How to Cope with the Stress of High School
“Remember that awful feeling that last day of summer vacation before the first day of school?” His question was like a fart at a funeral and roused me from my previously relaxed summer drowse.
A long slumbering dragon in the cave of my gut, released a combination of indigestion and a feeling that can I only describe with the word “blech.” Only in all caps and much longer.
The end of lazy hot long days and the beginning of what seemed like just like long days… trapped in a windowless classroom. Raging hormones, existential yearnings, barely restrained frustration coupled with the desire for social acceptance, irrepressible urge to rebel against perceived authority figures, bizarre body changes, extreme sensitivity, heightened need for sleep, rapidly increasing brain cells…alongside the expectation to maintain high levels of focus for about 7 hours a day on material mostly seeming irrelevant to actual life. No wonder high school seemed like a kind of a hell for superheroes.
As a teen, I had the chance to go to three different high schools in the space of a year. So here’s a bit about what I learned that helped get me through it:
1. Find inspiring films and books:
I knew that I had to get my education, so opting out of high school was not an option. (Homeschooling was not really a possibility when I was in high school.) So instead I pushed through and tried to take a broader perspective. I made friends with writers and directors. Great books and films took me out of my immediate environment and opened up entire worlds.
If school seems tough, remember that there is a world beyond the locker rooms and classrooms. The library is still a great place to connect to great works of cinema and literature that can help you feel greater connection to diverse cultures and perspectives outside of your own.
2. Join a social group:
When you are feeling alone or like you don’t know where you belong, joining a school club can be a helpful way to feel like you’ve got some people you can relate to. It can be tough, especially if the idea of talking to other peers is terrifying. But it’s well worth the effort.
Whether it’s Chess, Drama, Writing, Language Arts, or any other kind of club offered by your school or community center, having some kind of safe social connection group can be hugely beneficial. You probably know that already, but I will just repeat it.
3. Focus on your future:
As hard as it is might be to imagine, high school is not forever. After high school you may go to work, join the military, go off to university, travel, volunteer… whatever you decide to do. And “decide” is the key word. As you enter young adulthood, you have more opportunity to assert your own identity and preferences.
This is the time to discover your values, dream your dreams, and keep walking towards your preferred future. Even if things seem a bit bleak, remember that you are coming into your sense of self. Plant the seeds now and stay focused on your goals.
4. Practice de-stressing techniques:
Some deep, slow breathing can be really helpful when you are feeling that sense of stress before test time, the bus ride, or before you get up to speak in class. Ideally, practice deep, slow breathing for 5 minutes every day. You can set your phone alarm or leave yourself a note to remind you to do it every day.
One technique is triangular breathing that goes like this:
- Take a deep, slow breath imagining the air filling your lower belly for a relaxed count of four.
- Hold your breath for a count of four.
- Release your breath for a relaxed count of four.
The idea is that when you start to get stressed, we have a tendency to start breathing faster. This practice can be a helpful way to remind you take deep, slow breaths so you can focus better.
5. Remember how precious you are:
It sounds kind of cheesy but the world needs you. We need you. We really do. You are our best hope for the future. Only you have your unique combination of skills, talents, experiences, ideas, weirdness, tastes, personality, identities, and dreams. Only you.
In life, you may not always be able to change the external circumstances (ie as much as it may suck, you most likely will have to finish high school), but you can influence the internal circumstances. Only you can decide how you talk to yourself or the dreams you decide to pursue. Practice talking to yourself with kindness and compassion, using positive statements like, “Hey, (insert your name), you don’t need to be perfect, just do the best you can”, or “Hey, (insert your name), even if people think (whatever you think they think) you can still believe in yourself”. Remember, we need you.
Now as an adult, I look back at high school with both sad and happy memories. It was a time of incredible learning, lots of practice in adapting, and I met some amazing people who influenced the rest of my life in really positive ways. I wish you all the best in your unique self discovery path!
Myers, M. (2018). How to Cope with the Stress of High School. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 23, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/how-to-cope-with-the-stress-of-high-school/