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Challenge: It's Back to School: Share Your Advice

Let’s grab our masks and leap into the unknown

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The other night I had a full-blown anxiety attack.

My heart pounded wildly.

I felt intense pressure and tightness in my chest.

Sweat dripped down my neck.

I could not catch my breath.

I clutched my chest, drew in a deep breath, and wondered if I was having a heart attack.

But, I knew better.

I’ve felt like this before. Three years ago, I had my first anxiety attack.

That attack was due to several stressful situations I was in at the time.

Three years later (and a lot of healing in between), I find myself face to face with a whole new array of stressors.

As a teacher and a mother of school aged kids, my mind has been in hyperdrive.

What will school look like? Will we start on time? Will we have to wear masks? Will we have to do distance learning again? Will it be better than it was in the spring? How can we safely follow the guidelines? Why are the guidelines so stringent and unrealistic?

I am certainly concerned for the physical health and safety of students and teachers. We want (and need) our kids to go to school, but is that truly the right thing to do? Can we keep everyone safe?

As much as I worry about physical safety, I am just as concerned for the mental & emotional health of students and teachers. We send our kids to school to learn and grow. We entrust them to teachers to love them and guide them and nurture them. Can teachers truly do that with faces covered from six feet away?

And we teachers, we’ve spent our entire careers implementing best practices and building relationships with our students. How can we foster community and create a climate for learning and growing when we have to keep our students at a distance?

And what kind of toll will sitting masked in a classroom all day with little to no interaction with peers take on our children? That’s not how school should be.

How much will they truly learn in that environment?

How can they go to school in the fall?

How can they not?

There are so many unknowns. So much fear. So many questions.

And so, all my worries and uneasiness and stress from the last several months came to a head and culminated in a long overdue anxiety attack.

At first, I panicked.

And then I began taking long, controlled, deep breaths.

I visualized my safe place (as I’ve learned to do in counseling).

I counted backwards.

I tried to settle myself, but I just couldn’t.

My mind wouldn’t stop. It continued to race around involuntarily on an invisible hamster wheel.

What’s the right thing? What’s the wrong thing?

The truth is, I don’t know. I don’t think any of us do. It’s hard to live with such uncertainty. It’s hard to be so out of control.

But were we ever in control?

With that one question, I finally settled down. It was like a lightening bolt over my head.

In our modern world, we’ve grown accustomed to a certain way of life. Many things about this life are predictable. There’s a cyclical rhythm to our days and our seasons.

Sure, there are hurdles and roadblocks along the way. Sometimes the unexpected happens. But overall, we have always been able to anticipate what’s coming next.

We’ve been in control. Or at least we thought we were.

But then a global pandemic came along and knocked every one of us off our feet. And for the last four months, we’ve come to realize how very little control we have over the situation.

We can’t control what is happening around us. We can’t control this virus. We can’t control how the school year plays out.

What’s more- it’s ever changing. Every day is a new discovery, a new advancement. What is true for today may not be true for tomorrow. We can’t keep wasting energy trying to control what’s likely to change.

So, what should we do? What can we do?

We may not have control, but we certainly have resilience.

Our children will learn and grow and adapt. They will flourish. They will be part of a collective experience and history in the making. They are likely to roll with the punches better than we can.

We must choose to be optimistic and believe in positive outcomes despite rulings and guidelines and mandates.

Our teachers will rise to the occasion as they always do. They will find ways to communicate and interact and build relationships. They will love our children and guide them and nurture them. They will work within the guidelines to make the school day as happy and healthy as possible.

We must trust them.

We must continue to find ways to reach one another across the distance.

We must acknowledge that we are living in unprecedented times and accept the uncertainty that comes with it.

We must admit that worrying, obsessing, and what-if-ing does not accomplish anything and it doesn’t give us control.

We must let our exhausted minds rest.

We must embrace the special and extraordinary moments that keep popping up despite all that’s been shut down.

We must relinquish control (in a most crucial way) by letting go.

We must take long, controlled, deep breaths. Count backwards. Visualize a place that makes us feel safe and happy.

Then, grab our masks and leap into the unknown.

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