Understanding and managing stress and anxiety in students

Over the years, our tutors have reported seeing growing levels of stress and anxiety in children and students of all ages. In this article we explore the nature of school stress and offer some advice that should help.

Stress and anxiety amongst school children are reaching record levels which can have a devastating effect on their education, home life and self-confidence. But it doesn’t have to be this way. With some awareness of the signs and some simple strategies in place, teachers, tutors and of course, parents can help.

There are three key sources of school stress

1) Bullying

Not surprisingly, bullying is still a significant culprit in the stress factors impacting our children. It used to stop when your child reached the safety of their front door, but now it continues into the home. Smartphones and other devices make it difficult to get away from bullying is now a 24/7 probability.

2) Academic pressure

We all want our children to do the best they can. Pressure can come from parents who want to push for better results, peers, and the students who create unrealistic expectations for themselves.

Even though international students can be perceived as more privileged than average, this in itself can compound stress and anxiety levels. There can be unrelenting pressure from parents who want consistent A’s, sports coaches who want wins for the school’s reputation, and teachers who want the school to perform well in academic league tables.

3) Social pressure

Social media is an obvious starting place for social pressure. There’s a delicate pattern of social media etiquette amongst young people in how and when they post and respond to messages. There are reports of traumatised teenagers going into meltdown when they lose or break their smartphone because of the fear of being ‘out of the loop’.

Worrying about popularity, wearing the right trainers and whether or not they have the right look for Instagram weighs heavy on the mind of pre-teens and teenagers all over the western world.

student sitting on kerb

What’s the solution?

There are things we can all do to help reduce the levels of stress in our children and help them cope with difficult social situations and academic pressure.

1)Could you be an unintentional source of stress for your child?

No parent wants to add to their child’s stress levels, but sometimes, without meaning to, we can be adding to the pressure.

Pushing a bit too hard for better grades, or being too strict on the amount of study time can often be counterproductive. Not only do teens often want to do the opposite of what their parents tell them to do, but stress could also be getting in the way of them doing their best to achieve. There is also a growing attitude that it’s better not to try than to try and fail, which is worth nipping in the bud as soon as you hear it.

Look for ways to offer help and support, and sometimes it’s helpful to let them have a bit down-time to relax and recharge.

2) Try to get to the root of the stress or anxiety

Understanding the cause of the stress is half the battle. Stress can creep into life gradually, and it can be hard for your child to articulate the reason. Helping them to find the source of the pressure can be a first big step to making things better.

3) Help students learn the difference between ‘good’ stress and ‘bad’ stress

A degree of healthy stress can be helpful to get things done, meet deadlines and try new things. The key is to recognize the difference.

You can help them to combat negative thinking through visualization techniques or teaching them how to break challenges and problems into small chunks to make them more manageable.

“All or nothing” thinking is a product of stress and can make finding solutions even harder. It’s helpful to separate ‘performance’ from ‘self-worth. Performance may go up or down, but that doesn’t change the way we value ourselves.

stressed student

4) Help your children to get organized for study

Stress can be caused by feeling overwhelmed with schoolwork. Deadlines pile up, and students have trouble organizing themselves.

A cluttered environment can cause stress and decrease productivity. You can help your child to create a calm, tidy place to work away from distractions that can really help to minimize stress.

In addition, it can be useful to help your child find systems and strategies to help them manage their workload and deadlines. This is a skill that they will need later in life, so it’s good to instil good habits as early as possible.

Our tutors can help your child learn the study and organisation skills needed to minimise the stress of homework and exam preparation. You can find out more here. (link)

5) Are your children getting enough sleep?

Not getting enough sleep impairs academic performance and makes it harder to get through the day. The Sleep Foundation recommends the following hours of sleep for school-age children.

School-age children (6-13): Sleep range 9-11 hours

Teenagers (14-17): Sleep range 8-10 hours

Younger adults (18-25): Sleep range is 7-9 hours

If you would like to read the full study, click here (link)

6) Does your child have a stress outlet?

This could be finding a hobby, joining a sports club or going out with friends. Family activities such as walking the family dog or just getting outdoors can be very beneficial. Arts, music and crafts are also great options. It doesn’t matter as long as it’s enjoyable and relaxing.

student outside school

7) Do they know how to use relaxation techniques?

This can include things like meditation, breathing exercises, thinking positive thoughts, or visualisation. Meditation and yoga are proven to lower stress and can be done by children and adults alike. Here are the best of the best resources, personally tested by the TutorsPlus team.

Best yoga app for primary children (https://www.healthfirst.ch/5-tips-to-help-students-cope-with-school-stress/)

Best yoga app for teens and adults (https://www.downdogapp.com )

Best apps for mediation and simple, fun breathing exercises (https://www.headspace.com/headspace-meditation-app )
https://www.headspace.com/meditation/kids )

8) Are they taking regular exercise?

Blowing off steam through sports or exercise can be very effective at reducing stress levels.  Helping your children get regular exercise can make a big difference and set up healthy living habits for a lifetime.

9) Do they have someone to talk to?

Often just talking about what’s stressful or having someone listen to your problems can drastically reduce anxiety and stress. So, checking your child has someone they can talk to is essential, whether it is a friend, aunt or teacher. The important thing is that they feel comfortable sharing their problems.

10) This is a long checklist, but consider these facts and figures

The Mental health Foundation in the UK has reported that as many as 60% of young people have felt so stressed by the pressure to succeed that they have felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.

47% have felt so stressed by body image and peer pressure over their appearance that they have felt unable to cope.

And most worrying of all, almost 40% of young people have reported feeling suicidal because of stress.

The earlier we can help our children manage their stress levels, the better it will be for their education, mental health and their futures.

You can read more about the study here. https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/news/60-young-people-unable-cope-due-pressure-succeed

Click here to find an experienced tutor who can help. https://tutorsplus.com/tuition/

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