Helping Stressed-Out Students

Helping Stressed-Out Students

Stressed out students need help.

Stressed out at school? LSA students get help through end-of …

Art teacher Nicole Christison relaxes during meditation from Lotus Waves life coach Brooke Hyden in the gymnasium on Wednesday at LSA. Hyden works with the students to teach them meditation to help with school stress. 

Lotus Waves life coach Brooke Hyden works with the students to teach them meditation to help with school stress in the gymnasium on Wednesday at LSA.

Junior Eric Tricky relaxes during meditation from Lotus Waves life coach Brooke Hyden.

Lotus Waves life coach Brooke Hyden guides students through meditation on Wednesday at LSA.

DECATUR — School can be stressful, between homework and tests and social problems.

To help the junior high and high school students at Lutheran School Association learn healthy ways to deal with stress, Principal Allison Nolen contacted Brooke Hyden, owner of Lotus Waves, to come and lead the 150 students through a guided meditation.

“It’s the end of the quarter, and it’s always long, it’s always stressful,” Nolen said. “They’re worrying about their grades.”

Students this year are talking about compassion and community in their Prides, which are small groups within the school, often focused Bible study or community involvement. Community refers not only to the outer Decatur community, but also to the one within the school, she said. 

“Part of being a community is helping each other when people in the community are hurting or struggling, but also being aware of when we are, and asking for help,” Nolen said. 

Read More: Stressed out at school? LSA students get help through end-of …

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Preparing them while in high school helps a lot.

How to Prepare Today’s Already-Stressed High Schoolers for …

What’s the balance between preparing students for college and ensuring they aren’t killing themselves in the process?

Kids who go to elite private high schools enjoy lots of advantages. They have access to the most challenging academic classes at reputable institutions, with staffs that are well-equipped to help them prepare for college. Parents pay an average of $10,000 per year to ensure their kids this privilege.

And yet the rigor that these opportunities demand can come with an extra cost for the students themselves. A recent study surveyed and interviewed students at a handful of these high schools and found that about half of them are chronically stressed. The results aren’t surprising—between the homework required for Advanced Placement classes, sports practices, extracurricular activities like music and student government, and SAT prep, the fortunate kids who have access to these opportunities don’t have much downtime these days. These experiences can cause kids to burn out by the time they get to college, or to feel the psychological and physical effects of stress for much of their adult lives, says Marya Gwadz, a senior research scientist at the New York University College of Nursing.

The problem is that at least some of that academic pressure is warranted. It’s more competitive than ever to get into college, so it’s incumbent on students with the wherewithal to apply to the most competitive schools to present the strongest possible portfolio, and their parents and teachers push them to do so. These kids find different tactics for coping, sometimes in ways that aren’t healthy. So how can administrators and parents start to change the culture of stress while still pushing kids to reach their full potential?

At its most basic, stress is defined as any change or pressure in the environment. Most people think of stress as a bad thing, but in reality most people need some of it. “A little stress and in moderation can be helpful to high schoolers in so many ways. It motivates them to study, to do better. It helps push them,” says Mary Alvord, a psychologist specializing in teens based in Maryland. Adolescence is an important time to learn to deal with stress because teens can then deal with it better in college and in their adult lives.

But too much stress has many effects on the body and mind, Alvord says. In the short term it can cause anxiety; over long periods of time, elevated levels of stress hormones can degrade the immune system, cause heart problems, exacerbate respiratory and gastrointestinal issues, and bring on chronic anxiety and depression. That’s bad for anyone, but it can be especially bad for high schoolers: “Colleges are complaining that kids are disengaged, they’re dropping out, taking a long time to graduate. It’s not developmentally appropriate for them to work so hard,” says Gwadz, one of the authors of the recent study. And since everyone has a different psychological capacity for stress, it’s hard to know when a student is pushed to the point of degrading his or her health.

The study, published recently in the journal, Frontiers in Psychology, focused on students in two elite East Coast high schools, a population that has received surprisingly little research attention. The researchers surveyed and interviewed 128 students, teachers, and administrators about students’ stress levels and coping strategies. They found that 49 percent of students reported feeling “a great deal of stress” on a daily basis. Half reported doing three or more hours of homework per night, and 26 percent noted that they had been diagnosed with depression—over four times the national average of 6 percent.

Read More: How to Prepare Today’s Already-Stressed High Schoolers for …  

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Twenty things that may be done to help out stressed out college students.

Is Your College Student Stressed Out? 20 Things They Can Do

Last school year, I polled a small group of college students about what made them feel the most stressed in college. Mostly juniors, their answers varied but were all specifically related to not having enough time to do everything required of them. Why did these students not elaborate with reports of disparaging feelings of overwhelm, doom, or stress? Did they know what stress looked like on themselves?

It turns out these kids are not only academically involved, but heavily socially involved through teams, Greek life, study groups, clubs, and volunteering. As if fifteen or eighteen credit hours are not enough, you would expect these college students to express feelings of overload and burnout, and to be concerned about their mental health and overall well-being, but a certain observation lead me to understand why these students did not allow stress to register as overwhelm or anxiety.

To them, stress was an integral part of their existence. It was analogous to being a college student. They accepted the possibility that stress was present and they tolerated its existence. They formed a vision of stress and all of its glory, and used this visual to help them regulate the negative impact of stress.

This was more than a forced positive attitude about stress. This was tapping into their mental and emotional resources to cope. They became familiar with how stress felt on them, how it looked on them, and how to wear it successfully by staying busy, committing, and forming meaning relationships.

Even more remarkable? Not one of the ten students was willing to scale back on obligations despite sometimes feeling overwhelmed. They could not visualize their lives differently. They existed in this kind of whirlwind where stress became the energy behind the spin (eustress.)

Did they mention some healthy and not so healthy ways in which they destressed? Of course. Did they look sleep deprived? Yes. Were they craving a home cooked meal because they were tired of fast food? You bet, but these college students seemed inherently calm when talking about missing a deadline, accomplishing less than expected, and having to say “no.”

They seemed to be masters at planning ahead, communicating needs, asking for support, and adapting. They had no issue with asking for extensions, payment plans, and even alternative options to attending a meeting or a class. They met with professors, arranged coffee with a friend, and even skipped meetings when needing to collect themselves mentally. They displayed very little fear of over involvement, failure, burnout, or even success. It was apparent that being involved proved to be the most effective stress management.

Read More: Is Your College Student Stressed Out? 20 Things They Can Do

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