friendly ear to listen or a hug you need, say so. Or if you’re really just wanting some time alone, you can let them know that too. The people who care about you want to be supportive, but they don’t always know the type of support you’re looking for, so don’t be afraid to let them know.
p.s. As always, I would love to hear from you — your thoughts, reactions, or questions about this post.
What do you find most difficult or exciting about the rentrée? What has been helpful for you and your friends?
However, if you choose to share your thoughts below, please keep in mind that these comments are visible to anyone who visits the blog. Therefore, I would encourage you to use a pseudonym (not use your real name) to protect your own privacy. If you would like to get in touch but would prefer to contact me privately, you can do so here.