Managing Stress in the Back-to-School Season

These 5 strategies can help teens with back-to-school stress.

Posted Sep 06, 2019

 energepic from Pexels
Are you prepared to deal with school-related stress?
Source: energepic from Pexels

The school year is upon us once again. For many of us – adults and children alike – that can mean a time of stress. You may have a back-to-school to-do list that seems to go on and on. Your child may feel the burden of classwork, homework, or social pressures. A common coping strategy for some is avoidance. But not dealing with stress can negatively affect emotional and physical well-being. Learning to manage stress is just as important as anything learned in school. Here are five accessible strategies to support children to cope. An added bonus? They’ll work for you too! 

  1. Re-Focus Your Mind-Set: When we are faced with stress, the first thing to do is ask three questions that help focus on how to face the challenge.
    •  Is this a “real tiger” or a “paper tiger”? In other words, is the thing that’s causing stress truly worth going into fight-or-flight mode for? You can’t solve problems in crisis mode so it’s important to determine whether or not you’re really “under attack.” For example, getting a B- on a quiz is not a real threat although many children in competitive school atmospheres may feel as if it is. The key is to put the concern into perspective.
    • How will I feel about this challenge next week/tomorrow/next year? When you start to think about this, there’s a good chance you’ll realize the problem you’re facing is actually temporary. It will pass and you can move forward. 
    • Is this good situation permanent? Too many of us worry about things when they are good! We wonder, “Why me? Do I really deserve this? When’s it going to end?” Now is the time to turn off those self-defeating thoughts and realize that good things can and should come your way. 
  2. Take a Deep Breath: Deep breathing (sometimes called belly breathing, abdominal breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing) is a valuable skill to learn and practice. It helps reduce the effects stress has on the body. When you’re stressed, the hormone cortisol is released. Cortisol can have destructive effects on the body. Deep breathing decreases the release of cortisol. When you’re stressed, your heart rate and blood pressure also increase. To calm these bodily reactions, try these simple steps: a) Go to a quiet, comfortable spot; b) Take a few normal breaths; c) Take a deep breath by inhaling deeply and slowly through your nose. Let your chest and belly expand as you fill your lungs with air; d) Exhale slowly through your mouth; e) Repeat; f) Practice regularly.
  3. Get Active: Exercise has proven immediate results in reducing stress and anxiety. When you exercise, endorphins – chemicals known as neurotransmitters – are released into the brain and the nervous system. They make you feel good and help reduce stress. In addition to helping clear your head, exercise also builds mind and body strength. You don’t have to go to a gym and pump iron to reap the benefits. You could simply walk around your neighborhood, do a 7-minute-workout in your bedroom, or choose another physical activity that you enjoy. 
  4. Think Positive: If you find yourself facing a challenge, try finding the positive in the situation. By reframing your outlook, you may be able to turn it into a learning moment. Maybe you’ll discover a long term or bigger-picture benefit to facing things head-on. Those who think positively tend to cope with stress more effectively. A positive outlook will likely permit you to come up with a more effective plan of action. 
  5. Learn to Laugh: Need a quick pick-me-up to push your stress aside? Try laughter. Perhaps you’ve heard the expression: Laughter is the best medicine. Well, there’s something behind that. There are proven health benefits of a good laugh, including stress relief. Like exercise, it triggers the release of endorphins – those feel-good chemicals -- in your brain. It also decreases stress hormones. And, it’s contagious! 
  6. Make a Plan The Center for Parent and Teen Communication offers a free, comprehensive Stress Management Plan for young people to create and return to as they build and evolve their coping skills. It can be worked through on their own, or together with parents or caregivers. Within the plan are proven strategies to help them determine what’s stressing them out, discover how to manage their emotions, and tips for avoiding challenging situations. 
  7. Model Your Methods  Your child benefits from watching how you manage your own stress. They look to you as a model and often imitate what they see. Adolescents may reject your words if you say one thing but do another. So, be smart about how you choose to cope. Allow yourself to continue learning and trying different tactics for effectively managing stress. Think of the new school year as a chance to refresh and reboot! 
  •  Is this a “real tiger” or a “paper tiger”? In other words, is the thing that’s causing stress truly worth going into fight-or-flight mode for? You can’t solve problems in crisis mode so it’s important to determine whether or not you’re really “under attack.” For example, getting a B- on a quiz is not a real threat although many children in competitive school atmospheres may feel as if it is. The key is to put the concern into perspective.
  • How will I feel about this challenge next week/tomorrow/next year? When you start to think about this, there’s a good chance you’ll realize the problem you’re facing is actually temporary. It will pass and you can move forward. 
  • Is this good situation permanent? Too many of us worry about things when they are good! We wonder, “Why me? Do I really deserve this? When’s it going to end?” Now is the time to turn off those self-defeating thoughts and realize that good things can and should come your way. 

This piece was co-authored by Eden Pontz, Executive Producer at the Center for Parent and Teen Communication.