How To Handle Your Mental Health and the School-Life Balance?

High school, under the best of circumstances, is stressful. This academic year, students of all ages were thrown a curveball in the form of a global health and economic crisis that has changed how education looked for most of the academic year. Moreover, recent events may change how the school looks and functions for years to come. It is hard to know what the school-life balance will look like for the upcoming semester and beyond. Distance learning, social distancing, and other functional limitations may be with us for some time. For high school students, there is already a lot to process. These are the years where academics suddenly become a focus. Other things, such as high school sports, extracurricular activities, college applications, and the SAT’s all add to the stress and anxiety felt by most teens through the entirety of their academic career.

In addition to the standard stressors felt by most teenagers as they try to maintain the ideal school-life balance, statistics show that as many as one in five (or twenty percent) of teens in the United States will show signs of a mental health disorder at some time during their high school years. Although some of these mental health issues may show up early, it is more common for them to become more noticeable during the teen years and to become exacerbated by the stressors faced by teens each day.

It is challenging enough for your teen to balance all of the perceived requirements of their high school lives, especially now that they are living with the challenges of distance education and separation from their peers. It is easy for your teen to wonder how they are to take care of their mental health while still trying to be as involved as they wish to be in school and school-related activities.

When Should Therapy Become A Consideration?

It is vital to understand the difference between standard, everyday teen stress, and the kind of stress you need to be worried about. If you notice (or your teen vocalizes) a change in their typical behavior or feelings, it may be time to consider a conversation with a mental health provider. Changes in behavior can vary from minor to significant and include things such as sleeplessness or excessive sleep, disordered eating, declining interest in social activities, reduced energy, failing grades, or periods of extreme anger or sadness, among others. Understanding and being aware of changes in your teen’s behavior may help to reduce the chances of more significant adverse emotional or physical side effects of their mental health disorder.

If mental health concerns are allowed to go unchecked for too long, it can result in debilitating physical and emotional symptoms, which could further impact your teen. Also, they could experience medical side effects that require medical intervention or hospitalization. The earlier treatment is sought, the more effective therapeutic interventions will be. In addition, treatment early on will likely reduce the time required in treatment or therapy, which will limit the disruption to your teen’s academic and social activities.

The School-Life Balance & Therapy Combination

Attending therapy or even a residential treatment program for a mental health condition does not impede your teen’s ability to get the most out of their time in high school. Some may say the opposite is true. Choosing to ignore a known or developing mental health condition for fear that it may interrupt school could lead to dangerous consequences and a complete disruption of your teen’s academic year. As your teen attends therapy and continues to attend school (or returns to school after a stay at a residential program such as Hillcrest, it will be essential they maintain the course they have set on during treatment. This will involve taking time to work on their mental and physical health as well as attending to self-care routines. Some examples of those are below. Keep in mind these techniques are most beneficial when used in addition to treatment, not necessarily as a substitute for or a means of avoiding treatment.

Maintain healthy sleep habits-

During therapy, especially at a residential program, healthy sleep habits are taught and fostered. Not getting enough sleep is a pervasive problem for teens. It is a common problem that can do more harm than good. Studies show that sleep deprivation over a long period is linked to a variety of school-life balance issues, including declining grades. For students who are in treatment for conditions such as depression, ADHD, anxiety, and PTSD, sleep deprivation can exacerbate the symptoms they experience. To limit these challenges, encourage your teen to practice healthy sleep habits. Examples include going to bed at the same time each night and waking up at the same time each day. It is also important to try and get at least eight hours of restful sleep each night.

Eat a balanced and consistent diet-

Diet can affect a student’s memory, ability to learn, and focus and have a negative impact on stress levels and skills to cope with anxiety and stressors. This is especially true for students who are in treatment for anxiety and depression, or students who have experienced or are being treated for disordered eating. It can be challenging to maintain a healthy diet and the school-life balance in unison, especially for a teen with a great many school and social obligations. Some healthy eating habits students can adopt are eating breakfast every day, adhering to a regular meal schedule, and trying to avoid late-night meals and snaking as it can affect sleep. Also, try to limit junk foods and limit caffeine and sugar.

