How much sleep are you getting?
This is a good question to start with. The student above was getting approximately 6 hours of sleep a night. Definitely not enough for a growing teenager. The National Sleep Foundation notes that adolescents should be getting anywhere from 8-10 hours a night. Over time, the cumulative effects of not getting enough sleep can be extremely detrimental not only to your physical well-being (how well will you perform in training or in a game if you’re tired and drowsy?) as well as your mental health (how can you focus on studying, tests, writing essays?).
Three things to aim to do:
Shift away from screens at least 30 min to 60 min before bedtime. Even if you aren’t tired, try to read a magazine or journal – don’t look at a phone, tablet, or TV before bed. Your brain can be tricked into staying up later by the light in these screens, leading to less restful sleep.
Keep to a schedule. Have a set bedtime and waketime every day. I know it is tempting to stay up late on the weekends and sleep in. However, this will only mess up your routine more during the week.
Limit your caffeine intake during the day; nothing past 2p in the afternoon.
How many sports and activities are you participating in?
Often my students feel especially harried because they play 2, 3, and sometimes even four sports on top of jobs, community service, and more! At a certain point, you have to learn to pick only the activities you really want to focus on, especially if the time commitment is affecting your school work. I typically ask students to pick the things they are MOST passionate about. Leaving a sport or activity won’t look like a “failure.” It will be considered prioritizing your time. This is a skill you will need in college, I promise you! I brought this up with a student recently who felt so pulled by all of her coaches she finally decided to walk away from a sport she had been doing “her whole life” because she realized that she had only been staying in it out of habit, not because she enjoyed it. By saying no to one thing, she could then say yes to an activity she longed to do but never had time for (joining a local yoga class).
From a college perspective, it would be looked better for a student to only be in a few activities he was deeply and passionately involved in vs. a lot of activities that he really had no interest in. Please write down your current activities and rank them from most important to least important. Could you take 1 or 2 activities off the list?
How much stress are you experiencing daily?
While it is normal to feel some stress sometimes, what is NOT normal is to feel stressed all day, every day. Take a minute right now and take stock of how you are feeling. Is your mind racing? Are you nervous about something coming up, or are you running over something that happened a couple of days ago? Try this simple exercise to ground yourself in the moment and bring you back to the present. When I also feel out of control, this 30-second exercise helps me feel much calmer and more focused.
What are 5 things you see?
What are 4 things you hear?
What are 3 things you smell?
What are 2 things you feel?
What is 1 thing you taste?
If you find that the anxiety really is affecting more aspects of your life (your sleep, your eating, your mood, you’re always sick), it may be time to see a doctor. You might first start with your pediatrician or family doctor to rule out an illness or you can also speak with your school counselor and see what resources you may have in your community to help with stress.
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