School’s back in session, and that means new classes, new friends, new adventures and — for students and their families — new stress.
Luckily, there are some things students and parents can do to help manage that stress. Step one is creating a stress-busting strategy. That means that the tools will be there for you to use when you need them.
The plan may change in the months to come, but it’s still good to have one, Tokay High School guidance counselor John Hunt said. That way, it can be revisited — and revised, if needed — to help students stay on track.
Here are some tips for dealing with stress before it becomes overwhelming:
1. Develop time management skills
In Hunt’s experience, the students who tend to excel in school — and suffer less stress in the process — are those who have good time management and planning skills.
“In life, it tends to go better when things are planned out and some thought goes into kind of having everything in order,” he said.
To begin improving time management skills, it’s a good idea to sit down and set priorities and goals for the semester, according Metro Creative Services. Goals can be both long-term milestones and daily tasks. Write them down somewhere — in a planner or bullet journal, on a to-do list on the fridge, on a digital calendar — so you don’t forget.
Students who feel overwhelmed can go over their daily tasks with a parent, counselor or other trusted adult to figure out what they need to stick with, and what they might be able to put aside until later or drop entirely. Learning to prioritize tasks, break up large challenges into small, manageable tasks and schedule their time are all skills that students will find useful in the future.
And parents who help their students learn how to juggle their time will be setting them up for future success.
2. Get into a daily routine
Everyone needs a good night’s sleep. For teens, that’s at least 8 to 10 hours; for their parents or guardians, 7 to 9. Younger people need even more.
It’s hard to get a restful night if you have piles of chores to do in the morning, though. To ease that early morning pressure, the American Psychological Association suggests packing lunches and backpacks, setting aside lunch money, and the day’s clothes ready to go the night before.
Families could also try meal prep sessions once a week, making meals to keep in the fridge or freezer that can be heated up quickly or taken along to work or school.
Then, set a bedtime every night and a wake-up time every day, and stick to them as much as possible — even on weekends. Sleeping in more than an hour can throw off your body’s circadian rhythm, the National Sleep Foundation says.
“This can give you the equivalent of social jet lag, a mismatch between your body’s circadian rhythm and your socially driven sleep schedule,” they said. “And that’s not a good thing. Over time, social jet lag can lead to a variety of negative health consequences, including an increased risk of developing obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”
3. Have a plan in place for dealing with challenges
After a week of classes, students might already have an idea which of their classes might be more difficult than others.
If a class looks like it might be a challenge — or even if the workload in general is high — now is a good idea for students to arrange for help. That can mean one of Lodi Unified School District’s afterschool programs, a homework study group, or even formal tutoring.
What’s important is not to put it off until the end of the semester, when it will be much harder to catch up.
“Avoidance behavior is a big thing that leads to bigger problems,” Hunt said.
Most people tend to avoid challenges — including himself, he admitted. But the best way to overcome challenges is to tackle them head-on, with help and a strategy in place. Letting problems go only mean they’ll be harder to fix.
“If you shy away from them and come up on them slowly ... nothing goes well. Attack your hurdles, and deal with things as they come,” he said.
4. Put school first — but don’t miss out on the fun stuff
It’s important for everyone — students and parents alike — to have some down time.
“Don’t forget your hobbies. We all have things we enjoy, and life’s better when we do that stuff,” Hunt said.
That can mean keeping us with hobbies like fishing or hiking, or just setting aside a few minutes a day for a favorite TV show, music or some fun reading, he said.
Students should of course stay focused on academics and the future, he said, but not so focused that they miss out on opportunities and struggle with anxiety.
Hobbies can also look great on college applications — but that shouldn’t be their only purpose, Leigh Anderson wrote at Scary Mommy. It’s great if a hobby has the side benefit of building a college application, but the main purpose should be for a student to unwind.
As an SAT tutor, Anderson said, she had one student who gave up both piano lessons and practice time — things she very much enjoyed but didn’t think would help her in college — for SAT preparation.
“I met with her for all of her junior year and half of her senior year, during which time I don’t think she did much of anything purely for fun,” she said.
But hobbies play a very important role in stress relief, make you more interesting, and can offer a chance to make new friends with people you might normally never meet, Dr. Jaime L. Kurtz wrote in Psychology Today.
“Have fun and enjoy yourself!” Hunt said. “We tend to get too uptight about stuff.”
5. Set aside screen-free time
Whether it’s an hour a night for dinner and a homework break or a “digital detox” day every couple of weeks, it’s important for adults and students alike to have some time away from tech.
This is especially true for teens, who may be the target of cyberbullying — or pressured by friends to join in. Cyerbullying is especially rampant on Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat, as well as over text messages.
Students can no longer escape bullying when they leave school for the day, and victims say it’s more humiliating.
“Instead of it being in person, it was all online so everybody could read it,” senior Grace Martinez, a bullying target, told Cronkite News in Arizona last month. It became so stressful, she began cutting herself. A friend noticed changes in her personality and alerted a school counselor, getting Grace the help she needed.
A Pew Research Center survey found that nearly 60 percent of teens have been targeted by online bullying.
Beyond just bullying, too much screen time can affect sleep quality — the blue light emitted by most cellphones, computers and tablets can suppress melatonin production, the National Sleep Foundation says. Sitting or lying down for two long can raise the risk of heart disease, diabetes and some types of cancer. And a new study in July found social media use is tied to depression in teens.
It’s good for teens to know how to use digital technology, but encourage them to shut off their phones or tablets once in a while. Take time to let them know that almost anything they put out online stays there forever, and can affect their college admissions and job prospects in the future.
And be sure to talk to children about bullying and the damage it can do, and encourage them to speak up if they see it, even if the bully is a friend. For information and tips on dealing with bullying, visit www.stopbullying.gov.
6. Build up a support network
Building a network of friends, peers, mentors and other supporters is important for both students and their parents. Friends can provide a sense of belonging and help students develop confidence and empathy. Mentors can guide students and help them make good choices, both in academics and in life.
For adults, having a network of friends who are also parents or who work with kids can help when they need advice or a different perspective on dealing with problems that arise.
“Surround yourself with quality people,” Hunt advises.
That “quality” qualifier is important, he added. Getting involved with the wrong friends can lead to peer pressure and making bad choices, just as choosing good friends can keep kids on the right path.
If you struggle to make new friends, Ben Healy offered some advice — based on scientific research — in The Atlantic last September.
First, if you and a friend have drifted apart but you still like them, reach out and reconnect. You’ll both bring new experiences from the time you were apart.
To make new friends, try joining a club or trying an activity like hiking or art to find people with similar interests. Even someone who seems like a loner can make a great friend.
“Beyond that, building deeper friendships may be largely a matter of putting in time,” Healy said.
Just be sure that the people you invest in are improving your life.