Follow along with the transcript below for episode: Managing End of Summer Anxiety With Eli Weinstein
[00:00:02] PF: Thank you for joining us for episode 381 of Live Happy Now. We’ve hit the end of summer. For many people, that means dealing with end of summer anxiety, and it’s not just for kids anymore. I’m your host, Paula Felps. And this week, I’m talking with Eli Weinstein, a social work therapist and host of The Dude Therapist Podcast, who is here to talk about how we all can handle that end of summer anxiety and head into fall with a brand new game plan.
[00:00:30] PF: Eli, welcome to Live Happy Now.
[00:00:32] EW: Thank you for having me. Super excited to be here.
[00:00:34] PF: This is a great topic for us to talk about because it’s the end of summer, and that means end of summer anxiety. So we are already living in a time when anxiety is really high. So what is it about the end of summer that then increases that a little bit?
[00:00:53] EW: I think when we have the summer mentality, we kind of take a step back, relax a little bit, take our foot off the gas a lot, and relax. I remember when I was in grad school or even in college, and I actually had summers off. Going back into the “real world” was so scary because you haven’t had to do it for about two and a half months. So for a lot of people, getting back into the swing of things or even if they haven’t been off, but their kids have been off, getting back into that routine again, it is something that scares a lot of people, myself included.
[00:01:30] PF: Yeah, because it does disrupt the parent. As parents, we’ve gotten used to a slower pace. You don’t have to get the kids up, get them out the door, get them to school unnecessarily. Now, that’s all getting back into this more serious mindset. So what are some of the ways that parents respond to that? What kind of anxiety are they feeling?
[00:01:49] EW: Well, overwhelmed, right? It’s the overwhelming feeling of, “Oh, my goodness. I have to go back, and shop, and go to the stores, and get them new clothes, and stock up the fridge and the cabinets with all the different odds and ends that your kids might need. Then it means less free time to you, less relaxed time for you because now you got to be on. From the second that clock turns a certain time in the morning, it is just go, go, go all day, and it’s not as relaxed.
So the hardest part for a parent is that morning get out and that nighttime put down to bed, right? When you don’t have to do it for a couple of months, you kind of get used to that, and you forget the stress that comes with it. Then all of a sudden, it comes creeping in like a little spider, right into your mind about the idea of like, “Oh, here we go again. It’s about to go down.” That’s where everything starts to bubble, the what ifs, the who knows, the how’s it going to go, and what’s this year going to bring. How are my kids going to function this year versus last year can be very, very anxiety-inducing.
[00:02:53] PF: That’s such a great point, like last year compared to this year. Your kids are changing. The world is changing. So what was anxiety-producing for them one year might be completely different the next year.
[00:03:05] EW: Yeah. The past couple of years, when they might not have had to go to school because of the pandemic, that was a different stressor and how maybe schools are open. I think a lot of the schools are open now or having hybrids or whatever situation is in your area. Getting used to that, having a couple of years off from that as well, is even more pressure because you haven’t really had to do it for a couple of years, maybe at least one or one and a half years. Now, you have to really relearn what works for you in that morning routine and that night routine to get things kind of the ball rolling when it comes to the stress level.
[00:03:42] PF: So let’s unpack this because we’ve got this big old ball of stress that’s going on, and the whole family is wrapped up in it. So where do you start? Do you start taking care of yourself? Or do you start with your kids? Or how do you start untangling that?
[00:03:56] EW: Yeah. So for me, one of the biggest things I would suggest is if you do have a partner in crime in your life, I would sit down and talk to them to try to talk them and say, “Okay, here’s what I’m feeling. Here’s what’s going on. How can we make this work?” Because whether it’s the mom, the dad, two moms, two dads, whatever the structure of the family unit is, stress is across all human beings and, of course, parents and their children. So create a team. Create a unit. Don’t just leave it all to yourself. Especially if your kids are old enough, figure out how to include them in it.
So let’s say, for example, a big stressor is packing lunches or breakfast in the morning, where it’s just like, “Go, go.” Things are flying. It’s overwhelming. You’re getting dressed. They’re getting dressed. You haven’t had your coffee yet. It’s just nutso.
[00:04:42] PF: Chaos.
