If reading, writing and arithmetic feels a lot like sweaty palms, compounding stress and constant worry, you’re not alone.
With a new school year is around the corner, that means stricter schedules, longer to-do lists and the daily anxiety of “fitting in.” From making the grades to making friends, school can bring a whole lot of pressure along with it – and all that takes a toll, not just on your academic success but on your mental health as well. According to the National Education Administration, today’s high school and college students are more anxious than ever, and 70 percent of you report that anxiety and depression are major problems among your peers.
So how do you deal with a new academic year that all but promises to exacerbate these feelings? Coping with pressure – from your peers, your parents and teachers and even from yourself – in a healthy way isn’t exactly second nature. You’re wired with the desire to succeed, to please and, of course, to fit in and be liked. That’s why it’s important to learn now to deal with the pressure that will inevitably come when that first-period bell rings.
Coping with Peer Pressure
There’s no shame in wanting to fit in – we all feel it. But when you do something you wouldn’t normally do for the sake of pleasing your peers, it’s easy to lose your identity and self-confidence in the process. Peer pressure doesn’t have to be negative; good friends can encourage you to achieve your goals, try something new or get out of your comfort zone in a positive way. But the ugly side of peer pressure can be very, very ugly – and can have long-term affects on your psyche. Avoiding peer pressure isn’t always possible, but there are several ways you can combat it – and built your self-confidence along the way:
Choose friends with similar values: This isn’t to say that you can’t befriend someone who’s different than you. But when you surround yourself with people who have similar goals, beliefs, ideals and values, you’re much more likely to uplift and encourage each other in positive ways.
Form a getaway plan: Peer pressure can arise in virtually any situation, so it’s important to have an escape plan when you need it. Create a “secret” code word or phrase you can use with your parents, a friend or trusted adult when you need them to help you out of an uncomfortable or dangerous situation.
Get to know yourself: Your teenage years are a time of discovery, and often, that means forming your own views and opinions. Take time to ask yourself how you feel about certain things – from cutting school to experimenting with drugs to having sex. Forming and reinforcing those opinions now will make it easier to stand by them later.
Stand up for others: Peer pressure is an inevitable part of growing up; if you’re not experiencing it yourself, you’re likely witnessing it happening to others. Show your support when a friend or classmate is being pressured to do something he or she doesn’t want to do. If you feel uncomfortable intervening, try distraction instead; at the least it will help your friend feel less conspicuous and, in some cases, may even embolden him or her to stand their ground.
Dealing with Academic Pressure
Your academic career is important, but sometimes the pressure to get good grades, be accepted into the most prestigious school or graduate with the most honors can be overwhelming – not to mention counterproductive. A Chicago Tribune article explored how the pressure to succeed affects the wellbeing of teens and young adults, stating that the number of students hospitalized for mental illness-related issues was rising every year. Getting the most out of your high school and college education is important, but not at the expense of your mental wellbeing. Learning how to copy with academic pressure won’t just help you feel better; it will likely help you perform better too.
Make time for time off
It’s easy to get burned out when you’re on the fast-track to academic success. You might feel like you can’t afford to miss one night of studying for your final exam or one weekend to work on your science project. But the higher the pressure, the more important it is to take a break, relax and have fun. That doesn’t mean give up or abandon your goals – it means finding the balance that keeps you from burning out.
Get straight Zzzzz’s
When you’re all about A’s, those Z’s are more important than ever. Sleep isn’t just a favorite pastime for teens and young adults – it’s absolutely vital to your mental wellbeing. Sleep deprivation doesn’t just exacerbate feelings of anxiety and depression, it makes it much more difficult to retain and recall information.
Lower the bar
There’s nothing wrong with setting lofty goals or aiming high. But if reaching the bar you’ve set for yourself comes at the expense of your mental and physical health, it’s just too high. Lowering your standards doesn’t mean slacking, it means finding a way to succeed while enjoying a balanced life.
Ask for help
The pressure to succeed often comes from within – but it can certainly come from outside as well. If you’re overwhelmed by the expectations of your parents, teachers or others, it’s okay to tell them just that. Express your feelings of stress and anxiety, then work with them to set more realistic expectations.
School’s in, but that doesn’t mean you have to endure nine months of pressure from peers, parents or yourself. Knowing how to cope when the pressure is on — and how to ask for help when you need it — will help you turn the coming school year into your best year yet.