A recent survey conducted by The Allstate Foundation found that over 62% of teens state that “anxiety keeps them from being the person they want to be.” The majority also feels stressed and pressured to take action against the issues that plague the future generations: racial equality, criminal justice reform, climate change, and more. In addition to paying attention to the various societal issues around them, students also have their personal responsibilities to manage, from schoolwork and homework to extracurricular activities and household chores. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated stress among the teenage population since schooling shifted online. Many students now find it difficult to actively engage with learning material without having the crucial aspects of dynamic collaboration and full teacher support available to them. During the crucial moments of their development, students unfortunately face a lot of stress as they lack experience in managing stress adequately.
How do I know? I am high school senior, and I spent the last two months asking many of my peers, along with teachers and school counselors, to reflect on their experiences of engaging in online school. What I found is that students are more stressed than ever, facing peer pressure, parental pressure, and societal pressure to rise to the top. The current pandemic also brings up a host of other stress factors, like a lack of social interaction and inability to celebrate school milestones like graduation. Students are also anxious about the uncertainty that their schooling situations bring, and many responded that staying in such a state is not a sustainable course for students. But how do we break off this course towards a less stressful zone? The answer is not to simply cut out the activities that bring the stress, but to rather learn how to manage the stress.
I developed Stress-Free Students, an online platform that enables students to take advantage of accessible relaxation therapies, with the goal to help students learn necessary stress-management skills during this pandemic and beyond. Stress-Free Students offers four different relaxation therapies: music therapy, guided meditations, relaxing virtual coloring pages, and motivational content, developed by implementing feedback from my peers and experts on the field of stress management.
Through the process of piloting this product, I discovered how much of an impact stress management has on the wellbeing and overall happiness of students. After students made the effort to manage their stress, they reported feeling more in control of their emotions and on the track to accomplishing their goals effectively without stress and its resulting effects hindering them.
Hearing this positive response made me wonder: why have today’s teens not been taught necessary coping mechanisms and how we can work on instating this practice as a normalized experience? Without an outlet, students will never learn how to manage their stress and anxiety, thus setting our future up for failure. Stress-Free Students is a solution, but it is not enough. We need intervention from both teens and adults alike.
For starters, teachers can work to foster an atmosphere where students are less concerned about competition and more focused on individual self-growth. After interviewing students on this topic, I found that the simple act of discouraging students from sharing their grades upon receiving a graded test or other form of assessment pushes students to focus more on their own results rather than comparing them to their peers. In this manner, students can concentrate less on social stress factors and peer pressure and instead focus on pushing for self-improvement, a key step in developing as a young adult.
Parents and guardians also have a major role in helping their children cope with stress. Rather than avoiding the topic and hiding their own stress, parents can work to instead normalize the experience. This way, students can understand that stress and anxiety are not unfair experiences only applicable to them, but even their own parents experience these. Normalizing the experience can helps students make the step to actively address and cope with their emotions.
Finally, students must work to shift their viewpoint on stress. Instead of viewing stress as an inevitable and dreaded phenomenon, students should view it as their body’s preparation to combat an impending obstacle. Studies have exhibited that adopting this view helps ensure longevity of life and reduces the risk of heart attack, so this approach is evidently effective. Rather than feeling daunted by the response, students should look at stress and anxiety as responses that they are in charge of and can handle. And this is what teaching coping mechanisms to students will accomplish.
Today’s environment has students begging for ways to learn to deal with stress, with each novel struggle piling up into a seemingly insurmountable mountain of responsibilities and stress factors. In order to overcome today’s barriers, we must be armed with the tools needed to first ground our emotions, thereby giving us way to think more clearly. Teaching students how to manage stress as soon as possible arms them with the toolkit to properly manage their stress when the time comes to step up as an older teen, young adult, and leader of our future. By teaching students stress management skills, students really will have the chance to be the future that we are in dire need for.