[00:04:43] EW: And chaos, right? So make a team effort, right? What can you do the night before that relieves the stress? What can your partner do as well as you, so it’s not just on you because that’s unfair and unrealistic? Because your life matters as much as everyone else, no matter what your responsibilities are outside of the home. So make a game plan. Every single sports team in the history of the world, before a game, make a game plan before the game. So they don’t get to it and go, “Well, we weren’t prepared for this. I don’t know how to deal with this.”
[00:05:16] PF: We didn’t know that we’re going to have –
[00:05:18] EW: “We didn’t know they had that,” right? No, no, no. You should have prepared, and we should be prepared as parents. So it means sitting down, making a game plan, maybe a schedule, maybe a rotation. Maybe it means sitting with your kids, if you have kids in high school, who are older, who don’t need as much micromanaging and on top of them to get them out of the door.
I have a three-year-old daughter. I can’t let her get her breakfast herself. That’s just not going to happen. We’re going to have Fruit by the Foot every single morning, and she can reach it, and we haven’t moved it yet. So not ideal, right? So you maybe include the older kids to watch the younger kids or have the older kids make their own breakfast, so you don’t have to. Maybe it means setting up the clothes the night before. Who knows? There are many ways that have to work for you and your family.
Then once you get the game plan down, try your best to trial and error. If it doesn’t work, don’t be stuck on it. Switch it up. Be flexible. Try a different formula. Make it work for you and your family, and make sure that it doesn’t all fall on you.
[00:06:17] PF: That can be tough because even though you set up this game plan as like, “This is how we’re going to do it,” we have old patterns, and it gets really easy to fall back into those and all these great intentions of we’re going to distribute the responsibility. It just kind of goes out the window, and one person is back to doing the whole thing. So how do you keep them with a sports team? How do you do these little huddles to like keep everybody in the game all the time?
[00:06:42] EW: That’s the struggle of communication and relationships and family, right? It means constantly checking in. When I grew up, my family always had dinner together, which I found out wasn’t a regular thing. But that means if things feel out of whack, if you are really uncertain or overwhelmed, it doesn’t mean that others aren’t doing anything. It just means that you need to talk to them to see what has to be rebalanced, an equilibrium amongst everyone. So it’s checking and say, “Hey. I’ve been feeling like I’ve been falling back or I just feel like things are kind of out of whack a lot recently. Is it just me or –” “Oh, yeah, yeah. I haven’t really been pulling. I’ve been busy.” Communicate. Talk it out.
Sometimes, the biggest key, like you said before, is starting with yourself to become aware of your old patterns so that you can have checks and balances with your partner to say, “Hey, can you keep a lookout to see if I’m going to be doing X, Y, and Z that I always do that ends up making me overwhelmed and makes me stressed? And then I put so much pressure on myself. And then I yell and I scream,” and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. So just start by becoming aware in the ideas that are running your life.
Then, oh, my goodness, when you start becoming aware and self-reflective, the patterns that you can recreate and become aware of the old patterns to kind of stop them in their tracks can be something that de stresses and creates a better functioning you. That’s really, really fun to see.
[00:08:04] PF: Just that idea of creating a routine eliminates so much anxiety. Why is that? Tell us how that works.
[00:08:12] EW: Sure. Because our brains are made to function on consistency and routine when things are the unknown, right? What’s going to happen next? It’s not what we need for survival. Our brains are bred and are coded for survival, and survival equals I know what’s going to happen, so I know how to deal with it. If I don’t know how to deal with it, I’m going to freak out. My brain is going to go in survival mode and start to panic. It is the natural tendency that we do and go to when things are uncomfortable, overwhelming, and unknown.
But when we can create a somewhat because we can’t make everything perfect, and nothing’s ever perfect, but a somewhat assumed or knowledge of what can be every day, then we know what to expect. We know how to attack it. We know how to defend it. We know how to figure out, and we even navigate what’s going to come. That’s why it’s super important to know your own schedule, your kid’s schedule, and everyone’s on the same wavelength and the same game plan. So you know how to weave and dodge and move from any potential stressors because you know what’s going to come.
[00:09:27] PF: As we hit that end of summer, is it good to do it like this fast pivot? Or how can we ease into it? So it’s not such an abrupt, “Oh, hey. It’s summertime. We’re having a great time,” and all of a sudden, well, it’s gone. Now, you’re not going to have fun.
[00:09:41] EW: Yeah. I think Labor Day is like that.
