This past week we’ve heard a lot about Simone Biles- a young gymnast known for her ability to achieve highly advanced moves, has had the courage and strength to step back from competition for the sake of her physical and mental health. In a recent tweet, she stated she felt she had the weight of the world on her shoulders, and understandably so. Simone Biles’ attention to her health makes her a role model to teens and young adults alike. But while her experiences are made unique by their level of publicity, our children do not need to be Olympic athletes to experience extraordinary amounts of pressure to perform well- specifically, the demands of academia.
Academic stress is most prevalent amongst teens and young adults. In high school, students face a number of stressors. In addition to the pressure to achieve good grades, they also must balance extracurriculars, college applications, learning to drive, and even first relationships. According to a study by the American Psychological Association, during the school year, teens experience similar stress levels as compared to adults. What’s more, 30% of the teens studied reported feeling overwhelmed, sad, or depressed due to stress.
The stress experienced in college increases as workload and institutional rigor increases, too. With full course loads, planning for the future, developing new friendships, navigating new found independence, and working to pay for living expenses and tuition- the pressure is relentless. A 2020 survey of approximately 33,000 students conducted by Boston University found 83% of students said their mental health had damaged their academic performance, with two-thirds struggling with loneliness and isolation.
As a culture, we strive to overachieve in both our work and personal lives, often pushing aside our mental health to achieve our goals. During the school year, teens and young adults push themselves with all-nighters, bags of chips for meals, and limited exercise. They do it because they can. Due to their age, teens and young adults have the tendency to underestimate the long-term impact of stress on their health. According to the American Psychological Association, teens report stress has less of an impact on their body and physical health than reported by adults. However, chronic stress causes high levels of cortisol leading to impaired brain functioning and a suppressed immune system, causing long-term damage. Too much stress also disrupts normal brain development and increases the risk for disease into adulthood.
As students prepare for this upcoming school year, they will be faced with the extra demand of readjusting to in-person learning while still contending coronavirus pandemic restrictions. So, what guidance can we offer our children to manage their stress during the school year?
- Maintain daily routines including consistent meals and bed times.
- Get enough sleep.
- Stay hydrated.
- Get out and exercise.
- Practice positive thinking and mindfulness.
- Engage in relaxation techniques like meditation, breathing, and stretching.
- Outline goals.
- Seek out mental health and counseling services on campus.
Most importantly, help your kid put their distress into perspective. School is demanding- personal pressure, societal pressure, competitive pressure from peers, and pressure from the family to perform well all weigh heavy on their minds. Modulate your expectations of your kid, and help them modulate their expectations of themselves. With time management, a balanced life is the key to reducing stress. If your kid is taking on too many advanced courses and does not have time to eat full meals, get sufficient sleep, or have any time to enjoy extracurricular activities, it is time to reevaluate your kids’ schedule as a family. There is no shame in lightening their load if it alleviates their stress.
We need to teach our children stress management before they reach adulthood and ultimately face burnout. Natasha Kendal and Associates has a number of therapists who can assist your child with stress management. Please, do not hesitate to reach out to us, we are here to help.