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  • Writer's pictureLila Raj

Stress-Free Success: A Practical Student’s Guide

Updated: 6 days ago

Originally published on the Challenge Success blog.

Just walking through the hallways of my school can be stressful. It’s not uncommon to hear comments like, “I stayed up until 2:00 AM writing that paper” or “I don’t have time to eat lunch today, I have to study.” Mere mentions of famously difficult classes elicit groans and exclamations of “I can’t even think about that right now!” Students exit their classrooms after tests crying because they got the last question wrong, forgot to check their work, got a different answer from their friend… whatever little thing is the last straw on top of their already unmanageable workload. Though my school prides itself on valuing students’ mental health, academic pressure, combined with complex social relationships and the daily tragedies we hear about on the news, can be incredibly overwhelming. Without our own stress-management strategies, it’s impossible not to be caught up in the cyclone of endless anxiety. Hopefully, though, employing the three tips in this blog post will lead to some relief.

Strategy 1: Prioritize Your Responsibilities

I know we’ve all received advice to “use a planner!” and “make a daily schedule!” and while these tips are certainly helpful for some, I’ve found that meticulously organizing every minute of my day can be stressful in itself. What’s truly important, meanwhile, is knowing how to prioritize. I keep a simple to-do list in my Notes app, starting with set commitments, like swim practice from 5:00–7:00 PM. Then, I list everything I want to get done in the day and begin prioritizing, keeping in mind deadlines and rough estimates of how long each task will take. What’s due tomorrow or later today? This should be my first priority. Is there any work I’m struggling with and need to attend office hours to understand? If I need to meet with my teacher tomorrow morning, starting the assignment today is important as well — but less so. Do I have a big project due at the end of the week? It would be great to get started on that, but I’ll have time tomorrow as well.

Finally, I leave time for relaxation whenever possible. While it may seem unproductive, setting aside 30 minutes to practice a hobby rather than spending that time toiling away at homework that’s due in a week can fend off stress and eventual burnout. In fact, scheduling personal time can also reduce procrastination, counterintuitively improving your overall productivity — and your self-care! (In fact, Challenge Success has done extensive research on teens’ need for Playtime, Downtime, and Family Time (PDF) every day. Check out some simple strategies here!)

Strategy 2: Establish Boundaries Between Your Personal and School Lives

During my scheduled relaxation time, it can be tempting to check my school email, reload my virtual classrooms to see if any assignments have been graded, or generally let academic worries seep their way into my personal activities. In order to avoid this, it has been helpful to set not only mental, but physical, boundaries between each section of my life. For example, I’ll sit at my desk to do my homework, then move to my bed or to a different room to talk to my friends, far from my textbooks and messy stacks of school materials. Not being able to see or touch any reminders of school is an amazing way to mentally (and literally) distance myself from my stressful workload. This tip works in reverse as well: while working, I am much more productive when I sit away from any distractions and even leave my phone across the room, out of reach so I can’t “check my notifications” (read: spend half an hour surfing the internet instead of doing my Spanish homework). This is beneficial for my personal life as well, as focused work sessions leave more time for rest and relaxation.

Strategy 3: Ask for Help

Though it may seem intimidating, if school is still too overwhelming, it’s important to advocate for yourself. My heart rate still spikes whenever I email my teachers, but I’ve come to learn that there are many more pros than cons, and regardless, remember that your teachers — and friends and family — only want to help you. In my experience, the relief of gaining clarity on a challenging concept is undoubtedly worth the anxiety of seeking support. Once again, self-advocacy will also ultimately save you time on schoolwork, allowing for more personal time, and who knows? Maybe you’ll form a surprising bond with your teacher or uncover a passion for a subject you once dreaded.

While they’re not always easy to attain, academic and personal success can coexist, and the three strategies in this blog post are the first steps to achieving this delicate — yet necessary — balance. By prioritizing our responsibilities, establishing clear boundaries, and asking for help, we’re not just managing our schoolwork, but reclaiming control over our wellbeing. 

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