I remember working with Vince G. a few years back. He was a self-described overachieving high school student from the Bay Area. On most days, he was able to balance extracurriculars with academics, a part time job, sports and a girlfriend. But in the fall of his junior year, he found himself overwhelmed trying to write a college application essay. The importance of this work weighed heavily on him and he struggled to accomplish anything. Understandably, Vince was feeling stressed.
According to Stress.org, Gen Z (the newest generation, born between 1997 and 2012 - currently between 9 and 24 years old) experiences higher levels of stress compared to other age groups.
Faced with rigorous academics, extracurricular activities, college deadlines, family issues, social media toxicity and the drama-filled world of adolescence, it’s no wonder teens are more stressed out than ever.
Understanding the stress of our times on the youth mindset, we routinely work with students like Vince on their stress management. Nothing is more satisfying than seeing a teen transform from scattered and scared to organized and self-assured.
How do we help students achieve this evolution and best cope with stressful conditions? Among the many tools and resources we work with, we’ve found these 5 tips to be our favorites. Work with them singly as needed, or go through them in succession, starting with #1.
For those feeling stressed in the moment, or about a future time, try these:
- Take a walk. It does not have to be a long cardio burn type of walk. It can be as short as 20 minutes and it doesn’t even have to be outdoors if for some reason that is not an option. A Stanford study found that walking is far more powerful than sitting for generating creative ideas. The productive impact of walking goes beyond the walk itself. In the words of the study authors, “walking opens up the free flow of ideas.”
- Regroup by making a new to-do list or mind map for the current situation. To-do lists can be great tools for decreasing anxiety and providing structure. “The trick is to reframe the to-do list as a set of miniature goals for the day and to think of the checklist items as steps in a plan.” explains E.J. Masicampo, an associate professor of psychology at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “A goal does not have to be finished to offload it – as long as there is a specific plan for how to attain the goal so that it stops occupying that mental space,” Masicampo said.
- Prioritize! Although conventional wisdom leads us to believe otherwise, it’s not “multitasking” but actually doing one thing at a time that’s the key to success. Most teens, we find, get stuck when they think about all the things they have to do. Yet if they separate it all out and get this blob of scary stuff into a ranked list of distinct items, then they know exactly what to do. Practice making decisions about what is most important before tackling a to-do list. So much more will get done!
- Food is fuel. Take a break and grab a refreshment/treat/meal/tea/etc. This might not be the best time for sugary snacks that don’t offer much more than a 5 minute rush followed by a sleepy crash in energy. Choose healthy options that will provide nourishment and fuel for the body.
- Get ample sleep. Tackle that list one task at a time until it’s time for bed. During stressful periods of time, sleep is even more crucial (7-9 hours/night is the goal). Sleep is a powerful stress reducer. Following a regular sleep routine calms and restores the body, improves concentration, regulates mood, and sharpens judgment and decision-making. According to Banner Health’s How Sleep Can Affect Health report, adequate sleep has been proven to drastically reduce feelings of anxiety by improving the ability to process stress and react in an appropriate way. Specifically, a good night’s sleep can boost mood, outlook and temperament.”
******BONUS TIP – Try Grounding. Here’s one grounding technique that our Blue Stars students find very beneficial. Sit in a chair with both feet on the ground, focus on your feet, trying to feel every inch, and then take three rounds of deep breaths. We have had students use this technique just prior to taking the SAT test and report back that it was extremely helpful.*****
These are just a few ideas. The team at Blue Stars is ready to go through the admissions journey with families and students with the goal of alleviating stress and sharing insightful strategies for staying mentally healthy through any situation as students work toward their unique goals.
Opezzo, M., & Schwartz D.L.(2014). Give your ideas some legs: The positive effect of walking on creative thinking. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition. 40 (4):1142-52.
Banner Health (February 28, 2019). How Sleep Can Affect Stress. Retrieved from https://www.bannerhealth.com/healthcareblog/teach-me/how-sleep-can-affect-stress
E J Masicampo 1, Roy F Baumeister. (2011). Consider it done! Plan making can eliminate the cognitive effects of unfulfilled goals, 667-83. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21688924/