November 5, 2014

Managing academic stress

It’s that time of year. The weather is colder, the days darker, the commutes longer. Fatigue sets in for both children and parents. Students brace for the impact of midterms and final projects. Seniors assemble extensive applications for college, on top of their regular responsibilities. Parents wake in darkness to get exhausted kids out of bed and on their way to school. Everything moves quickly, maybe too quickly.  

For students, managing academic stress can have far-reaching effects on all other aspects of life. Strengthening executive function skills (organization, prioritization, initiation of tasks, planning and time management, goal-setting), in many ways, carries over into “real life” stress-management. This is the primary reason why Engaging Minds has partnered with Newton Youth Services in the Health and Human Services Department as a part of the Youth Stress Grant received by the city. The project, “Dear Stress, Let’s Break Up”, is raising awareness about youth stress, the negative impacts, and resources available for managing stress in healthy ways. There are absolutely things parents can do to support their children and help them manage stress more effectively. Let’s explore what stress is, exactly, and some ways to keep ahead of it and keep it under control.

 Managing StressWhat causes stress?

Stress is your body’s response to any sort of demand, good or bad. When you feel stressed, your body is trying to protect you or mitigate immediate demands. For example, if you are in danger, real or perceived, your body launches a stress response. It floods your bloodstream with neurochemicals and hormones to best protect and prepare you for “fight or flight.

Stress can occur in response to academic “threats,” too. When taking a final exam, for instance, the “butterflies” in your stomach indicate your body’s stress response. That “stressed out” feeling can be both good and bad if left unmanaged. On the one hand, feeling nervous during an exam increases your heart-rate, which maximizes blood flow to your brain. On the other, stress can be extremely distracting, and lead to poor performance.

While stress can maximize performance in some circumstances, at a certain point stress has a negative impact on one’s health, mood, ability to focus, productivity, and even relationships. Chronic stress can overexpose the body to the stress hormone cortisol, leading to a number of health problems and cognitive setbacks. Because of the risks of chronic stress, it’s important to take steps to help minimize stress in your life and in the lives of your children. Helping your child develop plans to manage academic stressors is a great way to begin.

Stress Reduction Tips:

  1. Manage Time Wisely:  There’s nothing more stressful than working at “the last minute.” Pulling an all-nighter to write a paper or cram for an exam can increase stress levels exponentially. On the other hand, developing long-term plans that break complex assignments into smaller, manageable pieces can reduce stress, boost confidence, and increase sleep!
  2. Get Organized: Being organized can save you a lot of trouble. People who feel stressed often report spending inordinate amounts of time searching for items they have misplaced. Rather than spend an hour worrying about a lost permission slip, use three-ring binders, labels, and folders to keep everything in its place.
  3. Find Strategies that Work for YOUR child: Stress mounts when students consistently struggle to complete their work successfully and efficiently. So- learning study skills that are tailored to individual needs can make all the difference. When students find the right approach for them, homework doesn’t feel so scary!
  4. Create a Soothing Study Environment: Having a study environment that is conducive to productivity is of utmost importance. Students may feel their efforts are futile if, every time they apply their focus, they are interrupted by noise, distractions, and environmental stressors. Find a quiet and comfortable place that will help your child’s results match their efforts.
  5. Get Sufficient Rest, Nutrition, and Exercise: Stress management is a full-body project, not just a matter of training your brain. Getting good rest and nutrition provides enough energy to tackle difficult tasks without feeling overwhelmed. Exercise increases energy levels, boosts serotonin, and increases the brain’s supply of oxygenated blood.
  6. Practice Stress Reduction TechniquesBreathing exercises, meditation, and visualizations are all proven to reduce stress, improve self-monitoring skills, and increase optimism. In our over-scheduled lives, it’s important to take a moment of pause and include these techniques in the line-up. Breathing exercises reset your body’s natural rhythms, lowering increased heart-rates and calming nerves.
  7. Develop Optimism! Using many of the above tips can help your student feel in control of his stress. With increased control, comes increased confidence and positivity. Having a positive outlook in general can be enough to keep worries at bay. Fewer worries means less stress; wouldn’t we all like that?

How Engaging Minds Helps Students Manage Stress:

For students of all ages, managing academic stress has all-encompassing benefits. At Engaging Minds, instructors help students implement stress-reduction strategies, encouraging independent organization and time management each week. Our methods reduce stress because we’re aiming at preventing fires rather than putting them out.

  • We create systems of organization to prevent lost homework, forgotten materials, and stressful cramming for exams or papers.
  • We don’t believe in a “one-size-fits-all” solution, and we give students the tools they need to manage the stresses of school in ways that works best for each student. Sometimes simply recognizing that there are multiple ways to approach schoolwork and manage stress is a relief to students in and of itself.
  • We incorporate optimism into every session, create structure and consistency, and allay insecurities many students have during high-stress seasons.
  • We can even help your child schedule enough sleep and relaxation — things many students believe they need to forgo.

It’s a busy and stressful time of year for all of us. Anything you can do to help your child reduce and/or manage stress more effectively will impact all aspects of his life – and yours.