Paige sat at her desk and stared at the mountain of assignments before her. Her blonde hair cascaded down her cheeks as her shoulders sank under the massive weight of work. Apart from the Bio test she had to prepare for, she had a French quiz to study for, an English paper to write, a page of problems to complete for her Pre-Calculus class and a chapter of her text book to read for U.S. history. All in a day’s work in Junior Year!
The workload wouldn’t be so awful if she didn’t feel so much pressure on a constant basis. If she did not do well in school, her GPA would plummet. Then, she would have little hope of getting into the school of her dreams, much less any college she would actually like to attend. She also had to raise her SAT score. That number had to be in the stratosphere. If she didn’t earn a good score, she would wind up in a miserable place. She was sure of it. Suddenly, she remembered the Greek character Sisyphus, who was forced to push an immense boulder up a steep hill—only for it to roll down once he neared the top. Sisyphus was forced to repeat this action for eternity, and that was just how she felt.
Instead of opening her book, Paige decided to check her phone. What was new on Instagram? She started scrolling through her feed and looked closely for a few of her friends, not to mention the prettiest girl in her class, Brooke. Her images always looked like sheer perfection. Brooke seemed to host and attend the most excellent parties, date the best-looking boyfriend, take the most luxurious trips, and hang out in all of the coolest places. Heavy sigh. Paige decided to post a quick story about the night’s misery—one more about the daily grind.
Afterwards, rather than cracking the books, Paige decided it was time for a snack and a shower. Next, she decided to paint her nails. Soon it was getting very late, and she realized that she had not done any work whatsoever. The anxiety continued to build.
Young women like Paige can follow a pattern like this for weeks. When the homework builds up over time, it can feel impossible to tackle it. Even a small part. Using this strategy of avoidance as a means of coping with anxiety is all too common. Unfortunately, the strategy only intensifies the stress students are trying to escape. One of the best ways to avoid a crippling situation like this is to address the issue directly.
First, don’t overload yourself. Consider all of your options when choosing classes and try to select a course load that is manageable. A lot of students ask if it is best to earn excellent grades in regular courses or to struggle in advanced classes. What’s really important is to seek balance so that you are not forced to shoulder too heavy a burden. You have to be realistic when assessing your strengths and weaknesses as you select your classes, and you need to stay focused on achieving a lofty GPA. You need to plan in advance, because throughout high school you want to at least be consistent or, better yet, increase academic challenge each year. You also want to earn strong year end grades or exhibit an upward trend.
Second, make an effort to quiet the noise in your life. When you are doing homework, put your phone aside. Cell phones are a huge distraction that absorb too much attention. It’s difficult to complete your work when there is so much happening on social media and so much contact with friends. When working on group projects or if you need help, your phone can be useful, but you must be able to turn it off as well. If you need some assistance in this area, some students find it helpful to hire an executive functioning coach to provide them with a structure and plan for getting assignments done.
Third, seek help from teachers. Often this involves meeting with your instructors to ask questions prior to tests or papers. When we became college counselors, one of our initial discoveries was that many top students met with their teachers regularly. Reaching out in this way not only lets your teachers know that you care, but it also allows you to build better relationships with individuals that can then write great recommendations—important for helping you achieve better outcomes.
Fourth, talk with a professional about your anxiety. If you are feeling overwhelmed, there are many experts to speak with, such as a school counselor or a therapist/psychiatrist from outside of school. Know that you are definitely not alone, and that seeking help for your anxiety is one of the most important ways you can not only feel better, but also advocate for yourself. it is important to distinguish between having an anxiety disorder and experiencing normal stress. Having a better sense of what you are dealing with will make it easier to navigate the ups and downs of high school. A seasoned professional can help you adopt the correct approach to address your situation effectively.
Fifth, develop a plan that works for you. Control the number of activities you include in your day and employ relaxation techniques to help you feel calmer. These may include rituals like sliding into the tub, playing mellow tunes, performing breathing exercises and, of course, exercise. It may seem like committing to playing a varsity sport will take up too much time, but competing may help you feel a lot happier and actually put you in the correct frame of mind to complete work. The effort involved in exercise can ease your mind and lift your spirits. Athletes often complete homework more quickly because they do not have time to procrastinate. They must be efficient.
High school is undoubtedly arduous, but college is the triumph you can savor after you overcome all of the obstacles along the way. Managing current challenges is your chance to gain a better understanding of yourself and to address the issues that can hold you back from enjoying new experiences in the future!
- Esther Book