We tend to think that stress doesn’t set in until we are “grown-ups” out there in the “real word.” But the truth is that young people struggle with an immense amount of stress relating to school, social life, family issues, emotional maturation, physiological processes, and more. It is important to have at our disposal coping strategies to help our young folks thrive even when they are feeling overwhelmed. Below, we share 5 fun, thought-provoking, and unconventional ways to handle that ever-present, cross-generational challenge of life, stress.
1. Remember what you loved to do when you were 6
This is an incredible stress-relief strategy. Since no one can stay focused 24/7, it’s important to give yourself breaks. In the midst of studying for a big test or working on an important project, take a step back and think about what you loved to do when you were six years old and—wait for it—go do it. If, for instance, you loved being outdoors, go outside and take a walk during your break. If you loved peanut butter and jelly, make yourself a sentimental sandwich and enjoy it while you step away from the stress of the project. This is a way, according to Susan Stiffelman, author of Parenting Without Power Struggles, to “bring you back to yourself,” and she encourages us to do a little bit of it when we’re in prep mode to counterbalance the inevitable stress.
2. Learn to change cognitive distortions
As much we try to stay positive, we all have a tendency to create distorted thoughts about difficult situations. In fact, the website PsychCentral lists 15 common cognitive distortions that we all fall prey to at one time or another. Just to highlight a couple, we need to be aware of “black and white thinking,” in which we often forget the “middle ground” of a situation, instead believing it to be either “all good” or “all bad.” While a student may have done poorly on one quiz, this certainly does not mean he is an overall “bad student.” Another distortion to be aware of is “catastrophizing,” in which, because of one negative outcome, we expect all situations to end poorly. For instance, the student who is embarrassed in class one time and then assumes he will always be humiliated and, therefore, stops raising his hand, is an example of how catastrophizing can negatively affect a young person. Being aware of and changing these common distortions in our thinking is a big step in managing stress.
3. Be aware of the adults in the room
The modeling of behavior is present at all moments in a young person’s life. Kids and teens have a keen sense of observation, and see the actions of parents, teachers, coaches and other adults. They very easily view these behaviors as normal and positive ones to be imitated. The problem is that they’re not always positive. For instance, the parent who displays road rage or the coach who yells and insults when an athlete makes a mistake is laying the groundwork for maladaptive coping skills in the young people who look up to him. Indeed, if we handle stress in unhealthy ways, we simply cannot expect the youngsters in our lives to be able to handle these types of situations any better. As a parent or teacher, be always aware that your actions and reactions are observable and meaningful to the kids in your life. When we model positive coping skills, we pass them on to an already stressed generation of young folks who can, in turn, learn more effective ways to handle tough situations.
4. It’s perfectly ok to be imperfect
According to Susan Stiffelman, “aiming for constant perfection creates ongoing stress.” This is not to suggest that we should settle for mediocre results, but, rather, that we can help ourselves stay emotionally healthy by being ok with “doing our best.” Though our society often sends messages about perfection (“practice makes perfect,” etc), imperfection is actually something from which can learn important and long-lasting lessons. The late, great poet, novelist, and songwriter Leonard Cohen put it thusly: “there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” We can save ourselves a great deal of emotional trauma by staying “human,” doing our best, and seeing the upside of our imperfections.
5. Keep playing
We tend to think “play” should stop once we hit, say, third grade or thereabouts. Science tells us, however, that the act of play can actually reduce stress, improve memory, foster problem-solving skills, and encourage brain maturation. Activities like arts and crafts, dancing, singing, playing outdoors, doing puzzles and playing board games can not only keep the child in you engaged, but also allow stressed-out students to take a step back and have some fun. Changing the way we view play can help our students learn how to take much-needed breaks from persistent stress.
At iAchieve Learning, we truly believe that stress management is a necessity for success. Do not hesitate to reach out to us for help managing stress, which can open the door to success on standardized tests, in school, and in the college or job search.
Written by Phil Lane
Contact us today to learn more about how our Academic Coaches can help your child with stress!