Middle and high schoolers all around the country are going back to school over the next couple of weeks, some for the first time in 17 months.
The return to the classroom can be really tough for some students. We know that one in five teens and nearly 40% of LGBTQ youth struggle with anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. The start of school can exacerbate these. And this year, as concerns about the social pressures after so much time at home, dealing with masks and ongoing COVID fears and trying to catch up academically after remote learning are adding to the stress.
The good news?
During your late adolescent and teen years, you can take charge of your wellbeing. Teens are old enough to manage their self-care (with their parent’s support) and have the wherewithal to reach out for help when they need it.
Here are some healthy habits that you can work on right now to help you stay emotionally and physically strong when you go back to school:
- Get your sleep in order – You should be getting eight or nine hours of sleep every night. Numerous studies link a lack of sleep to mental health conditions in teens. Start a routine of going to bed and getting up around the same time every day. That’s often easier said than done but some helpful strategies include: avoiding screen time and caffeine in the evenings, listening to calm music, turning off bright lights and clearing the clutter off your bed, as well as making a to-do list for the next day so you can stop worrying about the tasks you have to accomplish.
- Exercise – Regular exercise is proven to be one of the most effective ways of improving a high schooler’s mental health and wellbeing. It’s been linked to reduced stress, higher self-esteem and general happiness. It’s also a good way to get your mind off things and provides opportunity for social time.
- Eat healthily and hydrate – You need to feed your brain to think clearly.
- Limit social media time – While building your exercise and sleep routines are among the most powerful tools for supporting your mental health, numerous studies show that too much time spent on social media is damaging. One recent large-scale public health survey of teens in the U.K. found that three hours or more daily on Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram led to increased feelings of depression, anxiety, poor body image and loneliness.
- Create a Schedule – Write down what you do on a given day, including school time, time for extracurriculars, sports, other obligations, plus what you want to do in your free time. Research shows that simply by drawing up a plan our brains can put aside some of the stress associated with the individual tasks we have to complete.
- Take time-outs – Practice breathing or mindfulness exercises, meditate or do yoga. There are many apps available designed to help calm you, center you emotionally, increase your awareness of the world around you and shift unhelpful thinking patterns.
- Talk it out – Young people often tend to bottle up their feelings and self-isolate when they are struggling with mental health issues. They may feel embarrassed about sharing their thoughts. But you are not alone! It’s very likely that people in your trusted friend or family circle have had similar experiences and understand what you are going through. Talking can offer immense relief. If you don’t feel comfortable starting the conversation with your loved ones, try a mental health chat app like 7 cups.
- Get help – Reach out, or ask your parents to reach out, to your doctor or a mental health professional when you need help. But also know that there are numerous resources for adolescents and teens that are free and don’t require an appointment. The concept of finding help does not have to feel overwhelming and can make all the difference. Here are some excellent organizations to be aware of:
- Visit the JED Foundation website for many helpful resources concerning teen mental health that can offer support for specific issues you are struggling with.
- The Trevor Project offers support and ways to connect for LGBTQ teens and their allies
- Teen Mental Health is focused on education and can help you get a better understanding of what is going on in your head.
- girlshealth.gov offers help with a variety of issues that girls struggle with
- Love is Respect – If you are having issues in your relationship that are impacting your mental health, visit the website for relationship and domestic violence resources as well as chat options
- Crisis Text Line – If you are in crisis and need to talk to someone immediately text HELLO to 741741 to connect with a crisis counselor.
- If you are having thoughts of suicide, help is available 24/7 at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800.273.8255.
The start of school is never easy, but you’ve got this! Practicing good self-care and reaching out for help when you need it are the most important first steps you can take in managing your mental health during the coming weeks and beyond.