How to *actually* stay stress-free going into the spring semester

So, let me guess: during August, before the school year started, you said you were going to get all As and 10 perfect hours of sleep every night. Now it's December, and you're drowing in calc homework and basketball workouts while barely getting to bed before midnight.

No worries, because we've all been there, and we know how it feels. Luckily for us, we talked with Hilary Shaw, a licensed social worker in Baton Rouge, La. who specializes in girls' health. She gave us *all* the advice on how to turn your habits around and ditch the school stress *before* the spring semester starts. 

Girls' Life: In your profession, how often do you see girls who are dealing with stress related to school?

Shaw: I see a lot of girls of all ages for a number of a reasons. Stress is definitely on top of the list. School is a big contributing factor of that stress for obvious reasons. The girls I see get stressed about school in different ways. Trying to fit in, worried about keeping up with work, family stuff, all kinds of things.

Does what we eat affect our stress?

Shaw: Instead, I would say that our stress is going to affect how we eat. When we're really overwhelmed and feeling lots of stress, it's more likely to affect how we eat, rather than the other way around. If you're worried or sad, your emotions can have a big effect on what foods you might go to. You might not eat if you're really stressed out, or you might eat when you're not even hungry.

Does lack of sleep add to stress levels?

Shaw: Not sleeping definitely makes your assignments and tasks harder to deal with, which leads to feeling more stressed. Teen girls should get at least nine to ten hours of sleep per night. Most of your growth happens while you're sleeping, so getting enough of rest is extremely prominent during your entire adolescent/teen life.

Can the stress of social media affect our grades?

Shaw: Social media is definitely something we're learning more and more about. Anything to an extreme can be negative. Since teens (and adults, too!) are consuming more and more media, it can really affect how you feel about yourself, whether it's in a good or bad way. There's a possibility this could lead to distraction from your schoolwork. The goal here is just to take it in moderation.

Should we compare grades with our friends or classmates?

Shaw: It's biologically natural and instinstive as human to compare ourselves to others. It can get very overwhelming and stressful because in all honesty, you're never going to be the best. You have to be gentle with yourself and understand where the comparison is coming from. We naturally do it to make ourselves feel better. Comparing your grades isn't totally harmful, as long as you give yourself a break and remember you're doing your best.

Does a consistent study schedule and environment play a positive role in reducing stress? 

Shaw: It can, as long as you realize it may not be perfect all the time. Similar to exercise, having a super rigid study schedule can also add to stress rather than reducing. Really any form of rigid thinking or perfectionism causes stress. Just try not to beat yourself up.

How important is exercise in reducing stress?

Shaw: Exercise can definitely help with your stress, mood and sleep, as long as it's done in the right way. You should be moving your body in a joyous and playful way. If you get too rigid with your exercise or sport, it will just add to your stress even more. Exercise should truly be in the form of something you enjoy.

How many extracurriculars do you think is *too* much?

Shaw: It really just varies from girl to girl. If you find yourself overwhelmed a lot, then it's probably time to reevaluate your priorities. Everyone's different, so you just have to find a schedule that works for you and your well-being.

Is it normal to feel more stressed when I'm on my period?

Shaw: Girls typically have trouble finding balance in their lives, dealing with school, extracurriculars, family, etc. During our menstrual cycle, we can definitely show heightened emotions if our life isn't balanced. Once we find find that balance, your period won't elevate those stress levels as much.

Is it beneficial to talk out my feelings of stress with someone?

Shaw: Again, everyone's different about the way they like to cope with things. But we *are* naturally social animals. We saw with Covid-19 that many people got in a funk due to the lack of social interaction. So, talking with a trusted person can definitely be a big form of self-care. 

Overall, what's the #1 key to reducing stress during the school year?

Shaw: Balance. With work, fun and school. With friends, creativity and downtime. Especially with the culture in our generation, it's go, go, go. We think so much and get so disconnected from reality. Rigid habits kill everything. Just breathe, take care of yourself, and find the balance.

All GIFs via GIPHY


by Elise Jones | 1/4/2021