How to Cope With School Stress
Discover effective strategies and practical tips to alleviate school stress and maintain a healthy balance between academics and well-being.
Clinically Reviewed By: Don Gasparini Ph.D., M.A., CASAC
May 26, 2023
Table of Contents
Are you feeling overwhelmed by school lately? Maybe you have a stack of assignments piling up, exams around the corner, or are feeling the pressure to maintain a high GPA. Perhaps you’re navigating social dynamics or trying to figure out your future path, and it’s all just too much to handle.
We hear you, and we’re here to help. As a teen or young adult, the stress of being a high school or college student can be all-consuming. But the good news is, there are ways to manage it and find a healthy balance.
In this blog, we explore different strategies for dealing with school stress and keeping your mental health in check.
What is school stress?
School stress refers to the pressure, tension, and anxiety that students experience as a result of the academic demands placed upon them. It can be caused by a variety of factors, such as a heavy workload, tight deadlines, difficult assignments, academic competition, and high expectations from teachers, parents, or peers.
For teens, common sources of school stress include:
- Academic pressure to get good grades
- Pressure to fit in with peers
- Social media comparisons
- Difficulties with friendships or romantic relationships
- Extracurricular activities that add to a busy schedule
While similar, stress for college students is a bit different. In college students, stress may stem from:
- Academic pressure to succeed
- Navigating a new and challenging academic environment
- Managing finances
- Balancing work,school, and social pressures
- Living away from home for the first time
- The pressure to find a career path
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Why is managing school stress important?
Excessive stress can have a negative impact on mental health and wellbeing.
For example, anxiety is a common response to stress and can manifest in a variety of ways, including excessive worrying, panic attacks, and physical symptoms such as headaches or stomach aches. When stress becomes chronic and ongoing, anxiety can become a chronic condition, leading to more severe symptoms and impairing daily functioning.
Depression can also be a result of unmanaged stress. Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and a lack of motivation are all symptoms of depression. Chronic stress can cause a person to feel overwhelmed and emotionally exhausted, leading to a sense of hopelessness and despair.
Burnout is another consequence of chronic stress, including stress related to school. When we’re overwhelmed and stressed for prolonged periods, we can start to feel physically and emotionally exhausted, as if we have nothing left to give. Burnout can cause a person to feel emotionally detached and disengaged, leading to reduced productivity and a lack of interest in the things that once brought them joy.
Finally, unmanaged stress can increase the risk of suicidal ideation, particularly in those with pre-existing mental health conditions. When stress becomes unbearable, it can feel as though there’s no way out, leading to feelings of hopelessness and thoughts of self-harm.
Beyond mental health consequences, stress can also impact academic performance. When we’re stressed, it can be challenging to focus, retain information, and perform well on exams or assignments. Managing stress can help improve academic outcomes and make the learning experience more enjoyable and fulfilling.
Learning how to manage stress is a valuable life skill that can benefit us well beyond our school years. As we navigate different stages of life, we will inevitably encounter stressful situations, such as work deadlines, financial pressures, or personal challenges. By developing healthy coping mechanisms and stress-management strategies early on, we can better equip ourselves for the challenges of adulthood.
How to deal with school stress
Dealing with school stress can be challenging, but there are several strategies you can try to help manage and reduce it. Here are 10 tips:
1. Recognize and acknowledge your stress
Start by acknowledging that you are experiencing stress. Recognizing it allows you to take action to address it.
2. Identify the sources of stress
Determine what aspects of school are causing stress for you. It could be exams, assignments, time management, social pressure, or other factors. Understanding the sources of stress can help you develop targeted strategies to address them.
3. Plan and prioritize
Create a schedule or to-do list to organize your tasks and prioritize them based on deadlines and importance. Breaking down tasks into smaller, manageable steps can make them less overwhelming.
4. Time management
Develop effective time management skills by allocating specific time periods for studying, completing assignments, and participating in extracurricular activities. Avoid procrastination and try to maintain a balanced routine that includes breaks for relaxation and self-care.
5. Seek support
Reach out to friends, family, or classmates who can provide emotional support. Discussing your stressors with others can help alleviate some of the pressure. Additionally, consider talking to teachers or school counselors who may be able to offer guidance and support.
6. Take care of yourself
Prioritize self-care activities such as getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet, and engaging in regular physical exercise. Taking care of your physical and mental well-being can boost your resilience and ability to cope with stress.
7. Relaxation techniques
Practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation, or mindfulness exercises. These techniques can help calm your mind and reduce anxiety.
8. Breaks and leisure activities
Take regular breaks during study sessions to give your mind a chance to rest. Engage in activities you enjoy, such as hobbies, sports, or spending time with friends, to help you relax and recharge.
