Expert Advice for Keeping Your Family Healthy During Back-to-School Season

back to school season

A doctor explains how she’s helping her household stay well — mentally and physically — as it gets ready for fall.

With all the barbecues, beach trips, and long-awaited reunions, this summer has been a whirlwind. And amid the festivities, health has been top of mind for families across the country. As we turn the calendar page from July to August, staying well — and staying organized — remains a priority for Dr. Stephanie Liu, a physician and mom from Alberta, Canada. Dr. Liu told us how she’s managing her health and household and offers tips for spotting the early signs of burnout, so you can take the right steps to take care.

KCM: Lately, we’ve all spent lots of time thinking about how to keep ourselves healthy. As the world continues to reopen, what are some everyday habits that’ll help keep families feeling well, especially once kids head back to school?

Dr. Liu: Adjusting to a new routine was really difficult for our family at the beginning of the pandemic, especially with the kids out of school. Now that things are opening up, we’re focused on getting back into a routine that looks more like it did pre-COVID. For example, during the pandemic, we found that our kids were going to sleep way too late. So, in preparation for going back to school, we’re transitioning them to the appropriate bedtime. I also got back into meal prepping, which makes our crazy mornings a little bit simpler. Packing lunches and getting the kids’ clothes ready the night before makes it easier to get everyone to school and myself off to work in the morning. Another thing that we did during the pandemic that we’re hoping to carry through is making sure that we get lots of outdoor time. At least three times a week, we go for a family walk, visit the park, or take a nature walk. That’s been really good for our mental health and for keeping us active.

We also need to keep washing our hands. Not everyone is immunized yet, and COVID-19 is still transmissible. I gave both of my kids their own hand sanitizer for going back to school, and I wanted to encourage them to use it. Early on, the smell of the hand sanitizer really bothered them, so I let both of my kids choose their own scented hand sanitizer. Then, I let them decorate the bottle with stickers so it’s their own cute little thing, and now, they look forward to hand sanitizer.

As we transition from summer to fall, what are some seasonal household tasks at the top of your to-do list?

I try to make sure that all of the summer toys and gardening tools that we don’t need in the fall are packed away properly. Before kids, I wasn’t really into labels, but now we put everything we’re not going to use in a big plastic bin that we label. Then we start taking out things that we know we’re going to need for the fall. I live in Alberta, Canada, and it gets really cold here — sometimes we need our hats and gloves even in September. So I get out the winter gear, the gloves and mittens, so that once we get our first cold day, we’re ready to go and we’re not in panic mode looking for all the stuff that we need for the fall and winter.

What are your favorite products to get those tasks done?

For labeling, I always make sure to have a good felt marker that doesn’t wipe off. I also use nice big pieces of tape that are easy to write on, or adhesive labels to put on those bins. I also look for sturdy plastic bins that are durable, able to hold a lot, and don’t get all floppy on us.

Finally, the end of summer and early fall are often packed with activities, but having a lot on our calendars can be exhausting. What are some signs of burnout in adults and kids, and what steps can we take to mitigate its effects?

Burnout is something I’ve experienced both at work and in my personal life, and the presentation of burnout can really vary. Some of the symptoms include feeling tired, or like you’re not getting as much enjoyment out of life. You may also become less productive and be less efficient at getting tasks done. Sometimes, people who are burnt out struggle to regulate their emotions, and irritability is common.

Left untreated, burnout can lead to other mental health conditions like anxiety and depression, so it’s really important to identify early on. One thing that has helped me is making sure I find time for activities that bring me joy. For me, that’s exercising, whether it’s just going for a walk, doing a yoga class, or aggressive weightlifting. I recommend others find time to do the exercise that makes them happy, too.

If you’re struggling, it’s always a good idea to seek support and check in with your healthcare provider. If you’re already seeing a counselor, you can bring up these feelings with them. Tell them you’re feeling more irritable and just not yourself, and talk it through.

Sleep is also so important for overall health and well being. A lot of us feel healthier and happier when we’re getting enough sleep. And something that’s become quite popular, that I’m trying to do more, is focus on mindfulness. Making sure that you find time to live in the moment and really focus on the here and now is unbelievably hard to do, but it can help in finding what brings you joy and happiness.