Back to School???

By Marcia Kimeldorf, PhD

In most years, back to school involves anticipation of new friends, new classes, new school supplies, new books, and new experiences. In some ways, this year is like any other, but in many other ways, it is completely different since “back to school” this year is filled with more uncertainty than ever before. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we really don’t know what to expect. It’s not even clear if school will be held in person this year, and if so then for how long! The questions we have are numerous and the answers we have are few. 

However, if you think about it, nothing has ever been certain. Even when we believe something is “guaranteed” it is not. Unexpected events can always occur in a heartbeat. And so, the current era provides us with a tremendous opportunity: We can learn to stay flexible, tolerate uncertainty, and gain a life skill for thriving in an uncontrollable and ever-changing world.

What can we do? Here are four suggestions:

First, practice Radical Acceptance, which means recognizing and accepting that there are hard times in life. Radical Acceptance means that life sucks sometimes (!) and we can reduce our suffering by owning it and accepting it. Instead of wanting and waiting for things to be “back to normal,” acknowledge that things may be challenging for a while, and that many of us are struggling. That way, we won’t have as much disappointment if and when our hopes don’t materialize.

Second, practice Gratitude. Since nothing is guaranteed except this very moment, let’s try to be grateful for what we have – right now – in this very moment. Go ahead, pause while reading this, close your eyes, and take a few, deep slow breaths and consider what you are grateful for. I’ll wait… How was that? Did you notice a tiny moment of relative calm? Maybe a small sense of peace? Even if that brief exercise made you feel more anxious rather than less, try it again each day for the next 1-2 weeks. Each time, as you close your eyes, slowly breathe in and out for a few breaths and think about one thing you are grateful for, and let other thoughts go.

Third, take a step back from day-to-day tasks and think about the big picture. Ask yourself: What are the aspects of myself that I really like? And what parts of myself would I like to change? What would make me happier and more skillful? What are areas that I can improve upon? Even in uncertain times, we can still control our own choices. We can choose which media we consume, what we eat, who we spend time with, what we do with our time, and so much more. Take the opportunity to reflect, and think, about yourself.

And Fourth, let’s give up the urge to find the “perfect” solution to the back-to-school conundrum. There is no perfect choice! Less socialization with no in-person instruction? Ick. Potential exposure to COVID-19? Ugh! Remember that whatever we choose has pros and cons, and nothing is ideal. This is a life lesson: There is never a perfect choice! Not ever, and especially not now.

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