Helping Students Handle Academic Pressure

By Barbara Gruener

Helping Students Handle Academic PressureHello, September. It’s that time again, another school session is in full swing. Those first magical weeks of connection and collaboration have lit students’ hearts and minds on fire and stoked their passion to learn and grow. Everything is going swimmingly. How will you make sure it continues that way? What techniques do you have in place to help students handle the stress that sometimes accompanies academic pressures in the upcoming days, weeks, and months? Consider trying one or more of these ideas to ward off and/or manage school stress.

In this day and age of the connected learner, there’s no reason anyone has to go it alone. Encourage your students from the start to seek out like-minded study buddies that complement their personality and learning styles. Seize opportunities to let them pair up as much as possible to tackle their tasks so they get comfortable with collaborating. Implement accountability partners who rotate sending out calendar reminders with due dates for projects, quizzes, and tests. Together we’re better.

Keep a Calendar
Everybody has the same basic waking hours available, but not everybody knows how to manage that time effectively. Teach your students to use a calendar to help. Whether they prefer a paper planner or an electronic one, time management is so much easier and planning goes more smoothly when everything is written down. Encourage students to schedule the due dates on their projects and allow for proper chunks of time to work on the projects in small increments. If students are collaborating, remind them to allow extra time to work around everybody’s calendars and commitments.

Work with a Tutor
Students don’t have to wait until they’re crumbling under stress to seek out a tutor. When my daughter was in precalculus, we hired a tutor for her proactively so that she could understand the advanced math better and stay ahead of the stress. Weekly visits with the math specialist were well worth our money as we watched her gain confidence and competence. Check with your local high school—sometimes they have students in groups like National Honor Society or student council who will tutor for a reduced rate or to earn service hours. Faith groups and organizations like the YMCA might also offer tutoring services.

Find a Hobby
Extracurricular classes, activities, and clubs can help students stay in shape, not only physically, but also mentally and emotionally, and offer a break from studies. Taking a break by doing something physical is a really strong self-care idea; encourage your students to try power walking, biking, cross-training, tennis, Frisbee golf, inline skating, jumping rope, or jumping on a trampoline. If they’d prefer an organized team sport, consider signing them up to play basketball, volleyball, softball, baseball, or soccer. Hobbies don’t have to be physical; check out community education classes like cooking, sewing, scrapbooking, playing chess, knitting, painting, and taking magic or music lessons.

Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness is the practice of staying in the moment—fully present, mindfully aware, and without judgment. Teach your students to be mindful when pressures threaten to strangle them. Start by breathing with intention. Inhale deeply through the nose; exhale through the mouth. Just three to five deep breaths can help clear the brain when it starts to fog over. Want to try something new? Texas school counselor Stephanie Lerner suggests breathing backward: exhale first, then inhale. It will force thoughts toward the breathing and away from the pressure cooker one is in. Students might also choose a mantra to complement their mindful breathing rituals—something like inhale calm, exhale chaos.

Relax and Regroup
Relaxation looks different for everyone. Maybe it’s time to take a break from the books and de-stress by listening to music, dancing, playing an instrument, or reading a fictional tale for fun. Maybe relaxing looks like taking a power nap or a long, luxurious bubble bath. It might be gardening, inviting a friend over to build a jigsaw puzzle, watching a funny movie, or enjoying a sitcom on television. It might be listening to a guided meditation or stretching with some yoga poses. It could even mean going out for a snow cone or some other refreshing treat. Encourage your students to keep a self-care journal in which they can list or draw the strategies they connect with as they step away from stress to regroup. It will be a welcome resource in the event that school life ever gets too pressurized for them to remember what works.

Keep a Growth Mindset
Remember that academic success isn’t about being the best, but about giving one’s personal best. A growth mindset reminds us that growth is more important than grades. Encourage students to give themselves some grace in the grades department; if they are working hard and giving it their all, then they will make progress toward mastery. Celebrate the baby steps and focus on the journey rather than the end goal. As our students innovate and create, may they never arrive at the Land of Done. Professor and author Carol Dweck suggests that we name and claim our fixed mindsets. Open up a conversation with your students to help them see and admit what their fixed mindsets are, then give them the tools to unlock those errant thoughts and beliefs.

What are your students’ favorite go-to pressure relief valve strategies?

Barbara GruenerCurrently in her 33rd year as an educator, Barbara Gruener, a school counselor and character coach at Bales Intermediate School in Friendswood, Texas, has had the pleasure of working with kids from every grade level. Author of the blog The Corner on Character and the book What’s Under Your Cape? SUPERHEROES of the Character Kind, Barbara enjoys positively influencing change through her inspirational keynotes and interactive workshops. When she’s not working, you can bet Barbara is knitting, baking, writing, reading, walking, gardening, napping, or spending time with her husband and their three children.

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