Michelle's Girl's Life article on Back-to-School tips

Back-to-School teen tips and inspiration fill the pages of the latest Girls’ Life magazine where Michelle has some great contributions. Of course, not everything she prepared for her teen girls could be included in the article.

So, Michelle wanted to share them exclusively with you here. To see what was featured in Girls’ Life August-September 2023 issue, read the magazine in newsstands now and online.

Back-to-school season is always such an exciting time of year, but can also bring up some serious nerves. What is it about going back to school that can be so nerve-wracking?

Absolutely! Back-to-school season definitely brings mixed feelings. There are so many questions:

“Wait, summer is already over? Back-to-school-shopping? What is this year going to be like? Who will be my friends? Will I be able to pass AP Human Geo?”

When we talk about nervousness, it is so important to remember that it is a normal feeling. It comes and it should go.

If we let our anxieties live full-time rent free in our minds, it can really hinder us giving our all. We actually need to hold our feelings of nervousness accountable to what is true.

The truth is, you have within you the strength and capability to navigate what is coming your way.

I believe the nerve-wracking nature of this new beginning each fall is the idea that we don’t know how things will unfold. We cannot control the future in any way.

So if we focus on what we cannot control, we will be nerved up and out. What we can do to feel better in these situations is to focus on what we CAN control: ourselves.

We can control how we show up. How open we are for good to unfold. How we present ourselves.

Being present is better than being self-focused. We can release our expectations of how everything is going to turn out. We can expect of ourselves to give the coming school year the best possible chance by how we show up.

Girl's Life Back-To-School article featuring Michelle Dolan

If they are having anxiety about going back to school, what are some ways to tone that stress down?

Here are a few steps to tone the stress down if you are feeling anxious about going back-to-school:

Acknowledge your feeling of anxiety.

  • But also acknowledge that you are not a hostage to your feelings of fear. Let’s verify if it is telling the truth or not. Nine times out of ten, fear lies to us. And surprisingly, living as a hostage to our anxieties can become more comfortable than engaging our courage. Remind yourself that you have pushed through other uncomfortable situations and can take deep breaths and push through this.

Remind yourself of affirming truths:

  • “I can do hard things”, “I am made for this moment”, “I am showing up open”, “Temporary discomfort is not bad”. This is how you call on your inner coach. Be aware of your self-talk and switch to positive, encouraging words. Words you would share with a friend if they were nervous.

Stop the spiral of being overly self-focused.

  • I find that girls struggle most in these situations when they get into over-thinking mode and self-criticize into paralyzation. When we are self-focused, we are not present in the world around us. One of the greatest gifts we can give is our presence. I call it “practicing presence.”

What is your advice to pre-teens and teen girls if they want to start off the new year with a refreshed energy and confidence?

To start off the year with refreshed energy and confidence takes some intentionality on your part.

First, it is important to think of all the things that are life-giving and recharging for you.

Sit down and “design” your routine for the new school year. Test some of your ideas before you begin school.

Do you enjoy getting up to the sunrise and a cup of herbal tea? Do you want to start your day with Gratitudes and Affirmations? Do you want to exercise in the morning? What does a nourishing, energy rich breakfast look like for you?

After testing these new ideas, update your routine.

Refreshing confidence takes intentionality as well. Grab your journal and take a moment to think of your gifts and talents.

What are the qualities you carry in your heart to every situation? What makes you, you? Focusing on the wealth of all you carry in your heart brings healthy, effervescent confidence that will take you far. This is something I do with all of my clients.

Knowing your value can change the entire trajectory of your life!

Back-to-School Teen Tips in Girl's Life magazine article featuring Michelle Dolan

Why is the new school year the best time to create new goals and try something you’ve never done before?

I would say any day you wake up with breath in your lungs is a great time to implement new habits.

However, I would be careful about putting too much pressure on yourself. Have you ever tried to change too many things in your life at once and achieved none because it was too much?

My philosophy is to focus on micro-steps instead of overwhelming, sweeping changes.

If you have ideas of how you would like to study differently, speak up in class more, or branch out in social situations, start with micro-steps you know without a doubt you can (and want to) do.

It is good if they make you a little nervous. You will do well. You are showing up!

What are some tips for setting goals and feeling good about achieving them this year?

Think of micro-steps and goals. Do not go wild and try to change everything all at once in the same week.

Focus on what you truly want to do. Many times we think about what we should be doing. A great shift is to focus on what we could be doing.

What do you want more of this year? Like sprinkles of confetti, make micro-steps toward the things you want to do.

I encourage you to have a visual representation of your progress. Write it down. Mark things off. Celebrate!

You can even make large visuals in your room using poster board or those huge Post-It notes. You can also make a collage of your dreamed achievements for this year from photos and magazine clippings.

Can you give some examples of how you would advise a teen or pre-teen girl to approach the below situations and achieve their goals?

Generally, life coaches rarely give advice. A coach’s role is to coach out the client’s own inner wisdom. As a guide, I help sort and sift through all that she is facing and co-create a strategy that best fits her.

Many times, girls know what they want, but are simply unsure how to articulate it enough to move toward it. Gaining that clarity first is important to achieve any goal.

You’re not a huge fan of public speaking–even raising your hand feels too scary. But you want to overcome your fear and speak up more without chickening out.

