Recognizing Academic Stress
Typically, preschoolers lack self-control, have a limited understanding of time, act independently, are curious, may wet the bed, have changes in eating habits, have difficulty with sleep or speech, and cannot always tell adults how they are feeling.
Preschoolers under stress each react differently. Some behaviors may include irritability, anxiety, uncontrollable crying, trembling with fright, and eating or sleeping problems. Toddlers may regress to infant behaviors, feel angry and not understand their feelings, fear being alone or without their parent or caregiver, withdraw, bite, or be sensitive to sudden or loud noises. Feelings of sadness or anger may build inside of them. They may become angry or aggressive, have nightmares, or be accident prone.
Typical elementary-age children may whine when things don’t go their way, be aggressive, question adults, try out new behaviors, complain about school, have fears and nightmares, and lose concentration.
Reactions to distress may include withdrawal, feelings of being unloved, being distrustful, feeling unwell, lack of interest or excessive interest in attending school, fighting with or ignoring friends, and having difficulty naming their feelings. Under stress, they may worry about the future, complain of headaches or stomachaches, have trouble sleeping, be disrespectful, act out, have a loss of appetite, or need to urinate frequently.
Preteens and Adolescents
Adolescents typically are rebellious, have “growing pains” and skin problems, and may have sleep disturbances, go off by themselves, be agitated, or act irresponsibly.
Adolescents and teens under distress may feel angry longer, feel disillusioned, lack self-esteem, and have a general distrust of the world. Sometimes adolescents will show extreme behaviors ranging from doing everything they are asked, to rebelling and breaking rules and taking part in high-risk behaviors (for example, drug use, shoplifting, and skipping school). Depression, anxiety, and suicidal tendencies are additional distress responses.
Tips for Students
Make To Do Lists
To do lists can take a seemingly insurmountable pile of obligations much more manageable by helping prioritize and lay out exactly what needs to be done. Outline the set of tasks that you have to complete. Once you can visualize what you have to do, you won’t be daunted by your assignments.
Budget Time Effectively
Plan out your day, minute-by-minute. With a clear view of your schedule, you will feel more in control which will allow you to approach your tasks calmly and confidently.
Create a Rewards System
Giving yourself incentives to complete daunting academic tasks can help when the going gets tough. Set up a system of rewards so that you can look forward to finishing a set of tasks. For instance, give yourself a Hershey Kiss once you read 10 pages of your textbook. This little boost of endorphins will give you the encouragement to keep working.
Ask for help and move on
When you find yourself stressing over a seemingly impossible problem, text a friend, visit a teacher after school or class, or email a teacher. Then move on to other tasks. Don’t spend hours focusing on this problem, however significant it may seem to be at the time. Wasted time will slow you down, and you will be emotionally drained when preparing to shift your focus to your other remaining tasks.
Take Breaks to Breathe
Mindfulness is an immense help when experiencing overwhelm and academic stress. Finding a way to calm yourself physically will help relief mental stress simultaneously. Go online and find some breathing exercises. Whenever you find yourself worrying, put your pens and pencils down and breathe. Try closing your eyes while breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. Moments like these are necessary to recharge.
While you may be tempted to reach for that slice of pizza, putting the right foods in your body will boost your energy and thereby give you the stamina you need to get your work done. Foods with high fat and sugar contents can make you feel sluggish and unmotivated to complete your tasks. Focus on fruits, veggies, and other high-fiber foods for sustained energy, and combine protein with carbohydrates to avoid a ‘crash.’
Get More Restful Sleep, Especially If You Can’t Get More Hours of Sleep
Obviously, you won’t be able to focus or work your best without a good night’s sleep. While I understand that sometimes sleep is the first thing to go when school work is piled high, there are a few tips to make the most of those precious hours of slumber. First, don’t do your work on your bed; it will lead to an association between your bed and your work, which will make it harder for you to fall asleep. Do the homework that does not require screen time last. Exposure to screens before bed has been proven to decrease quality of sleep. If you find yourself worrying while you are trying to snooze, try clenching each muscle in your body one-by-one, starting with your feet, until you clench your entire body. Then release. This relief will make your body feel de-stressed and will allow you to fall asleep faster.
Experts say that everyone needs at least a half hour of exercise each day. Not only does exercise help you with restful sleep but exercise also boosts endorphins, which, in turn, make you more happy and less anxious.
Set Aside days to relax
Just like a good night of sleep, you need a day of fun to recharge from a week of school. Set aside time to spend Friday or Saturday with friends or family. Do not focus on anything relating to work or school during these times. It can be tempting to work all the time, especially if academic stress is at a peak, but you will work more efficiently and effectively with breaks to rest and socialize as opposed to burning yourself out.
Seek Help If necessary
If you find that academic stress has consumed your life, talk to a teacher, guidance counselor, parent, or another trusted adult. While a certain amount of anxiety is normal, no one should worry alone, and prolonged academic stress can lead to mental health struggles like anxiety and depression.
Learn More About Academic Stress
School Stress: 10 Ways Parents Can Help Kids Manage Stress - Partnership to End Addiction (drugfree.org)
Stand Up to Stress! (nih.gov): A free coloring and activity book for kids ages 8-12
Stress Catcher (nih.gov): A fun craft for children that offers coping strategies to help manage stress and other difficult emotions