The importance of managing stress as a student

A return to the school year means a return to study-related anxiety and stress

The importance of managing stress as a student

Wilson Gutierrez, General Editor

Stress is a normal part of life, and as high school students experience a wave of new responsibilities, increased workload, and interpersonal relationships, it can take effect on not only a student’s physical health, but their emotional well being and academic fulfillment as well.  

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of the population was impacted by the loss of loved ones, loss of work, and serious illnesses or injuries. The 2019/2020 school year brought a major shift to the daily lives of students, and many found it hard to bounce back from quarantine because they were uninformed on how to adjust to the circumstances brought by the pandemic. Students couldn’t interact with their friends like they could in the past, and while peers can help mitigate stress, they can also be a source of it. Many teenagers worry about fitting in, which may make them susceptible to peer pressure.  

Even though our bodies are designed to handle small amounts of stress, daily stressors can amass what feels like an overwhelming burden. When the body is stressed, muscles tense up, and then release their tension when the stress passes. Other areas of the body are inhibited by stress as well. When the body is undergoing stress, the hypothalamus signals the pituitary gland to produce a hormone that signals the production of cortisol. An increase in cortisol can provide the energy required to deal with prolonged or extreme challenges. After our body returns to normal state, the energy is returned. However, if we are under constant stress before we can revert to a stable state, the energy is never returned because it must deal with the constant stress, which in turn can trigger other reactions of the body and possibly develop into stress-related disorders. This leads us to experience physical symptoms like fatigue, headaches, stomach aches, high blood pressure, and an increased chance of getting sick. 

When you have a lot of work to do, try to prioritize the assignments and when you are working on one, don’t think about the others.  Make short-term goals rather than focusing on the finish line.

— Monique Pettis, Enochs School Psychologist

It’s important to address these problems by taking up several strategies to help keep stress in check. For that, I reached out to our School Psychologist, Ms. Pettis, for insight into how to manage stress. These are the points she listed: 

Pace Yourself: 

  • When you have a lot of work to do, try to prioritize the assignments and when you are working on one, don’t think about the others.  Make short-term goals rather than focusing on the finish line.” 

Make time for fun and relaxation: 

  • For a minimum of 1 hour per day, take time for yourself doing something you enjoy (listening to music, watching TV, reading, writing, drawing, meditate, play sports, …)  Try to not get onto social media during this time as often this can lead to further stress. Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including those on social media. It’s good to be informed but hearing about the traumatic event constantly can be upsetting. Consider limiting news to just a couple of times a day and disconnecting from phone, TV, and computer screens for a while.” 

Take care of yourself: 

  • “Try to avoid eating excessively fatty, salty, or sugary foods.  Your body has to work twice as hard to break these things down, and when it’s already diverting energy towards dealing with a stressor, it puts even more strain on you, wearing you out physically and leading to physical symptoms like headaches.” 
  • “When feeling overwhelmed or stressed, take deep breaths or stretch to recenter yourself.  When doing this, focus only on the breathing or the feel of the stress as a way of pushing the stressor from your mind” 
  • “Try to get plenty of sleep; turn off all electronics at least 1 hour before you want to go to bed.” 
  • “Exercise: even if you just go for a walk, exercise releases endorphins into your body which trigger a positive feeling.” 

“Express it” 

  • Talk to others about how you are feeling.  Holding stress or angst inside is like trying to keep filling a balloon full of air… eventually it will pop.  Talk to someone you trust (a friend, a family member, a counselor…).  If you don’t think you can talk to someone, then write about how you’re feeling (poetry, journaling).” 

Keep a scheduling planner 

  • “This may seem like a weird one, but at the high school level, a lot of stress comes from having so many due dates. If you keep a planner and track what is due and when, and then plan out when you should complete a task so that everything can be completed, it can lead to alleviating some stress of those due dates.” 

Avoid drugs and alcohol 

  • One can become convinced that these will help the feeling in the moment, but they can create additional problems and increase the stress you are already feeling.” 

If you are ever stressed and need additional help, visit the Student Assistance Specialists (SAS) in the office of the N- Building Administration. SAS is a contract program through the Center for Human Services that provides short-term counselling and support to all students on campus. Also, counselors are trained in social and emotional counseling and helping with schedule changes and transcripts. On Thursdays between 8:30 and 12:30, Liz Netjes, a counselor through Youth for Christ Central Valley (YFC) is on campus to support students. SAS and YFC have permission slips to attend multiple sessions.