Being a student is difficult in 2020. Kids are resilient, sure. But resilience requires time, discipline and patience. With the Coronavirus pandemic still raging on with record-high numbers across America, students of all ages are struggling more than ever. Remote Learning has managed to bridge some of the learning gaps during lockdown, but it’s not merely enough. Talk to any teacher or professor and they will tell you that Remote Learning is still not a sufficient alternative for traditional in-person teaching. Relationships are harder to maintain, schoolwork is more difficult to absorb and deadlines are harder to meet. Consequently, these challenges often snowball into bouts of anxiety and stress for students.
So our writers at WLG spoke with Chicago high school counsellor, Kate Ford, about easy things students can do to help them overcome their anxiety and maintain a healthy and happy school career, without succumbing to the stresses of virtual learning.
1. Meet Your Needs!
First thing’s first: pay attention to your body! It cannot be stressed enough how vital sleep and diet are to a person’s performance, but especially during their school years. There is often a misconception that sleep is a ‘luxury’ or ‘a waste of time’. This is not only incorrect, but incredibly dangerous. The teenage brain, especially, undergoes major developmental changes until the age of 18, namely the Prefrontal Cortex, the part of the human brain responsible for critical thinking. Ford notes that “If you don’t meet your baseline needs, you certainly can’t perform well in higher-order functioning.”
Higher-order thinking includes fundamentals like self-reflection, analyzing perspectives and social awareness. These are not ‘luxuries’, they are milestone cognitive skills that are absolutely necessary to the success and happiness of any emerging adult.
Ford advises to “Make sure you get enough sleep of at least 8 hours, practice good hygiene, eat 3 balanced meals a day, and drink plenty of water to keep your mind and body functioning.”
2. Get Outside
This is one of the easiest and most rewarding things a student can do to kick anxiety to the curb! In fact, in a Covid world, teenagers are especially encouraged to conduct their everyday activities outdoors. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re “outdoorsy” or not. Spending time outside can be as long or as short as you need it to be.
Ford notes that “Even if it’s just a short walk around the block or to the store, breathing fresh air increases oxygen to your brain and promotes the production of Vitamin D from sun exposure, which is shown to help with mood regulation.” An important note to make here is that school work and study are directly linked to a person’s mood. The more positive your mood is, the more ready your brain is to absorb new information.
This is especially essential to students, as they are continuously expected to meet strict attendance rates, grade levels and work deadlines. Getting outside is more than just a way to feel uplifted, but is a vital component for a balanced lifestyle. Ford advises that as education becomes more and more competitive, “It always helps to have a change of scenery, especially with our routines becoming pretty monotonous from being inside all day.”
3. Exercise & Stretching
Often repeated and too often forgotten. Exercise is a part of life that young people should learn to prioritize, not shelf. Getting high grades, maintaining a competitive Grade Point Average, meeting deadlines and still somehow having time for relaxation and friends is a tricky rope to cross. But exercise does not, and should not, have to be an obstacle to any of those things.
Ford reminds us that “It’s essential to partake in some physical activity everyday, but it doesn’t have to be a total gym workout to be effective! Yoga and stretching are easy to do at home and fit into your schedule. Both are proven to release endorphins and release tension in the back, neck, and shoulders, which is where most of our stress manifests physically in the body.” This is crucial because the growing body of a teenager does not simply benefit from physical activity. It demands it.
4. Take Breaks
Motivation and discipline are important to being a productive student. It seems that the world is full of distraction, constantly tempting young students to stray away from their school career. When a disruptive catchy TikTok video or a juicy text are only finger taps away, it’s understandable why many students resort to staying in “study mode” for prolonged amounts of time. They want to capitalize on their undisturbed concentration. But it’s also important to remember that the human brain needs some occasional downtime.
Ford specifically advises that social media is often a trap. It may seem like a ‘study break’, but the reality is that electronic media is a deterrent to learning. “Don’t get wrapped up in being on social media and checking the news all day every day. Our brains weren’t meant to absorb an immense amount of constant information that can often negatively affect our self-esteem, self-image, and general sense of well-being. Limit the number of times you check your social media apps and the news to once or twice a day.”
This is especially crucial during times of high stress, such as exam week or before an important test. As a rule of thumb, for every 40 minutes of study, take a 10 minute break. And the break should be physical, not electronic! Light physical activity, such as a short bike ride or a walk around the block, is not only proven to help students ‘lock in’ learning from their study time, but it also prevents their bodies from getting bored and promotes healthy blood circulation.
5. Find Connections
Another temptation students may often succumb to is self-isolation. This is especially prevalent in a Covid world! With the strong resurgence of Corornavirus outbreaks, countries and states are going back into lockdown. Being alone and centering your world around yourself and your studies is so convenient. But it’s important to remember that humans are social beings. Social stimulation is paramount to a balanced life for young people.
Ford reminds us that “It’s easy to be isolated when you’re stuck inside. Connecting with others via video calls, phone calls, or even just playing games and hanging out with people in your household can help give you an outlet for your emotions and help you realize that you’re not alone.”
It’s said time and time again that one of the most effective ways to relieve anxiety and stress is by talking about it! We know, it’s a cliche, but it’s proof that humans have evolved to rely on each other. If you’re a student, take a quick minute break to see what mom and dad are doing. If you’re a parent, peek your head into your child’s bedroom and give them a pat on the back. Social interaction and positive reinforcement are easy to do and yet make the biggest difference!