Exercise-

The word exercise means different things to different people. For teens who are struggling with their mental health, exercise can be an essential part of their recovery as it releases endorphins in the body, which helps to improve mood and contribute to feelings of calm. This is especially beneficial when stress and anxiety have overtaken the ability to maintain a healthy school-life balance. Exercise also helps to improve energy levels, sleep patterns, memory, and the ability to focus on essential tasks.

Relaxation-

For teens who struggle with mental health challenges while trying to maintain a presence in their day to day lives at school, the ability to feel relaxed and “at peace” can be nearly impossible. This is where therapy can help your teen learn relaxation and meditative techniques that may help them to slow their minds. This is not only beneficial for reducing the stress and anxiety associated with maintaining a healthy school-life balance, but it can help to improve mood and sleep.

Talk to peers-

Teens often feel the most at ease when communicating with their peers. They are much more likely to express concerns, fears, or other challenging emotions to peers than to parents or other adults. Teens with mental health challenges often isolate themselves from others due to concerns about not being accepted or understood. To maintain a healthy school-life balance while working through mental health needs in a therapeutic setting, it is essential to maintain those friendships and connections with peers. When your teen is having a bad day, they can turn to peers for advice or support. They are also more likely to open up about bad days or challenging situations to a peer as opposed to internalizing their emotions.

Reading a good book

For teens, the only reading they often have time for is that which is assigned as part of a homework assignment. However, reading for pleasure can be both emotionally and academically beneficial.

On the academic level, pleasure reading can help to improve literary understanding, vocabulary, concentration, and memory. On an emotional level, it can help reduce stress and elevate mood. The ability to disconnect from technology and tune into a good book can also help your teen escape the anxiety and stress caused by their day to day obligations. In the long-term, this can turn into a healthy coping mechanism they can use when faced with challenges to their mental health or their school-life balance.

Distance Learning - Mental Health - Hillcrest

How Can Parents Help Support the School-Life Balance?

As a parent, it is challenging to watch your teen (or child of any age) struggle with the daily stressors they face. However, in most cases, parents understand this is part of the required “growing pains” that all children must experience on the road to becoming the best versions of themselves. Unfortunately, for some teens, stress, and anxiety are a much more significant bump in the road that requires additional help and intervention to get over.

The first (and best) thing a parent can do is to support their teen by listening to their challenges and concerns. Your teen may not always express their needs audibly. Sometimes, listening means watching and noticing changes in your teen’s behavior. If your teen is generally outgoing and social but has recently become withdrawn and seems to be avoiding those things that once provided pleasure, it may be time to talk to a medical professional.

It is also essential for parents to accept and validate your teen’s feelings. It is not healthy (for your teen or for your ability to communicate with them) for a parent to try to talk them out of their feelings or explain why they aren’t accurate. Reassure your teen that emotions are ok to feel and offer to be there to talk if they want to. Also, understand they may not feel comfortable opening up to a parental figure. Under these circumstances, provide them a different outlet for their concerns such as a teacher, medical provider, or mental health practitioner.

At Hillcrest, we understand the challenges your teen and your family face each day trying to maintain the school-life balance while caring for your teen’s mental health. If your teen is struggling more than usual or has vocalized the need to talk to someone, the medical staff at Hillcrest is here to help. We can speak with you and your teen and determine how we may be able to help alleviate the stress and anxiety your teen is feeling. We can also help to determine if new or elevated stress and anxiety could be a sign of a mental health-related condition for which anxiety therapy would be beneficial. The school-life balance is challenging, more so for a teen who is experiencing challenges related to their mental health. At Hillcrest, we want you to know your teen does not need to struggle alone. We are here to help.

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