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The Struggle Is Real: Navigating the Unknown as the School Year Approaches

Whether or not you have children or work as a teacher, without a doubt you are privy to the current struggles and challenges related to the rapidly approaching school year.

As the mother of four young children, my husband and I have spent a lot of time lately considering our options, attempting to arrive at a decision we feel comfortable with, and attempting to navigate our practical concerns and fears 

Whether you are a parent trying to make a choice, a teacher who does not have a choice, or maybe both, there are some things we can all consider about our thoughts and feelings as we look forward to the next phase of 2020.

Give yourself grace

A few weeks ago I spent about a week feeling paralyzed about the school decision in front of us.  With four kids with different needs, one with medical concerns, and two parents that work, there are a lot of factors that go into the decision we were facing: go virtual or not.

In the midst of all of my decision making struggles and concerns about the future, I was talking to my own therapist one day.  She reminded me that although I was working towards making a decision, I was approaching this as if there was a “right” decision.  The reality is, there is no correct decision for some issues.  In this circumstance, there is making the decision we feel most comfortable with, out of some less than ideal choices.  When we face a decision for which there is no roadmap, our goal is to think through all the elements and make the decision that seems right for us at the moment.  And give ourselves grace in the process – this IS hard!

Be Mindful of your Thinking

Thinking about negative things is not necessarily always unhealthy for us.  Part of how we process information and make informed decisions is to be aware of the realities of life.  Unfortunately, sometimes we employ unhealthy thought processes that skew our thinking, and in turn our emotions, towards the negative.

Cognitive distortions, a concept from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, refer to biased ways of thinking about oneself and the world around us.  The model essentially states that there are specific (and common) ways people distort their thinking. These irrational thoughts and beliefs (i.e., distortions) can lead to problematic emotional states and behavior, like anxiety, low self-esteem, depression, and relationship conflicts. That’s why you want to be aware of them so that you can shift your thinking to more rational and objective thoughts whenever possible.  More rational thinking tends to lead to more positive emotional and behavioral experiences.

In short, they’re habitual errors in thinking. When you’re experiencing a cognitive distortion, the way you interpret events is usually negatively biased.

As I have filtered through decision making and thoughts about the upcoming school year, I have found myself gravitating towards three types of cognitive distortions.

Mental Filtering: This is when we focus only on the negative aspects of a situation, while completely ignoring the positive. It’s minimizing the good, in place of the bad.

  • I don’t agree with what the school is doing, therefore the administration is terrible at their job.
  • My kids might struggle to learn virtually, therefore we might as well not even do school this year.

Catastrophizing: This is when we talk about situations as worse than they actually are — often to avoid truly dealing with them. A major sign of catastrophizing is failing to see positive outcomes as legitimate possibilities.

  • I am absolutely going to get sick.
  • Nobody will learn anything.

Should Statements: This is setting standards that criticize ourselves, others or the world. It’s focusing on how things “should” be, rather than how they really are.

  • The school district should ________.
  • The government should _________.
  • The goal is to be aware enough of these cognitive distortions that you and I can recognize how we might be employing these in our thinking.

Seek out peace

As much as we struggle to make the “right” choice, it can often seem like the struggle is even more difficult to stick by the choice we have made.  As much as the process of making a decision can impact us, we have the choice to be mindful of seeking peace in the midst of making a decision and afterwards.

For me, peace comes from trusting God.  It comes from acknowledging that there are factors I don’t understand and can’t see, but I know and am loved by the one who does.  It comes from acknowledging that my peace does not have to be dependent on a lack of problems or worries in my circumstances, but can rest in His presence.

For some, peace comes in trusting their gut instinct.  For others, peace comes from disconnecting, from self-care, or from journaling or meditating.

Regardless of how you pursue peace, do it!  I heard someone say once that pursuing peace is not just about choosing it once, but pursuing peace while you consciously decide not to pick back up the worry and fear.  Find a balance between being aware of the potential outcomes and working proactively to protect yourself from those, while also knowing that choosing to walk forward with peace is just that – a choice.

As parents, as teachers, as people who live in this world, the realities in front of us are challenging.  While there is a lot that we don’t have power over or the ability to control right now, we CAN be mindful of how we are processing things, give ourselves grace as we make decisions, and not allow our current circumstances to rob us of our peace.

Want help reframing your thinking?  Need to learn tools to cope with anxieties about the future?  Contact AWCC and set up an appointment with one of our therapists!

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Kristin King

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