With the end of the school year fast approaching kids are anxiously awaiting their freedom for the next few months. There is so much excitement about what is to come. With that excitement also comes anxiety while wrapping up projects, trying to perform well on finals, and wondering if they will see their friends at all over the summer. With increased anxiety and higher levels of pressure can come irritability, sleep disruption, change in eating habits, heightened emotions, excessive worry, and other negative effects from not coping well or being overloaded.
I can remember in high school staying up most of the night during the last week of school to complete an English essay and being so tired the following day that I could barely concentrate during a biology final. Later that night I fluctuated between worry over the exam grade and the feeling that there was not enough time in the day to get everything done even though I was trying my best. It’s funny how that same feeling of needing more time is still present today as an adult! While the below tools are directed towards teens, they are applicable to adults, including parents of these teens, as well. Here are 6 ways to lower or cope more effectively with end of school year anxiety:
- Mindfulness: become more focused on one task and be in the moment without trying to multitask; take a few minutes for some paced breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, or activities to practice doing only one thing (naming or counting items, noticing the senses, blowing bubbles slowly, etc.). Take mini brain breaks as needed. There are many mindfulness apps for phones and tablets that can assist in accomplishing this.
- Put those worries away: write them down on a piece of paper, tear them up, and throw them away; visualize them inside a balloon floating far away; wish them onto flower petals and blow them away.
- Stay organized: use a calendar to keep track of assignments and due dates; write instructions down and go back to them; prioritize projects by due date and amount of work they will take to complete; write a daily and weekly to-do list. Isn’t it satisfying to cross things off those lists?
- Get enough fuel: teens are constantly skipping breakfast and filling up on snack foods at lunch. Instead, eat a balanced breakfast and lunch so your body and mind have the fuel to make it through the day. This will also help with focus and alertness.
- And sleep: I can’t stress how important getting enough sleep is. The average amount of sleep my teen clients get regularly is about five hours a night. During this last week or two of school that can be even less. Without enough sleep we tend to be less focused and organized, more irritable, and less likely to perform well. Naps can help, but it’s that overnight sleep that is a necessity.
- Engage in positive self-talk: negative thoughts stuck in your mind? Can’t focus on anything else? Work on restructuring negative or irrational thoughts by looking for the evidence behind them and replacing them with positive alternatives. This takes practice and is not easy, but can be very helpful in the short and long term.
- Reward yourself: we all need wins and rewards to keep us going, even more so when it’s crunch time. Make sure to arrange rewards for all the hard work and effort. Maybe a trip to the nail salon for getting all assignments in by their due date, or squeeze in a little time for video games before bed if that essay got finished before lights out. Parents can also be recruited to help set up some rewards and make sure they are delivered if earned. This is not to be confused with bribery. Want to know more about this distinction? See here: https://anewapproach-counseling.com/reinforcement-and-bribery-are-not-the-same/.
Whatever the task or worry is that is provoking more anxiety at an already stressful time, know that it is time limited. It won’t last forever and try not to catastrophize (thinking the worst-case scenario is going to happen). Set realistic expectations and work towards the end goal by meeting smaller achievable steps along the way. Doing this will build confidence and momentum, which will be useful when powering through a tough day. Finally, if feeling overwhelmed or highly anxious, talk to someone…a friend, parent, teacher, or counselor. Seek out some support when it is needed. Don’t feel that the road has to be driven alone, and don’t expect others to be able to mind read. We don’t know what others need until they tell us.