By Dr. Jan Hittelman

For many families, the final stretch of the academic year can be the most challenging. For students, there’s the challenge of preparing for finals, finishing-up projects, while longing for the summer break. In addition to supporting their children’s academic efforts, parents are juggling schedules around end-of-year school events, making preparations for the summer, while still dealing with all of their usual responsibilities. Tensions can easily rise and often result in increased stress and family discord. Let’s take a deep breath, breathe out slowly, and consider strategies to help guide us through these challenging times:

• Keep things in perspective. Avoid putting too much importance on things that don’t warrant that level of stress. A good way to keep us in check is to first rate our emotional reaction and then rate the stressor itself, using a simple scale from 1 (minor) to10 (extreme) scale. Too often we will discover that our emotional reaction is a 7 or 8 to a situation that is a 2 or 3.

• Be aware of your thinking. We tend to place a lot of stress on ourselves based on our perfectionist, pessimistic, and generally negative thinking. By trying to be more aware of our thinking and shifting to more rational, logical, positive thoughts, we can significantly reduce our subjective experience of stress.

• Use Your Imagination. The mind is very powerful and if we focus on a very relaxing image, the body eventually experiences it as though we’re really there. To see for yourself, try this simple exercise:

o Identify a place that you’ve been that was very relaxing (e.g. a beach, the mountains). If needed, make one up.
o List everything that you might see, hear, smell and (tactilely) feel in this special place.
o Rate your current level of stress from “0” (not stressed) to “100” (very stressed).
o Find a peaceful place to sit, close your eyes, take a deep breath in and breathe out slowly.
o Try to imagine all the details that you listed in your mind’s eye, while periodically repeating the deep breathing.
o After 5-10 minutes slowly open your eyes and re-rate your current level of stress. Notice how much more relaxed you feel.

• Make time for FUN. Even if it’s just for 30 minutes, find time to take a break as a family and do something fun together. We tend to undervalue simply having fun and enjoying time with friends and family. Imagine if we placed as much importance on recreation as we do on achievement. Not only would we be healthier, we would also achieve more!