7 Ways to Survive the Back-to-School Nervepocalypse


Starting stuff is hard. In putting off writing this blog, I’ve accidentally completed two seasons in Championship Manager, leading Wolverhampton Wanderers to an unlikely Champions League title with a 1-0 extra-time win over Roma. What a moment, I guess. It would have felt better if I didn’t have the hairy shadowbeast of productivity looming behind me, tapping me on the shoulder, asking ‘Have you done it yet?’ every five minutes.

I’m a master procrastinator, having honed my craft throdugh years of self-employment. I can, with wonderful effectiveness, loiter on the edge of beginning many exciting projects for months before either abandoning them or toppling backwards into them and realising it’s easier just to finish them than crawl back out from where I’ve come. Even The Floor is Lava took a year longer than it needed, because having researched all the games I needed to, I found it nigh-on-impossible to write the first one down.

The pain of beginning something, of moving from a state of rest to a state of work, is real. Breaking through that viscous membrane and becoming suddenly productive is, for me, a bit like bursting into song in public or jumping off a diving board. It’s that first note, or step, or word, that’s the hardest.

Spare a thought for the millions of children who are now well aware that this is their last weekend of freedom before the new school term. The knowledge, for them, that next week brings with it a whole new state of being, of expectations and being judged and social pressures, may bring about a similar feeling of anxiety and lethargy that I get before beginning a project, that you get on a Sunday evening, that we all get on the last night of a holiday. The Fear, they call it. Unlike a blog or your next book, you can’t put off the beginning of school, which in a way makes it even worse. One day you’re in the middle of summer, the next you’re in a starchy blazer lining up outside French. It’s not a surprise that breaking through that wall hurts like hell.

So how do you cushion the blow?

I think we can play our way through it. In order to get something on this page, I wrote a nonsensical sentence that was ten words long and contained words that increased in letter length, from one to ten. Having done that, the spell was broken, the sanctity of the pale white page stained with inky muck, and I then felt able to write the first sentence of the blog. I have since removed the sentence because it was a weird way to start a blog, to be honest. (If you’re interested, the sentence was ‘I am the dork whose pebbled managers eradicate Paddington.’ After writing an opening like that, any old tripe would be an improvement. That’s the idea, anyway.)

The same goes for first-day-back nerves. If you can break down the boundary between not-school and school, not-work and work, through play, the transition loses all its edge. So here are seven simple, silly and free ways to combat The Fear:

  • Put your school tie on your dog on Sunday. Then hide a pebble from that nice beach in your pocket all through Monday.

  • On your final dinner of the weekend, describe to each other the worst possible first day back that you can imagine. We’re talking fireballs, zombie teachers and a blocked boys’ toilet, here. Whatever actually happens won’t be half as bad as what you’ve already visualised.

  • Once you’re at school, when someone asks you about your holiday announce proudly that you will tell them all about it, but you’ll include one lie. It’s their job to uncover it.

  • Include a secret word or phrase in every piece of holiday homework. How about ‘egg mayonnaise’? You’ve got to fit this into your history project, English essay and French translation. You get a point for every teacher who doesn’t circle it in green.

  • Challenge yourself on the first day back to secretly speak to your friends/colleagues in rhyme. Once they pick you up on it, deny any knowledge and call it a co-incidence.

  • Pack your bag the night before, but fill it with stupid stuff like a plastic dinosaur or a flip-flop. Enjoy imagining your own annoyed face in the morning when you have to re-pack it.

  • When making your packed lunch, make it upside down. I don’t really know what this one means, but good luck.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. It’s also pretty silly, but that’s kind of the point. Why not be a bit irreverent with The Fear this autumn, and show it who’s really the boss? And let me know what you do to get past the first-day-back nervepocalypse.

Blog, Popular PostIvan Brett