High schoolers have a lot on their plate. From balancing work loads from a multitude of classes to finding time for extracurriculars, 24 hours in a day might not feel long enough. The pressure of maintaining good grades, in tandem with the social pressures typical of high school settings at play, can be significant causes of stress and anxiety in students. Stress and anxiety are both emotional responses, but whereas stress is usually a response to an external trigger, anxiety is a response to internal thoughts and worries. With the constant weight of college looming over their heads, high school students are expected to do it all—maintaining a 4.0 GPA while taking on several AP classes, participating in varsity level sports, holding leadership roles in extracurricular clubs, completing 100 hours of community service, etc. The expectation to excel and maintain high-achieving standards in a society that rewards hustle culture can be overwhelming and worry-inducing.
Additionally, the onset of the pandemic has caused unprecedented disruptions to learning and socialization, which has, in turn, led to increased mental health challenges. The CDC’s 2021 Adolescent Behaviors and Experiences Survey reported that 37% of U.S. high school students reported having poor mental health during the pandemic—with “poor mental health” encompassing feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression. This upheaval of the school environment has exacerbated the mental health challenges that high schoolers already face.
All this to say, stress and anxiety levels in high schoolers will only continue increasing if left unchecked. Here are 5 tips on how high schoolers can manage stress and anxiety:
Get enough sleep
When you are stressed, sleep is probably the last thing on your mind. Yet, sleep is criminally underrated when it comes to managing stress and anxiety. Most teenagers function on insufficient hours of sleep when it is recommended for teens to get at least 8-10 hours of sleep per night. Adequate sleep is essential for the body and mind to function optimally. As counterintuitive as it may seem, sleeping early instead of staying up to study can actually improve your test scores. This is due to the correlation between sleep and memory; in 2019, MIT professors discovered that students who got more hours of sleep and had earlier bedtimes were more likely to perform better on tests than students who got less sleep and later bedtimes. By getting enough sleep, students will feel rested during the school day and retain more information from learning, resulting in improved academic performances and lower stress levels.
Use creative outlets
Engaging in creative activities can be a way for students to release stress and anxiety. The creative stimulation can help to calm and focus the mind, making it more difficult for negative thoughts and emotions to take hold. Creative outlets can also offer a nice distraction and healthy escape from the pressures of daily life, as students are able to direct their attention to something positive and enjoyable. Researchers from Drexel University had participants take part in 45 minutes of art-making and found that 75 percent of participants had lower cortisol levels; cortisol is a hormone that is associated with stress and anxiety. The participants had a range of artistic experience, demonstrating that anyone—no matter their skill level—can reap the relaxing benefits of art. It is important to note that creative activities are not just limited to art and can come in many forms, so there is no limit to what individuals can do to express their thoughts and emotions.
Oftentimes, stress and anxiety come as a result of feeling overwhelmed with different tasks and responsibilities. The need to juggle a number of classes, homework, and other activities can make it difficult to know where to start and how to manage one’s time effectively. However, learning which tasks to prioritize and tackle first can help students manage their workload and reduce stress. Effective time management requires knowing what needs to be done and in what order. It is helpful to break down large tasks into smaller, more manageable steps; then, as students complete each step, they get to feel a sense of accomplishment as they look back at the progress they have made. Procrastination is one of the main culprits of increased stress levels, but by having a clear, actionable plan to prioritize tasks, students can rest easy knowing that they are working towards important goals and deadlines.
Practice mindfulness and get exercise
Practicing mindfulness and getting exercise are strategies for managing stress and anxiety in students. Mindfulness entails being present and attentive to one’s thoughts, feelings, and surroundings without judgment. It can be broken into two main parts: attention and acceptance. It requires a lot of introspection to be able to obtain a state of mindfulness, as it can be easy to get caught up in negative rumination. Students can practice mindfulness through various techniques, of which include meditation and breathing exercises. All the while, staying physically active can complement mindfulness by reducing stress levels and increasing the production of endorphins, which are natural mood boosters. Incorporating both strategies can help improve students’ overall well-being.
Ask for help
Talk to someone! Sometimes all you need is to voice your thoughts and feelings to someone you trust, as they can provide you with what you need to hear—whether that be either advice or validation. Keeping emotions bottled up inside can be overwhelming and contribute to feelings of stress, so by sharing your experiences, that emotional tension can be released. Having a reliable support system can provide a sense of relief and empowerment in challenging times. If you don’t have anyone within your immediable circle to go to, going to a therapist is another great option. Therapists are trained to provide support, empathy, and guidance to individuals seeking help. Their professional expertise can offer coping strategies to use, which are powerful tools for keeping stress and anxiety at bay. Asking for help is not a show of weakness, but one of strength because it is not always easy to do so.
How Student Hires Can Help
Here at Student Hires, we understand the importance of prioritizing one’s mental health. We hope to educate and equip students with the proper resources and tools to manage stress and anxiety effectively. We partner with schools, districts, universities, and employers to create experiential K-12 after-school, summer, and youth educational programs led by local college and university students. Our vision is to help shape students into well-rounded individuals with strong academic and interpersonal skills, ready to pursue higher education or enter the workforce. Through our programs, we aim to promote mental wellness and provide students with the support and resources they need to thrive.
Stress and anxiety are serious issues affecting a significant number of high school students. Thus, it is important for students to know how to manage their mental health and recognize when they need help. Each individual is different, and what works for one person might not work for someone else; so, finding the right method to combat can take a bit of experimenting. When schools, families, and communities work together to provide students with the necessary resources and support, students will be able to better understand the importance of promoting mental wellness.