There's a lot that can stress young people out. School, homework, and extracurricular activities eat up a lot of time and energy. Relationships with parents, friends, or significant others don't always run smoothly. Teenagers are also still learning how to be in their own minds and bodies.
"Growing up hurts a little bit," says Dr. Lindsay Heller '95, a licensed clinical child/adolescent psychologist. Heller was the keynote speaker at Parents' Weekend, October 20-22, and she had plenty of advice for students about how they can keep their stress and anxiety in check. (Hint: Plan ahead.)
Here are highlights from her talk, "Together We Grow: Healthy Tips for a Well-Balanced Life":
Break down that to-do list. You've likely been faced with a to-do list so long that you don't even know where to begin—so you don't. Try breaking the list into smaller pieces. Pick three items and do them to completion. You'll not only feel better, but gain momentum for tackling the rest of your tasks.
Give yourself a break. Like, actually factor in break time to your study schedule. Set aside 45 minutes to work on one task, then follow that up with 15 to 20 minutes of time off. It will help you focus: You'll work harder if you know a break is around the corner. (Pro tip: Heller likes using the Forest app to help her focus.)
Use visuals. Research indicates that visual cues help us better retrieve and retain information. Put a white board on the back of your door with some ideas for your upcoming essay. You'll continue to process those ideas when you see them every day, which will make your writing go that much more smoothly.
Layer your learning. Read material in a variety of different ways. On separate occasions, read a chapter, then annotate it or highlight it, read it out loud, even listen to it if you can. Each step will cement the information more firmly in your mind. "Layering your learning is like paving a road. Each layer gets thicker and stronger," Heller says.
Get a good night's sleep. The National Sleep Foundation suggests avoiding caffeine close to bedtime, getting at least 15 minutes of sunshine a day, keeping naps under 30 minutes, and having a bedtime routine ("It's about training your brain to say, 'Go to bed now,'" Heller says.) And please, no screens in bed! The blue light of your cellphone stimulates your brain, which is the last thing you want if you're trying to get some shut-eye.
Eat well. It's a fact that students do better on tests when they eat breakfast, which means it really is an important part of your day. Make sure you also eat something every two to three hours to keep your blood sugar up. Eating right helps with thinking clearly and feeling good.
Be gentle on yourself. It's OK to adjust expectations. You don't have to ace everything.
Notice your thoughts. Are they generally negative or positive? Negative automatic thoughts keep you feeling down, and even though you may accept them as fact, they are not always supported by evidence. Once you become aware of your negative thoughts, identify any recurring themes and weigh the truth in them. Then replace them with positive, more accurate thoughts.
Set boundaries. Healthy relationships are built on a sense of mutual respect and the freedom to communicate honestly. Don't be afraid to tell a friend if they're doing or saying something you're not OK with.
Own your feelings. No one can "make you feel" anything. If someone else is creating drama, use "I statements" to help communicate how you feel: For instance, "I feel upset when you say those things." This way, you're taking responsibility for your own feelings without casting blame.
Above all, ask for help. Whether your stress or anxiety is coming from school pressures or relationship pressures, don't wait for it to get bad before you address it. Friends, family, and teachers are there to help.
For more healthy tips, download Dr. Heller's presentation.