Sunday, February 24, 2019

High school students and stress

Those of you in high school have it tough. We know. We get it. We were once in your shoes, too, and we made it.

There's a lot going on at your age. You're growing at a rapid pace - physically, mentally, emotionally, perhaps even spiritually. Within these few short but jam-packed years, in no particular order, you're learning how to take on more personal responsibility and greater academic challenges in your classes; learning how to drive; getting more serious about relationships of all kinds - family, friendships, dating - and learning how to juggle and navigate them; and, at the same time you're getting your first jobs, the pressure is already on you to start thinking about and exploring careers and any relevant higher education and training you may need for these careers after high school. These are just a few examples of what's going on in your life during these critical years, let alone sports, band, and other clubs and activities you may be involved in.

No doubt, there's a lot being thrown at you all at once.

Following are some tips and strategies, in no particular order, to help you manage these many good - and sometimes not so good - stressors in your life right now.

Sleep, Diet, & Exercise. As I point out in a previous post, How to properly prepare for tests and exams, "It's absolutely critical to get regular rest, especially at your age, when you're still developing. Go for that 7-8 hour range every night, and try to make your sleeping hours consistently the same each night (like 9pm-5am or 10pm-6pm)...Good nutrition is always important. I'm not saying you always have to avoid candy, chips, ice cream, fried and other junk foods. I'm far from being the perfect example when it comes to diet. But try to keep these kinds of foods to a minimum, and work in an adequate amount of the healthy stuff on a consistent basis - your vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, good dairy, etc."

Make sure to get some regular exercise in, as well, even if it's just walking.

Unplug from the phone and social media from time to time. Constantly being on your phone for social media and texting greatly increases your chances of getting into arguments with friends, boyfriends or girlfriends, and other classmates/schoolmates. Trust me. I've seen it happen. Plenty of times. The problem is that, because you're not having an in-person discussion or an actual phone conversation with those on the other end, it becomes all too easy for misunderstandings to sneak in. Elements like tone of voice and facial expression get lost in translation. You may have the best of intentions and still end up being misunderstood. A while back, I advised a student who always seemed to be getting into texting arguments with her boyfriend throughout the day (he attends another school) to suggest to him that they agree to ditch the texting during the day and instead catch up with an actual phone conversation after the school day. They'll have more to chat about, and there's a lot less risk for things to get lost in translation. Nothing beats a real conversation.

Besides all of this, constant texting and social media is simply unproductive. You can be spending this time taking in new knowledge and developing new skills. You can use this time to improve your grades. If it's after the school day or on the weekend, you can even be using this time to earn money by working.

If you haven't already seen it, I suggest checking out the Brain Hacking episode from 60 Minutes, which explores how tech companies are programming phones, phone apps, and social media platforms to be increasingly addicting. It's mind-blowing. Plenty of food for thought.

Take time for yourself. It's important to do this. Do you have a favorite hobby or activity that brings you joy? Is there a particular place that you like to go off to to collect your thoughts, decompress, and just relax?

Ask for help. Never be afraid to seek assistance. Period. There are so many wonderful people and resources around you. Whether you're struggling with homework and keeping up in class, going through some difficult times at home, stuck on which direction to go after high school, etc., etc., plenty of help awaits you. Teachers, guidance counselors, school social workers and psychologists, and coaches are just a few examples of the many caring people you can turn to for a compassionate ear and meaningful advice.

Prioritize. There's only so many hours in a day, and so many years in high school. Learning how to prioritize early on is to your benefit. What do you want to accomplish during your high school years? How will you get there? What habits do you need to develop to help set yourself up for success?

And when it comes to homework and staying organized, a couple of thoughts here ...

Break your homework assignments and larger projects up into smaller pieces

One of the easiest ways to reduce stress is to take whatever task is causing you the stress and break it up into smaller, more manageable pieces. This is a strategy that can certainly be applied to daily homework assignments and larger projects, as well. Don’t think about the assignment or project as a whole. Instead, try to think about it in its smaller parts. Start by picking just one component of the assignment or project – the simpler the better – and get it done. Once that task is completed, pick another. Before you know it, you're on your way to making some serious progress. And where you have work that requires a lot of writing, the easiest thing to do is just start writing. Just get to it. Remember, you can always clean your writing up later on. That's what the editing process is for. All too often, we get stuck on the idea that our writing needs to somehow come out perfect the first time around, and that's why nothing ultimately gets done. I discuss this more in a previous post, Quantity over quality when it comes to idea generation.

So, in short, stop avoiding the daily homework assignment or larger project altogether just because it stresses you out. The longer you avoid it, the more stressed out it’s going to make you feel. Instead of allowing yourself to get stressed out, take a step back and take some time to think about how you can break the assignment or project into smaller, more manageable pieces.

Let's say, for example, you're working on an assignment requiring you to write a detailed comparison of three different products. What are the steps you will need to take in order to complete the assignment? You will need to do some research on each of the products, decide upon their pros and cons, write up a rough draft, and then edit it to perfection. By determining the steps needed to complete the assignment, you can think about which small part you need to complete next instead of stressing over the finished product.

As you can see, breaking things up into a series of smaller tasks will allow you to take a step back from the bigger picture and look at things from a new perspective. By only focusing on a smaller portion at a time, you will feel less stressed out when faced with larger or more difficult tasks. This will make it easier for you to make real progress towards completing the assignment or project at hand. 

Consider choosing a planner to help better manage your time

There are many options when it comes to choosing a planner. Some people prefer electronic planners, while others prefer to use a book or notepad and write their various tasks and appointments in it by hand. Whichever way you choose to go about it, rest assured that using a planner to better manage your time will prove to be a big help if you have a busy schedule.

One of the first things you’ll need to decide when choosing a planner is whether or not you’d prefer to use an electronic one. Electronic planners are available for many devices including smartphones, tablets, and computers, and they often contain features that aren’t available when using a traditional pen-and-paper style planner. Even so, some people still prefer the tangible feel and ease of use provided by a standard book planner.

The other major choice you’ll need to make when choosing a planner is how detailed your schedule will need to be. Will you need one that allows space for hourly plans or will a daily or weekly planner suffice? Also keep in mind that some planners will allow you to write additional notes, while others will not.

As you can see, there are many options when it comes to choosing which planner is right for you. Whether that means managing your time electronically or otherwise, or using an hourly, daily, or weekly planner, the choice is ultimately up to you. By knowing which type best suits your needs, however, you will be able to get the most from your planner, which in turn will allow you to better manage your time.

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