[00:09:44] PF: Turning point.
[00:09:45] EW: The turning point. So it really depends on the person. Some people are good on the fly, right? Some people are good with, “We got this. Next day, we’re done. We’re ready. We’re good. We’re golden.” Some people need two weeks or three weeks to prepare. It really depends on the person. The fun thing about anxiety is that even if you prepare, it still might come up because life can be stressful and uncertain.
So it also means having compassion with yourself that even if you either do it last minute, or you do it in the right time for you, it doesn’t mean that you’re going to all of a sudden erase any anxieties that might come up. It just means that you’re better equipped to handle it. It also means that if it does come up, that you need to give yourself a lot of compassion, that you’re just doing your best.
I think we forget that sometimes as parents. We forget that it is so hard to run our own lives, and now we’re responsible for little humans and their lives, that we have to just do our best. As long as they are healthy, alive, and out the door in school, if their socks aren’t matching, it’s not the end of the world. If they don’t have the most nutritious snacks, but they are happy with their snacks, not the end of the world. If they get to school, and they’re doing well in school, that is the key, if they’re making friends and socializing.
But all the little things that we overwhelm ourselves with and stress about usually aren’t the biggest deal. But we make them a big deal because our brain is so easily focused on those small things as “failures or mistakes or issues” that we hyper focus on them and make ourselves eat ourselves alive by them. So give yourself some grace and compassion to let go sometimes and realize that your kids are doing the best they can. You’re doing the best that you can. As long as they’re going out the door and healthy, you are a successful parent.
[00:11:27] PF: Well, let’s talk about social anxiety for kids because that’s a huge problem right now. If a child has that, then going back to school can be really traumatizing for them. So what are some ways? One, how does a parent differentiate between a child just being anxious about, a little nervous about going back to school and having an actual social anxiety situation that needs a little bit more attention?
[00:11:55] EW: Yeah. I think the first thing is sitting down with your kids’ open-ended questions about their new school year, right? Asking them not just yes or no questions, but leading questions to understand and learn about them. Your goal as a parent is to help your kids grow and to understand them and be there with them through that journey. Every kid’s got the jitters before school. I know I did first day of work, first day of school. All that first can be very – Because you don’t know what to expect. You don’t know what’s going to bring into this year, into this semester, into the new teachers, the new classmates potentially, or even the new you that you’ve figured out over the summer.
So sit down and say, “Hey, what are you looking forward to this year?” “Nothing.” “No, no, no. We don’t take single-word answers. We got to have real conversations.” I mean, sitting there and saying, “Hey, I got your back. I’m going to be there to support you. I want to make sure you’re okay.” Being a little nervous about school in general is really healthy. Even having some social anxiety can be a survival tool, if you feel in danger or unsafe. So if they come out to say that, find out why. Is there a bully in class? Is there a teacher that they really don’t like or a class that they’re really nervous about failing? If it really is that serious, I beg of you to get help earlier than later. Because the later you do it, they are building habits and patterns in their life, in their brain to avoid the situations more than confronting and dealing with them in a healthier way to navigate and cope with it.
But social anxiety makes sense, right? We’ve been hiding for how many years. I mean, all of a sudden –
[00:13:27] PF: It’s been a couple.
[00:13:28] EW: A couple, right? Now, we have to go into the real world. But also, you have to learn about your kid. Each kid is their own unique universe. So don’t be frantic and get scared right away when they’re a little anxious about social world. Maybe they’re growing. Maybe they got a crush at school. Maybe they’re going through puberty and uncertain about their bodies or themselves. It has nothing to do with anxiety, anxiety, but more about uncertainty of self-confidence and self-esteem.
So really, just start learning, watching, paying attention to your kids, being in the moment, being present, putting your stuff down and focus on your kids, and really kind of being aware. When you start becoming aware of your kids and asking the right questions, you can really learn how to help them.
[00:14:10] PF: Yeah. Are there any things that can be done in the morning, like practices you can do in the morning? As we’ve said already, it’s just chaos, trying to get out the door. Everybody, make sure you have your lunch. Make sure you’ve got this, and we’re going to get everywhere on time. That in itself can spike your anxiety. So what are some things maybe that can be done realistically because we know there’s a lot to get done in the morning? What are some practices that can be implemented with children to kind of make that easier?
