Every working adult understands that stress is something we just deal with. We go to work, handle our money, raise our families, and have other responsibilities in the community. The plus for adults is that we have had decades to perfect our coping skills and find ways to handle our stress appropriately. This may not be so easy for teens.
Teens go through a lot of stress on a daily basis. They have a routine of school, activities, family obligations, and maybe even a part-time job. That’s a lot to squeeze into a single day. School-related stress includes things like social expectations or anxieties, in-class teacher expectations, and lots of homework.
Teens can easily become overly stressed with that amount of physical and mental activity going on every day. Homework alone is a huge stressor. Forget the social expectations and family obligations; some teens have hours of homework to complete every night of the week, including weekends.
But, just like adults have figured out their coping mechanisms, there are strategies out there to help kids manage their school-related stress.
Social Expectations and Anxieties
It used to be that students would get picked on or teased by each other, but everyone was friends in the end. Now, students have to worry about being singled out, bullied, and treated poorly both emotionally and physically. With the increases of social media bullying and school violence, there are whole new types of coping skills that teens need to perfect to handle the social stress.
Social stress refers to a strain that is formed as a result of one’s relationships and their social environment. This may include stress from friendship groups, academic competition, or struggles at home. A survey conducted on social stress by a high school student studying emotional stress collected a wide variety of opinions about the stresses of relationships formed as a student.
The students recognize that social stress is a problem faced by many students, but it’s often overlooked by the administrators in education. In the survey, 92% of the student body believe they experienced social stress on a daily basis, while 84% of the students claimed that adults exacerbate the social stress teens experience.
The students voted and claimed the three major causes of social stress were academic struggles, perfectionism, and over-scheduling, with 84% voting for academic struggles, 68% voting for perfectionism, and 64% voting for over-scheduling (students were all allowed to vote for more than one cause). The final question asked was, “Will social stress cause depression, anxiety, etc., if left untreated?” 100% of the students surveyed answered that they believed that social stress would definitely lead to mental health problems over time.
There is no absolute cure for social stress. However, there are many ways excessive social stress can be decreased. One way would be for a teen to talk to close friends or family. Another thing they can do is to fix broken relationships through positive communication. It is also incredibly helpful to rid oneself of toxic relationships and look into therapy at a facility like Beachside. These are relationships that deteriorate one’s mental state and cause excessive and unnecessary pressure on one’s mental and emotional state.
During a usual school day, every teen will be subjected to performance expectations from their teachers. Each teacher will have goals to be accomplished each day, in-class activities, and homework. In addition, thanks to the rules of the government, many schools have to forgo a traditional education in favor of prepping students for high-stakes standardized testing. That stress alone causes students high amounts of anxiety.
So, what can students do to cope with the stress brought on by high teacher expectations for performance? No matter what the age or grade level, these tips can help your teen cope with and manage the stress that comes along with it.
GET PLENTY OF SLEEP – Not getting enough sleep impairs academic performance and makes it harder to get through the day.
THINK POSITIVE – Research has shown that positive thinking may improve physical well-being, produce lower feelings of depression and produce lower levels of distress.
HAVE A STRESS “OUTLET” – This could be a social activity like going out or participating in intramural sports, finding a hobby or joining a social club.
TALK TO SOMEONE – Sometimes just talking about what’s stressful or having someone listen to your problems can drastically reduce stress.
It is essential that you are able to give your teen some pointers to help them with the stress. Performance anxiety in middle and high school can significantly impede a teen’s progress. It can cause their grades to fall or make them too anxious to even attend classes. Their need to please their teachers when performing on exams can create a case of text anxiety.
Symptoms of test anxiety can be physical, such as headaches, nausea, excessive sweating, rapid heartbeat, or light-headedness. Emotional symptoms can include feelings of helplessness, fear, anger, or sadness. There can also be behavioral or cognitive symptoms, like difficulty concentrating, pervasive negative thoughts, or acting out in class. Certain strategies may reduce test anxiety. Here are some test anxiety strategies for high school students:
GOOD STUDY HABITS – Studying efficiently and regularly can help reduce test anxiety. Students need to spend a little bit of time studying on a consistent basis, so they feel more confident about their level of knowledge. Ideally, each student needs to create a system for studying. Being consistent with their schedule will give them a good routine to follow. Testing their knowledge on their own can also relieve anxiety. For example, taking practice tests at home, having a friend or family member quiz them, or a similar approach may make test-taking feel more routine.
DEVELOP A PRETEST ROUTINE – Not unlike a bedtime routine, a pretest routine is a set of steps that gets your student into a test-taking mindset. It could be going over notes at breakfast, using a favorite pencil, taking a few minutes to focus, or any other ritual they find calming.
LEARN RELAXATION TECHNIQUES – Relaxation techniques can limit or eliminate the effects of anxiety. Meditation, deep breathing, visualization, or clenching and then relaxing their muscles one at a time can all promote relaxation.
EAT PROPERLY AND STAY HYDRATED – If your student doesn’t eat before a test or isn’t hydrated, they are more likely to feel physically uncomfortable or mentally foggy, increasing the odds they will have anxiety at test time. Additionally, caffeine and sugar act as stimulants in the body. Don’t allow your teenager to consume energy drinks, coffee, or sugar for breakfast or lunch.
Before a test, your student needs to make sure to drink plenty of water and have a balanced meal. Protein and whole grains can give them energy without too much sugar, and they can feel satisfied without a massive spike in blood sugar.
