July 13, 2023

Feeling Stressed? Just ask a Year 12, their parents and their teachers!

AUTHOR: Meg Melville

Everyone has a different threshold for stress. Everyday life presents us with challenges: family, work, friends, health, relationships. Each of us lies somewhere on the continuum of very low to very high in managing those challenges which in turn, has a direct impact on our stress levels, well-being and happiness. Our emotional thermostat may well rise and fall many times a day! We have all come across those individuals who seem to manage life’s challenges with unflappable calm and those who seem to be in a permanent state of stress. Have you ever been part of a conversation in which people love to talk about how stressed they are?  Who is stressed, more stressed, most stressed? If someone hears the message about looking, feeling, acting stressed often enough, they will start to believe it.

The antidote to that is a little less talk and a little more action and a healthy dose of common sense. Those seemingly unflappable folk have figured this out and practice it; those who are defined by their heightened stress levels clearly have not and need understanding, guidance and a healthy dose of common sense and compassion. They need influencers in their lives be that family, friend or mentor, who can help lower that emotional thermostat to a level where calm, reason and logic will hopefully kick-in and positive change can start to happen.

Feeling stressed at times is a normal human emotion. But when feeling stressed becomes the norm, that is problematic. It will impact on relationships both personal and professional, health and happiness. Whether the person reaches out for help or it is recognized that this person is struggling, this is the time for compassion and common sense to kick in.

Given that we are about to head into Term Three, let’s look at the Year 12s as a case in point. The 12s have just come out of their Semester One examinations. They know, as do their parents and teachers, that the next 10 weeks is really the final run into their end of year examinations and tasks. That fact alone can result in higher than usual stress levels, with a possible contagion effect among peers. The management of this across many levels will be so important.

Let’s start with compassion. As a teacher or parent, it is so important to recognize the signs of stress in others, be that our own children or our students (and ourselves too!). Demonstrating the desire to help in a sincere and calm manner, with the goal being to bring the emotion down, is the starting point. This may be with some gentle questioning or even sitting in a comfortable and safe silence to allow the emotion to subside. Once you have validated how they feel and they know this, then you will both be better placed to move into considering what help might look like. Starting with the problem will help determine the strategies and possible solutions.

The compassionate approach takes time, patience and kindness. Even if this is in short supply, make it a priority because it will pay off. Even if you need to take “the team approach” by calling in support, it will be worth it for the young soul you are out to save.

Once that shared understanding is established, common sense needs to come into play. Sadly, this quality seems to have all but disappeared from today’s problem-solving capacity. This in essence, refers to good sense and sound judgement in managing the everyday practicalities and challenges of life. The common sense strategies would include conversations related to the following areas which are fundamental to well-being at all times, not just when stress levels start to elevate. It may sound like stating the obvious but reading about it and translating this into action may be two very different things. Keep it simple and don’t overcomplicate the situation. So,

Quality sleep: It is recommended that 18 year olds function best on about seven hours of sleep per night. Sleep deficit will be totally counterproductive to a sharp and rested mind. So too, will be having your mobile in the room while you are trying to sleep. Find what works for you to calm your mind in preparation for sleep. This circuit breaker can take many forms so check it out.

Healthy nutrition: A healthy, balanced approach to nutrition and eating is so important at all times and especially when you want to be mentally and physically sharp. Go easy on the processed foods; treats are OK -just aim for moderation. There is a mountain of evidence-based research to help you plan to maximize your nutrition.

Physical exercise: Get active if you are not already; walking, jogging, gym. Build this into your routine and don’t be dependent on other people to make this happen. See this as a brilliant strategy to keep your mind and body in good shape.

Routine: Keeping to a routine is conducive to being productive. Going to bed and getting up at much the same time each day, planning breaks, meal times and exercise regimes. Share this with those close to you so that they understand what it is that you need.

Knowing how to study: Study and homework are two completely different approaches to learning. Know how you learn best, what works for you. Seek out help if you are struggling with this.  Do it now! Sitting at your desk for five hours procrastinating is not study. Be realistic about working in blocks of time and scheduling breaks, exercise and the things you really enjoy doing.

Disciplined approach to social media: Stay in control of this; be the master not the servant. The Digital 2023: Global Overview Report, tells us that the average daily social media use worldwide by internet users aged 16-64 is 151 minutes. Deep learning and social media activity do not go well together. Don’t be drawn into dramas at this stage, you need to preserve your emotional energy for you.

Have Plan A, Plan B, Plan C: Of course strive to do your absolute best and only you will know what this is. Alternative plans are vital in managing the challenges when life does not turn out quite the way you expected it to. Prepare for this in a pragmatic way. The ATAR is a number and does not define who you are or guarantee your future success and happiness.

So, parents, teachers and Year 12s, buckle in for the ride. Keep those lines of communication open and keep relationships calm and positive, as you are all in this together and ultimately want the same thing. We all set out to do our absolute best and no-one can ask more of us than this.