[00:14:39] EW: Yeah, for sure. I feel like we can get a lot of hate from parents right now. But maybe it means waking up a little bit early yourself, right? Because I think a lot of times, what happens to parents is that they’re so frazzled with the morning routine. That because they’re frazzled and kind of on edge, they’re kind of embracing that feeling a little bit and maybe projecting it or expressing it some way or another on their kids, which then rubs off on them. Then it’s just chaos ensues.
So waking up 15, 20 minutes earlier than what your kids and when your kids are supposed to wake up or their alarms can be the difference maker of you having your morning coffee alone, quiet and calm. So I would, one, start there as a parent. The other thing you can do prior to the day, even starting the night before, prep a little bit. 30 minutes of prep the night before can be the biggest difference of any insanity that can be created the next day.
I know we have long days, myself included. My wife and I do our best to try to prepare as much as we think we can or we have the energy to. If we don’t have the energy to, that’s okay. But if we do have the energy, go for it.
[00:15:45] PF: So let’s talk about like at the end of the day, when you kind of – Everybody’s in the house. Are there any practices that families can use to kind of stay in touch with where everyone’s anxiety levels are, kind of check in, and then also just create more calm that sets it up for the next day?
[00:16:03] EW: I’m a big fan, and I always said this earlier of like eating together as much as possible, even if it’s once or twice a week. But if you can, try to have one or two dinners a night where actually everyone puts their phones down, and you just talk. No pressure. Just to hear what your kids – Not how was your day. What was the favorite part of your day, right? Open-ended questions, right?
How was your day? Fine. Right, one-ended, so that one word. What was your favorite part of the day? Oh, when I went with recess with my best friend, Joe, and we really had a great time playing kickball. Or what was the hardest part of your day, right? Just to learn and hear about what they have to say, creating a conversation with the family.
I’m a big fan of game nights or movie night. Something that is family-oriented. Also, just be conscious of how long your kids. Give it a couple of weeks. Don’t force it because the beginning is a lot for their brains. So don’t be offended if they’re just tired and overwhelmed. Give it time. Don’t push it. It’s about the relationship and about the connection long term and not about forcing a scenario right now.
[00:17:04] PF: For all of our best efforts, sometimes it doesn’t go like we would want it to. When does a parent know that they need to get help as a family or that a child might need – Their anxiety might need outside help?
[00:17:18] EW: If it’s out of your purview, if you realize that you are just out of your depth, and the school can’t deal with it anymore, or the school keeps talking to you about how, “Hey, your kids are just not themselves,” you know your kid better than anyone else. You’re there with them every day. You’ve been with them every day of their lives. Open your eyes, open your heart, and open your mind to see them for who they are right now. If you see that they are not themselves, it doesn’t hurt to just call someone to talk to them.
After one or two assessments or sessions, the therapist says, “Your kid’s great. They’re just [inaudible 00:17:51].” Now, you know. If they say, “Hey, maybe they need a little extra talking to,” you did your due diligence. It never hurts. I want to make this very, very adamantly clear. Your kid is never broken, that needs to be fixed. Your kid might need some space that is not you that can help them. It doesn’t mean that they’re broken. No one can fix them because they’re not a problem that it means put back together. It’s not on a puzzle that broke.
So be aware, be conscious, and open your minds, hearts, and eyes to your kids. If you see they’re not themselves, talk to somebody. If you can’t help yourself, find someone who can.
[00:18:27] PF: So as we go into the school year and the summer, get it all cranked up. What is the one thing that you really hope parents take away from this? What is the thing that you want them to keep first and foremost in their mind?
[00:18:39] EW: Take a breath. Make a plan. Do your best. That’s it. Just take a breath, make a plan, and do your best.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[00:18:52] PF: That was therapist, Eli Weinstein, talking about how to curb end of summer anxiety. If you’d like to learn more about Eli, listen to his Dude Therapist Podcast, or follow him on social media, visit our website at livehappy.com and click on the podcast tab.
If you haven’t visited our Live Happy Store in a while, this is your friendly reminder that we have several cool new items to help you celebrate your positivity, including our fabulous new Live Happy Now Podcast t-shirts and some brand new journals. Check them out when you visit our store at livehappy.com.
That is all we have time for today. We’ll meet you back here again next week for an all-new episode. And until then, this is Paula Felps, reminding you to make every day a happy one.