9. Maintain a positive mindset
Cultivate a positive mindset by focusing on your strengths and achievements. Avoid negative self-talk and try to reframe challenging situations as opportunities for growth and learning.
10. Seek professional help if needed
If your stress becomes overwhelming and begins to interfere significantly with your daily life, consider seeking help from a mental health professional. They can provide guidance and support tailored to your specific needs.
How can DBT skills help you deal with school stress?
DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) skills can be helpful in managing school stress by providing effective coping mechanisms and promoting emotional regulation. Here are some specific ways DBT skills can be applied to deal with school stress:
Practicing mindfulness can help you stay present and focused, reducing anxiety about future exams or assignments. It involves observing your thoughts and emotions without judgment and bringing your attention back to the present moment. Mindfulness exercises, such as deep breathing or body scans, can be practiced during study breaks or before exams to promote relaxation and clear thinking.
School stress often triggers intense emotions. DBT’s emotion regulation skills can help you identify and manage these emotions effectively. This involves recognizing and labeling your emotions, understanding their causes, and finding healthy ways to cope. For example, you can use techniques like “Opposite Action” to change your emotional response or “Check the Facts” to challenge irrational thoughts contributing to stress.
School stress can lead to overwhelming feelings, and DBT’s distress tolerance skills can help you manage and tolerate distressing situations. These skills involve accepting and tolerating difficult emotions without engaging in self-destructive behaviors. Techniques like “Self-Soothe” (engaging in comforting activities), “Radical Acceptance” (accepting things you cannot change), or “TIPP” (temperature, intense exercise, paced breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation) can be helpful during times of high stress.
School stress can also arise from challenges in relationships, such as group projects, social pressures, or conflicts with peers or teachers. DBT’s interpersonal effectiveness skills can assist in developing healthy communication and assertiveness. These skills involve learning to express your needs and boundaries effectively, listening actively, and resolving conflicts constructively. Effective communication can help reduce stress in interpersonal situations and foster positive relationships within the school environment.
DBT emphasizes the importance of self-care, which is vital for managing stress. Engaging in activities that bring you joy and relaxation, such as hobbies, exercise, spending time with loved ones, or engaging in creative outlets, can help reduce school-related stress and promote overall well-being.
Remember, DBT skills take practice, so be patient with yourself as you learn and implement them. If possible, consider seeking guidance from a mental health professional experienced in DBT to receive personalized support in applying these skills to your specific school stressors.
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How parents and caregivers can help their teens with school stress
Parents and caregivers play a crucial role in supporting teenagers with school stress. Here are some ways they can provide assistance:
Create a supportive environment
Foster an open and non-judgmental atmosphere where your teenager feels comfortable discussing their school-related concerns. Encourage open communication and let them know you are there to listen and support them.
Validate their feelings
Acknowledge and validate your teen’s emotions and experiences. Let them know that it’s normal to feel stressed about school and that their feelings are valid. Avoid dismissing or trivializing their concerns, as this can undermine their confidence and courage in seeking support.
Encourage effective time management
Help your teenager develop effective time management skills by assisting them in creating a study schedule or using organizational tools. Teach them how to prioritize tasks, break them down into smaller steps, and set realistic goals. This can reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed and improve their ability to manage their workload.
Teach stress management techniques
Introduce your teen to stress management techniques such as deep breathing exercises, mindfulness, or progressive muscle relaxation. Encourage them to find activities they enjoy and that help them relax, such as engaging in hobbies, physical exercise, or spending time in nature.
Provide academic support
Offer academic support by assisting with homework or connecting them with appropriate resources, such as tutors or study groups. Encourage them to seek help from teachers or school counselors when needed, and advocate for their academic needs when necessary.
Foster a balanced lifestyle
Help your teenager achieve a balance between school and other aspects of their life. Encourage them to engage in extracurricular activities, spend time with friends, pursue hobbies, and have downtime for relaxation. Balancing responsibilities with enjoyable activities can help reduce stress and maintain overall well-being.
Be a role model
Model healthy coping strategies and stress management techniques yourself. Your teenager learns from observing your behavior, so demonstrate effective ways of handling stress and seeking support when needed. Show them that it’s okay to ask for help.
If your teenager’s school stress becomes overwhelming or persistent, consider seeking professional help. A mental health professional, such as a therapist or school counselor, can provide specialized support and guidance tailored to your teen’s needs. Remember that every teenager is different, so it’s essential to listen to your teen and adapt your support based on their individual needs and preferences. Encouraging a healthy approach to school stress can contribute to their overall well-being and academic success.
Support for teens, young adults, and families at Charlie Health
Charlie Health’s team of expert, licensed clinicians is here to support teens and young adults struggling with school stress. You are not alone. Charlie Health is here to listen to your needs and find a personalized treatment program that is right for you. Get started today.