Back to School Prep!

Back to School Prep!

Stress management for youth this new academic year

It's about that time of the year! All across the US, school-aged youth (and their families) are gearing up for the beginning of the academic school year. While summertime may have been a good way to re-energize and help youth work on other self-development goals (sports, leisure, and hobbies), the start of the new school year can bring on the same old worries and fears that plague students--academic success and effective navigation of social situations in school.

Stress is a part of our regular daily experiences, and it is good to share with children and young adults now that regretfully, stress is not something that EVER goes away. It's just a natural part of life, and it is also important to make them understand that it varies from being light to overwhelming, and there are times when stress can be either good (getting pumped up for a race or dance recital) or bad (forgetting everything you studied on test day). Such stressors can come from various sources such as:

  • academic workload
  • time management
  • after school jobs
  • peer pressure (substance use, sex, high-risk behaviors)
  • dating and other relationships
  • body image
  • bullying
  • family conflict
  • health

While it is not entirely possible to be completely rid of stress, there are ways to better manage how youth can respond to stressful situations they are faced with.

Parents, please feel free to share the list below with your child. Here are some examples of healthy coping strategies to manage school-related stress for youth:

 

Helpful tips for Back-to-School Stress Management

  1. Talk to a friend, parent, or someone you feel comfortable with sharing your problems. This not only helps you offload what is bothering you inside, it also provides you with social and emotional support with what you are going through. Additionally, reaching out to a trusted individual may also provide you with a different perspective on the problem and how to tackle it.
  2. Take a deep breath and pause to examine the problematic situation from a broader perspective. Sometimes, we become so consumed by what we are experiencing in the moment (like extreme anger, frustration, and hopelessness) that we fail to see what is really going on around us. Take a moment to step back and ask yourself, "What's going on for me right now? Why do I feel so strongly about this?" Re-evaluate the situation from a broader perspective and see whether the stressors/problems are truly what they seem to be. 
  3. Pay attention to your self-talk and how you treat yourself in the face of adversity, challenges, or failures. Do you tend to be overly-demanding or critical of yourself to the point that it does more harm than good? Do you engage in negative self-talk each time something doesn't go your way? For instance, do you tell yourself things like, "I'm not good enough" or "Nobody cares about me", which may not be completely accurate 100% of the time? If you find that these thought patterns are not effective in helping you reach your goals, it may be good to consider a more adaptive and realistic thought pattern that could motivate and acknowledge what you are going through.
  4. Practice mindfulness skills and activities such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, yoga, and meditation. When we are stressed out, our bodies tend to react accordingly and become tensed up. While this could be a life-saving action in times of serious danger (e.g., life-threatening situations), it doesn't bode well to have this same high-intensity reaction to everyday things that occur. Find a moment to practice mindfulness and be fully present in the here-and-now. Find a moment to practice mindfulness and be fully present in the here-and-now. What you may eventually find is that our emotions and thoughts come and go and that you CAN get through it. 
  5. Set small goals for yourself and break tasks into smaller, manageable chunks. If things are difficult to start and you find yourself procrastinating or putting it off until the last minute, develop a better habit of tackling each small goal and rewarding yourself for each successful achievement. Pretty soon, you may even find yourself going above and beyond what you had set out to accomplish.
  6. Exercise, get a full night's sleep, and eat regular meals. The body can only function properly if it is treated well. Maintain a regular exercise regimen that works for you and aim for getting 6-8 hours of sleep each night. Avoid naps in the daytime if possible so that it doesn't interfere with your bedtime. Nourish your body by eating balanced and regular meals.
  7. Visualize and practice feared situations. Walk yourself through the stressful situation you are faced with and challenge your negative and/or anxious thought patterns. Ask yourself, "What's the worst case scenario?", "Best case scenario?", and finally "What's the most likely scenario that could happen?" This helps you challenge your fears about the things that MAY or MAY NOT happen. And ask yourself, "Will I care about this in a month? In a year? In 5 years?" Assess whether this is worth your time feeling worried and upset when maybe you could be doing other things you'd prefer.
  8. Peer pressure is a real pain, especially during the transitional periods of teenage years and young adulthood. This is a time when you are forming your self-identity and learning about yourself. When you are faced with stressful social situations with peers, it's important to ask yourself, "What are my personal values? Does this action align with my values and what I believe in? Do I feel comfortable doing/not doing what my friends are asking me to do?" Asserting yourself and standing up for what you feel is right can be hard to do in the face of peer pressure, but it is not impossible. If you find yourself having repeated situations of peer pressure and conflict, it may be helpful to reconsider the people you surround yourself with and seek other friendships who share your similar values and/or are able to respect your boundaries.
  9. Lower unrealistic expectations. Nobody is perfect, and that is okay. Give up on the idea of perfection, both in yourself and in others. Even Beyoncé has off-days. Focus on what you can control (your reactions, your actions) and let go of what you cannot (other people’s opinions and expectations). We all have our own struggles and failure is a gift. It is one of the most effective learning experiences we can be given so that we can show our ability to adapt to the situation at hand. If you're struggling, examine the situation from a different light and see what key things you can take away from the experience. Like a video game character going through an adventure path (think Super Mario), what did you learn and how can you move forward from here? 
  10. Lastly, schedule breaks and enjoyable activities. Hard work is important for success, but enjoying the fruits of your labor is also a definite must. Why work tirelessly to the point of exhaustion when you can't even enjoy it? And if not now, when? It is MORE THAN OK to schedule things to do that are solely for your enjoyment and not for school or other demands. By taking the time to schedule fun-filled activities (watching tv, playing games, hanging out with friends), you are more likely to feel good about yourself and feel energized to tackle the next set of things (schoolwork, projects, studying for upcoming quiz) headed your way.

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I hope this is helpful! And if you find that your loved one continues to struggle with mood, anxiety, or other stress-related concerns, it may be good to consult with me and see what we can do together.

Contact me and schedule a free 30-min consultation.

 

-Dr. Mayo