MAKE TIME FOR SLEEP AND EXERCISE – Exercise is great for stress relief and promoting good health, both of which lead to better academic performance. Getting enough sleep is also crucial. Without it, your student could lose focus, causing them to struggle when studying and during tests.
SPEAK WITH THE TEACHER – When your student knows a test is coming, taking a moment to speak with his or her teacher can help. That way, they can ask questions to make sure they understand what will be on the exam.
But, another stress that all teens bring home with them every day is homework.
Homework can often feel like an overwhelming pile of stress. Homework stress can cause frustration and anxiety and ultimately prevent your teen from achieving his or her best results. But, this feeling of not being in control can be avoided by simply adjusting study habits. Homework and study can actually be a rewarding, satisfying experience if done in an organized manner. Here are some tips on efficient studying:
1. Practice good time management
Time management is key to avoiding homework stress. Plotting out the time you need to complete your homework or assignment can quickly make what seems like an overwhelming task much less stressful to approach.
- Set aside a certain amount of time each day to work on your homework and choose a time that suits you.
- Use a calendar or school planner to plot out your work. List important dates, when things are due and when you have exams.
- Allow enough time to complete your work. Making sure you give yourself enough time to complete your work is crucial in avoiding a meltdown. Be realistic.
2. Ask questions
One of the biggest homework stresses is not understanding the question, or how to solve the problem at hand. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and clarify what you need to do. Ask an older sibling, a parent, or a teacher for help.
3. Listen to your teacher and take notes
It sounds simple, but it’s something that many students struggle with. Pay attention and write down important terms and ideas in the classroom. You will find this helps organize your thoughts and you will remember key information, which will make homework much easier.
4. Allow more time for areas you find difficult
Take a practice test or write a practice essay and focus on the areas you find the hardest. The more you practice, the less stressful it will be when the time comes to sit the exam or complete an assignment.
5. Refresh your memory regularly
Every afternoon, or at least every couple of days, go over what you’ve learned from the week’s lessons. If you find you are lacking the basic knowledge, do a quick review.
6. Get a good night’s sleep
It may sound obvious, but it’s easy to suffer from sleep deprivation when you are feeling stressed about homework. Experts tell us that teens need around 9-10 hours of sleep a night, which will help focus, memory, decision making and creativity.
7. Avoid procrastination
Procrastination could well be the biggest factor responsible for homework stress. You’d be surprised at how much time you can waste. Check your social media after homework is done.
8. Have a healthy snack
There is a proven link between what we eat and how well our brain functions. Memory, learning ability and emotional states are affected by the food we eat. Stick with fresh fruits and veggies for homework snacks.
If you get anxious or overwhelmed by your work, take five deep breaths and give yourself a moment of calm. Deep breathing helps control your nervous system and encourages your body to relax.
10. Take some ‘me’ time
While it’s important that you manage your time and work, you are going to be much more productive if you are feeling fresh and have had some time to do things you enjoy doing. A healthy, balanced mind equals more productive study time.
What Can Parents Do?
Here’s what parents can do to help ease the burden.
1. Watch for signs of school-related stress.
With teens, parents should be on the look-out for stress-related behaviors, like cutting or expressions of despair or hopelessness.
2. Teach kids time-management skills.
With today’s heavy homework loads, time-management and organizational skills are weapons against stress. Teach kids to budget their homework time wisely.
3. Consider whether your child is over-scheduled.
Over-scheduling is a big source of school stress, experts say. Many high-school students enroll in more Honors or Advanced Placement courses than they can handle, and then pile extracurricular activities on top.
4. Encourage sleep, exercise – and family mealtimes
There is a serious problem with sleep deprivation and teens. Experts say, “It’s not unusual for 30% or 40% of [the students] to get 6 hours or less. Almost none are getting the required hours that an adolescent needs – which is 9 ½ hours.” Experts also advise using exercise to help cope with stress. But above all, family time is crucial for cushioning stress. Having meals together 4 to 5 times per week can be a great opportunity for connecting with your kids and helping them deal with stress.
5. Watch the parental pressure.
Some parents don’t realize they’re making school stress worse by pressuring their kids to get top grades. But parents who want to ease kids’ stress must shift their perspective. Instead of asking how your teen did on a test, ask them what great thing happened to them that day. Ask what they learned that they never knew before.
It’s not easy for some parents to let up. As the AAP report says: “Even parents who wish to take a lower-key approach to child-rearing fear slowing down when they perceive everyone else is on the fast track.” Try to keep in mind that a few, low test grades won’t torpedo a child’s lifelong plans.
There is a lot more you can do to help your teen: teach your kids to use a planner to keep track of assignments, help them by following along with homework if their school posts assignments online, give your child a quiet place to study, reduce distractions, if possible, have kids study earlier rather than later in the day, and ask the school about resources if your child is struggling academically. Many schools now have homework clubs, math clubs, and tutoring programs after school.
While there are many similar activities that will reduce school and test stress, there are also many novel ways that parents can help teens manage school stress effectively. The suggestions made here are not all-inclusive – no one knows a teen better than a parent. You know what makes your kid tick, so come up with unique solutions that fit your teen’s personality and skillsets.
If you or someone you love is experiencing stress as a result of school, consider getting treatment at a residential facility like ours. The trained medical and therapeutic professionals at Beachside can help to diagnose the problem, to determine the root cause and help the patient to successfully manage the symptoms while developing quality coping mechanisms.