9 Tips for Minimizing Back-to-School Stress

Getting back to school can be a stressful time, especially for teens. Here are nine easy, low-tech tips to help minimize your stress.

1. Start a healthy sleep schedule and stock up on healthier foods.

After being on summer break, you might find it hard to get back to the routine of school. Try setting a predictable bedtime and wake-up time routine, and don’t deviate from it. This helps your body get into a routine so it’s not recovering from lack of sleep all the time. Also, getting into the habit of eating healthier foods will help you feel good and think more clearly in school and during study sessions after school.

2. Take breaks to notice your breathing.

When working many hours on a school project, don’t forget to take breaks and get back in touch with the breath. If you’re focused on your breathing, you are right here, right now, in the present moment, and you aren’t in your head thinking about things that might be causing you stress. You don’t have to change your breath; just be with it as it is. Just take a few moments to notice it, and then gently return to what you were doing.

3. Do one thing at a time.

When you do one thing at a time, you can keep feelings of overwhelm at bay. There is no need to do many things at once, and by focusing on one thing at a time, you’ll do better at that one thing. If you have a large to-do list, break it down into steps—but again, doing one thing at a time. After you have accomplished each item, acknowledge your accomplishment, breathe, and move on.

4. Don’t forget to do things you enjoy.

Pay attention to the things that bring you happiness or feel pleasant to you, and make time to do them or experience them. Whether it’s saying hello to your favorite teacher or playing a sport with friends after school, even the smallest thing that brings a smile to your face could turn a bad day into a good day.

5. Reduce pressure and expectations.

Parents, teachers, and friends can put a lot of pressure on you or expect you to do a certain thing or be a certain way. Try being who you are, and remember that who you are is good enough. Pay attention to whether you’re the one to putting pressure on yourself. Notice when you start to do this—for example, by taking on too many school activities or trying to be perfect—and just be who you already are.

6. Notice when you jump onto the train of thoughts.

As a human being, you are going to think—and think a lot. Simply noticing when you are stuck in your head and thinking about judgments about yourself or others can really be helpful when trying reduce your stress. For example, take a step back and jump off the train of thoughts you jumped onto. You can do this by trying to just watch your thoughts come and go and pass by, as if you were watching a train go by without jumping onto it. You can jump off just as easily as you jumped on.

7. Appreciate who you are.

You may want to look or dress a certain way to fit in. When you compare yourself to others and feel like you don’t match up to how you want to look or fit in, take a moment first and remember that you, just like every person, are unique, and trying to live up to a particular image will likely cause you stress and make it difficult to be happy. If you can appreciate who you are and what gifts you have to offer, you will likely feel more confident and a lot happier. If you don’t think you have any talents or gifts, or are special, talk to someone in your life you can trust and ask them about how they see you and what your special gifts are.

8. Be open to new experiences and see the same things with fresh eyes.

Instead of starting the school year with thoughts Iike, “My new school will suck” or “I won’t make any friends,” try to see that new opportunities and experiences could actually be good—and maybe even better than you expected. If you get stuck with a teacher you didn’t like again, try to see that same teacher with fresh eyes. Rather than getting stuck in thoughts about how things are going to be, try to see how they actually are first.

9. Use mindfulness when you do your homework or take tests.

When you feel overwhelmed, pressured, and/or unable to pay attention to homework or tests, you can try this: First, notice your breath. You might even say out loud to yourself, “Breathing in one, breathing out one, breathing in two, breathing out two.” When you feel ready pay attention to your body, imagine letting go of any stress, tension, or tightness you might have. Next, envision doing and completing your homework or test with peace and ease, and then give that homework assignment or test a try. If you begin to feel pressured or distracted again while doing your work, go back to noticing your breath and your body, and visualize peace and ease. Repeat as often as you need.

Gina Biegel, LMFT, is a psychotherapist in the San Francisco Bay Area who specializes in mindfulness-based work with adolescents. She is founder of Stressed Teens, which has been offering mindfulness-based stress reduction for teens (MBSR-T) to adolescents, families, schools, professionals, and the community for over a decade. She is the author of The Stress Reduction Workbook for Teens.