Yay for your desire to overcome your fear and not stay stuck. I would suggest the idea of sticking to a single micro-step.

Instead of trying to simply turn on a switch and speak in public more, choose to raise your hand in one class today.

Everyone else likely has the same question and will be relieved you spoke up.

I have seen girls overcome this fear over and again just by starting with one question, in one class, in one week.

The following week, bump it up to two and so on. You will have exercised that muscle and gained your confidence.

You know you have great ideas and want to make a change in your school, but you’ve never been in a leadership position before and all the same kids keep getting picked for student council every year. You want to make people see you as a serious candidate.

The best leaders have a heart to serve and empower others.

Find a way to love and serve your student body. See the gifts in those around you and let them know how valuable they are. It may be in a club, an event, or a sport.

Shift your focus from the politics of how things turn out every year to your why. Focus on your vision and invite others to join you while you are serving.

You’ve had the same friends forever, but they don’t always make you feel your best. Honestly, not seeing them as often over the summer was kind of a relief. You want to branch out and hang with some new people, but you don’t want to cause any drama or make your friends mad.

I am glad you are paying attention to these cues. The great news is that you do not have to cause an ounce of drama.

You do not have to make an announcement or burn any bridges. You just position yourself differently.

This means you decide how much (or how little) time you want to spend with them and then strategically control your availability.

You might need to turn off location in Snap so everyone does not have tabs on how you spend your time. You do not owe anyone that kind of information.

I would also suggest that you keep some parts of your life private as you give yourself the space to branch out.

Healthy friends will not be possessive or try to control who you spend time with.

I know this is going to be difficult, but you cannot control how other people react to your decisions. If your friends get mad because you want to love more people in your life, that is their issue.

You’ve always been into sports, but you’d really like to try out for the musical (you’re basically Troy Bolton from HSM). You want to try something new without totally feeling out of the loop with all your friends from the team.

That feeling of resistance is the reason to try out! You can try out for the musical and stay in the loop with your friends from the team.

Make hanging out with them a priority, and you won’t feel out of the loop. If they are good friends, they will be happy for you that you are trying something new. Invite them to your show!

I see teens holding back because of what their friends might think. That is no way to live. Do what you dream. If they are truly “for you,” they will support you.

You got into a few honors classes and you’re really nervous about all the extra studying and homework you have to do. You want to make sure you keep up with your work, but also have a social life.

Congrats on getting into those honors classes! Once you let yourself feel the nervous feels, it’s time to dig in your heels to hold those feelings accountable.

Can you remember a time where you adapted to something new before? I’m sure you have!

You are strong and can get through anything if you take it one day at a time. Fear always lives in the future (we can only control what we do today).

By taking a deep breath and staying present in today, you will find yourself adapting. There is always a learning curve, but if you stay present, you find your stride.

Once you find your stride, you get to create your schedule. Budget your time in your schedule and include time with your friends! You can even schedule in self-care and rest.

You always end up being the one to take on all the work in a group project and everyone else just assumes you’re cool with it. You want to learn how to delegate and share the load without seeming bossy.

There is likely a lot more to this story, but I will focus on delegation and sharing the load.

Leadership is a way of empowering others. If your group is looking to you to make things happen, that is exactly what you can do.

First, break up the project work into the parts that match the number in your group.

Ask what parts of the project each member in your group would enjoy doing. Assign those parts of the project to those who speak up. Then assign the remaining members the rest while calling out a strength in them as the reason they are best for that part. You take what’s left.

Be aware of your tone and body language. Be kind, upbeat, and honest.

You have a giant crush on your friend and you think they might feel the same way. You don’t want to ruin your relationship, but you know you’d make a great couple.

Crushing is common. Zoom out. Friendships last much longer typically than romantic relationships. Spend time weighing the pros and cons of letting your friend know how you feel and if the timing is right.

Some great advice I was given was: When in doubt, do without. If you do not know what to do 100%, do not do anything yet. Wait. Make your move when you know 100% what to do.

Based on their social media, it feels like everyone else had the most epic summer of their lives. But you just laid low and babysat your younger sibling. You’re anxious about what to say when they ask you what you did in the summer because you don’t want to seem lame.

Even though we know everyone posts only their highlight reels to social media, it can still mess with us if we are not careful.

They didn’t post a photo when their face broke out. Or when their parents got in a fight on their trip. You are only seeing the part they want to share.

If you find yourself comparing when you are scrolling, that’s your sign to take a break. Get some sunshine. Take a walk. Call a friend. Paint. Write. Draw. Dance. Read poetry. Hug someone.

Instead of comparing and then looking at your summer through a lens of deficit, change out your lens. Look back on your summer and remember your favorite moments, sunsets, movies, etc.

If they ask about what you did, tell them about your summer vibes from a place of abundance. You may have felt the same vibes from a sunset they did. They will believe you and be happy for you even if you did not travel the world. You don’t have to worry about how you “seem” if you are being your most authentic self.

Michelle Dolan

Michelle Dolan is a Certified Life Coach for Teen Girls and Young Women based in Wilmington, North Carolina. She helps teen girls manage stresses, sort through life’s complications and realize their strengths, value and potential in the process. Michelle passionately empowers teen girls to awaken to their own greatness. She also equips parents and volunteers with tools and strategies to increase their level of connection with their teen girls.

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