Last week, we wrote about some signs of being over-scheduled – tiredness, avoidance of schoolwork, frequent illness, to name a few. While these signs can alert us to the need to slow down, they are also symptoms of anxiety.

We’ve all experienced the telltale signs of anxiety – whether in the form of a serious panic attack or a more low-key uptick in our nervousness. New social situations, job interviews, or an impending test (academic and medical, alike) can increase heart rate, cause sweaty palms, and shallow breathing. Typically, once settled in a situation, the symptoms ease and we find ourselves more comfortable – more ourselves.

But for some, anxious feelings can be paralyzing, and while the reasons for anxiety are endless, being too busy (or over-scheduled) can lead to an impending sense of doom or failure. So how can you help your child (or yourself) when the to-do list seems never-ending?

Mindfulness

First and foremost, take a deep breath. Anxiety and constant worry often cause us to take short, shallow breaths. When inhaling deeply, we provide more oxygen to the blood, allowing our body to better release toxins. In addition, focusing on one’s breath slows down thoughts and brings you into the present moment.

The easiest breathing technique is to expand the exhale to a count of six while the inhale is a count of four. By elongating the exhale, we can lower the heart rate, and in turn, lower stress and anxiety by providing an immediate sense of calm. With eyes closed gently, inhale slowly and deeply for a count of four and exhale for a six-count. Repeat this ten times before slowly fluttering the eyes open to take in the room.

Prioritize & Manage Time

After using the breath to calm the nerves and to come into the present moment, help your child prioritize his or her to-do list. Ask your child to list out assignments in order of due date. From here, have your child write down how much time he or she thinks it will take to complete each assignment. Then help your child choose: do they feel better when they get the shorter assignments finished first (gives a quick sense of satisfaction that tasks are coming off the to-do list)? Or do they find more satisfaction getting the longer, more complex assignments out of the way? This takes a bit of self-awareness, so read below for tips on how to encourage and develop a better sense of self.

The goal here is to write out all tasks that need to be completed. Sometimes the simple process of writing down everything that needs to be done is enough to alleviate some stress and anxiety. When we try to maintain a running list in our heads, we tend to over-emphasize the number of things we need to get done.

Develop Self-Awareness

Help your child to gain a better understanding of him- or herself. Do they find that they have more focus in the morning or late at night? Do they need light music in the background to stay focused or complete silence? There are no right or wrong answers here. Instead, encourage your child to pay attention to times when they are unfocused – what is causing the distraction? How can the situation be improved? What about the times when something went well? What were the steps that your child took in that situation? How can that outcome be replicated in the future?

Organization

Have a designated homework location in your home. This location should include a wall calendar, notepads, pens, pencils, lined and blank paper, a ruler, a stapler, and a hole-punch, to name a few items. Help your child use the calendar to keep track of upcoming tests and quizzes, sporting events or performances, practice schedules, and project due dates.

In the beginning, assist your child in breaking larger assignments and projects down into more manageable tasks. Writing “Research Paper Due” on a date a month into the future is likely not going to be helpful. Instead, discuss the assignment with your child. What sources are they going to use? How are they going to take notes as they use the sources? Do they have an outline? How many drafts should they write? Put all of these separate tasks on the calendar to prevent the paper from being written at the last minute.

And finally …

Minimize Responsibilities

We started this article talking about over-scheduling and the side effects. This is often a challenge for children, teens, and adults alike. Many times, we say “yes” when we really want to say “no”. Using self-awareness, identify these moments. Allow your child to be involved in the decision-making process about extra-curricular activities. And if you see that your child may be over-scheduling him or herself, start a conversation about it. Why do they want to be involved in this club/sport/performance? Why is this important to him or her? What is the time commitment? How do they plan to manage their time if they take on this extra role?