Why We Still Get That ‘Back To School’ Feeling As Adults

Why We Still Get That ‘Back To School’ Feeling As Adults

For many, September still signals a fresh start – even years after we’ve left school and university. Armed with a new notebook and pen, SL’s Lifestyle Editor investigates why we all feel the need to kickstart our lives once summer ends…

Back when I was at school, I’d spend the final few weeks of the summer holidays itching to get back to my term-time routine. Living far away from most of my friends over the holidays, by the time mid-August rolled around I’d be counting down the days until I’d see them again (now, at the age of 30, spending an entire summer with just my younger sister sounds like an absolute dream: back in 1998 it was anything but). In hindsight, I reckon I was just as excited about finally unveiling my newly acquired collection of gel pens and box-fresh Kickers as I was sharing packets of crisps in the changing rooms at break time.

It’s been 12 years since I last heard a school bell ring, yet as the end of August approaches I still get that same sense of anticipation – and it’s not just because it means my commute will no longer be filled with unruly summer campers on their way to the Natural History Museum. I might not have a new armoury of stationery, but subconsciously I can feel myself steel up for a new ‘term’ – whether that’s at work, home or within my friendships, where each September sees me contact everyone I know to arrange a much-needed catch up.

It seems I’m not the only one. Research unveiled by Pinterest this week suggests 55% of Brits feel September has become synonymous with getting ‘back to life’ after a summer of longer nights, holidays and – in the case of 2018 – an unexpected heatwave and string of World Cup successes. Meanwhile, the report also showed 38% of those surveyed believe September is the month when they want to make small changes to their lifestyle. As someone always on the hunt for a self-improvement project, this one resonates loud and clear.

Winding down after a summer of extended stays in the local beer garden, mini-breaks and summer music festivals, September never fails to arrive with a jolt. According to findings by research psychiatrist Jefferey M Swartz, a renowned expert on the neuroscience of habits, this is because our brains are hard-wired to form routines – and when these behaviours are repeated over months and years they become harder to break. Yes, it might have been decades since you had a homework diary, but those formative 12 years or so at school will have subconsciously embedded themselves into your internal calendar.

This is why, for some, the approach of autumn might signal the perfect time to dust off their CV and brush up on interview techniques in search of new opportunities. For others, it could be a fresh wardrobe, full of new season office-appropriate ‘uniforms’. And for many – myself included – it means a new exercise regime: again, Pinterest’s research finds 38% of the people surveyed revealed they would like to exercise more, while 36% agreed they wanted to be healthier after a summer of indulgence.

I might not have a new armoury of stationery, but subconsciously I can feel myself steel up for a new ‘term’ – whether that’s at work, home or within my friendships.

With the lure of the pub garden diminished, and the excuse of it being too hot to exercise outdoors all but evaporated, for me the beginning of autumn marks the perfect time to tackle the cross-trainer. Whenever I’ve taken this approach in the past, I’ve always found it easier to stick to a routine and see results: whether that’s down to my ingrained ‘new year, new me’ thought process or the lack of fun stuff to do once the sun starts setting at 4pm, I’m not sure. But since I’ve returned from holiday and accepted that tights weather is back, I’ve also found myself meal prepping and attempting beginners weight training YouTube videos in a way I’ve never done before.
While I’m a big fan of New Year’s resolutions (and have even managed to stick to one this year), a September challenge presents a less pressured environment. There are just four months of the year left: 1st September offers a final chance to complete all the things you meant to do back in January, but with the added bonus of no-one asking you about your stalled progress.
Another reason September feels like a fresh start? When it comes down to it, I’m a real autumn girl. I love the sense of renewal, from the falling leaves to the drop in temperature and transition from summer salads to slow-cooked Sunday roasts. I feel more ‘me’ when I’m swathed in knitwear and can go stomping about in the rain without any of the Wuthering Heights comparisons.
I’m not one for spring cleans, but the charity shops of Brighton are bulging with an array of books and clothing from seasons past, spurred on by a completely unplanned, yet instinctive need for a clear-out of my flat the moment the heatwave subsided. I stopped short of abandoning a pair of beautiful leather brogues that are so stiff my feet get blisters just by looking at them. Even if I grow out of searching for fresh notepads each September, breaking in a pair of lace-ups is seemingly one habit I’ll never relinquish.

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