5 Ways to Stay Calm When You’re Stressed About School
By Heidi Borst
Feeling stressed about school and all it entails—friendships, grades, sports, extracurriculars—is normal. Stress can be a good thing if it pushes you to get your work done, but too much stress can get in the way of your performance in school. The good news? There are steps you can take to manage school stress.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, here are five calming activities to try.
1. Practice Mindfulness
Research shows that mindfulness is an effective way to manage stress, and it’s accessible to everyone. Mindfulness means slowing down and becoming aware of your thoughts and emotions in the present moment. Think of it as an exercise in self-observation.
Here’s a simple mindfulness exercise you can do anywhere:
- Find a quiet space.
- Sit still with your back straight and your feet flat on the ground.
- Breathe in slowly for four counts, and breathe out slowly for four counts.
- Notice thoughts and feelings that arise as you continue to breathe, and let them pass through without judging them.
- Repeat for two to 10 minutes.
For hundreds of easy-to-download meditation and mindfulness tips, try the Headspace app. It’s free for teens ages 13 to 18 in the U.S. Calm is another great app with stress-reducing meditations, and it offers a no-cost trial.
2. Get Organized
Is your to-do list so long you can’t decide what to do first? Start by prioritizing.
- Make a list of what needs to get done, along with a deadline for each item.
- Rank the items by order of importance.
- Determine how much time each task will take, being careful not to overschedule yourself.
- Add each item to your calendar in blocks of time.
- Cross completed items off your list. That sense of accomplishment just feels good!
Once you’ve decided what to work on first, focus only on that task. Don’t jump from assignment to assignment, and avoid scrolling on social media while you’re working. Taking breaks is important, but minimizing distractions will help you make the most of your time.
3. Use Relaxation Techniques
It’s hard to focus and get things done when you’re stressed, but approaching your schoolwork from a calm, relaxed state makes you more efficient and makes it easier to problem-solve. Another perk? Practicing relaxation techniques helps prevent burnout. Here are three science-backed techniques to try:
- Progressive muscle relaxation: Find a quiet place to lie down. Take a deep breath and squeeze one muscle group in your body—such as your feet, lower legs, upper legs, buttocks, or stomach—for five counts, working your way up from your toes to your head. Slowly release the tension from each muscle group for 10 counts, and move on to the next area.
- Box breathing: Imagine you’re creating a box with your breath. Exhale all the air from your lungs for four counts, hold for four counts, inhale for four counts, and hold for four counts. Repeat at least four times.
- Guided imagery: Close your eyes and picture a peaceful place, such as a white-sand beach, a snow-covered mountain, your favorite couch, or a pine-filled forest. The goal is to imagine the details of the setting you conjure, from the way the sun feels on your skin to the touch of water on your toes. All the while, slowly inhale and exhale, paying attention to your breath.
4. Spend Time Outside
Studies show that being in nature not only makes you feel better, but it also helps you think better. Don’t worry if you don’t have a lot of extra time. Ten to 20 minutes is enough to experience nature’s stress-reducing benefits.
Here are some ways to take advantage of the great outdoors:
- Go for a walk. Exercise helps reduce stress too!
- Sit outside on a bench.
- Read a book under a tree.
- Eat your lunch outdoors.
- Stand barefoot on the grass.
- Feel the rain on your face.
- Put down a blanket and close your eyes.
- Do something fun that you enjoy outside, whether it’s playing a sport, soaking up the sun, sitting quietly, or feeling the breeze on a swing.
5. Talk About It
Sometimes the best way to combat student stress is to reach out for support. That could mean connecting with a friend or classmate to talk about what’s on your mind, or you might reach out to a trusted adult such as a coach, teacher, faculty member, or counselor. If you’re feeling really overwhelmed, find out what stress-reduction resources are available at your school or campus.
Remember that it’s normal to feel overwhelmed by school-related stress from time to time, and you don’t have to do it alone. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.