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  • Writer's pictureJulie Burn

Are the school years really the best years of your life?



Whoever it was who first said, "School years are the best years of your life", must, I think, have had a pretty disappointing adulthood. Yes, okay being an adult does bring with it responsibilities and stressors, many of which aren't even thought about in childhood, and nor should they be, but it is wrong to think that all youngsters are sailing through their school years with plentiful friends, academic and sporting success and happy memories to carry with them into adulthood.


In my role as an adolescent counsellor, I regularly counsel youngsters who come to me because they are struggling with some aspect, or many aspects, of school life. Teenagers today are under immense academic pressure to succeed, as schools struggle to reach their ever-increasing, and often unrealistic government targets. Add to this, raging hormones, physical and emotional changes, and sometimes fraught relationships with friends, other peers and occasionally teachers, and one may find many teenagers buckling under the pressure, hoping against hope their well-meaning elders, who tell them the school years are the best of their lives, and to enjoy them while they can, are wrong.


As a mum of a tween myself, I know too well the tendency to want to wade in myself and 'fix' any issues my child may have. No parent wants to see their youngster unhappy, but we can be too close, too emotionally invested and in order to help our children we have to learn to step back and allow our tweens and teens the chance to solve their own issues.


Sometimes it can be helpful for teenagers to talk to a counsellor, someone who is impartial and not emotionally invested, like mum or dad. I listen to my young clients and attempt to help them look at their problems, and working together we try to identify and implement strategies, which may help them cope and handle school stressors more easily, empowering them to take control over their own lives, instead of feeling helpless.


Here are a few tried and tested techniques for teenagers who are feeling stressed and worried.


Deep Breathing

Deep breathing is very simple and an excellent way to help manage difficult emotions, in that it immediately grounds you in the present moment and helps to calm you down. You can do this anywhere and nobody knows you are doing it.

  • Breathe in through your nose to the count of four

  • Hold the breath for four seconds

  • Slowly breathe out through your mouth for four seconds

  • Wait for for four seconds before inhaling again

Focus on the Senses

When we are stressed our minds are often worrying about something that happened in the past or conjuring up something stressful in our future. Bring yourself back to the here and now by using the 5,4,3,2,1 technique:


  • What are 5 things you can see? (the pattern on the wallpaper, your friend, the whiteboard)

  • What are 4 things you can hear? (teacher talking, birds singing outside, rustle of notebook paper)

  • What are 3 things you feel? (hard chair under your bottom, the pen in your hand, butterflies in your tummy)

  • What are 2 things you smell? (bubble gum, sweat)

  • What is 1 thing you taste? (bubble gum, toothpaste)

Imagine Your Happy Place

Imagery is structured daydreaming and can be beneficial when you are stressed our or upset. It can provide a short mental break and calm you down. Two techniques that seem popular with clients are:


Relaxing Place

Visualise a place you have been to, or seen in a movie or on tv, that makes you feel safe

relaxed and peaceful. Many people choose their bedroom or a holiday destination they

loved, maybe it is your grandma's kitchen, where you feel loved and safe. It doesn't

matter where you choose as long as you feel comforted and happy when you think of it.

The aim is to focus on this place in as much detail as you can. What do you see?, hear?

smell? and feel when you are here?


Soothing Person

Visualise someone, real or imaginary, who is kind, loving and always sees the best in

you. Once you have your person in mind, imagine them in as much detail as possible.

What are they wearing? How are they looking at you? Do they have any comforting or

encouraging words to tell you? Think about how relaxed and content you are in their

company.


Whilst the above techniques are useful in moments of stress, here are some other helpful tips to implement outside of school that will help you establish good routines and reduce stress:


Journalling

I am sure most of my clients, young and old alike, will tell you I am a big fan of the journal.

Use your journal however you want to. Many clients like to offload and/or vent. Every morning or evening taking ten minutes to write about what is working for you, and what isn't. You can take those problematic thoughts, that are buzzing around in your head, and get them down on paper. Often journals can be used to notice the good things too. I recommend at the end of every day, jotting down three things that you are grateful for that day. It can be anything that meant something to you, such as "I got an A on my maths test", to "My dog licked me to bits, when I got home from school, she was so delighted to see me". Focusing on the good can help steer us from the bad things, where too much of our attention often goes/


Meditate

Find a guided meditation on a meditation app, like Insight Timer or Headspace and start small, say ten minutes a day meditating to give your brain a rest from overthinking. Of course, your mind will wander, this is what minds do! but keep bringing your attention back to your breathing and follow the guided meditation. It may be difficult at first, but stick with it as meditation has been proved to help people relax and focus.


Join a Club or Group Outside of School

Sometimes it can feel like school and concerns about school take over your life, and it can be good to remember that there is a whole world out there, outside of school. What are you interested in? Art?, gymnastics?, football?, martial arts?, music?...the list goes on. Join a group outside of school, meet new people, make new friends. Broaden your horizons.


Get off Devices and Social Media

We have to see friends and peers at school, but we don't need to be constantly connected to them at home. We all need breaks. Make sure you allow yourself some device-free time every day. At least one hour before bed, switch off your phone, or have it charging in another room. Take a bath, watch a show, read a book instead, and get an alarm clock instead of having your phone so close.


Challenge Negative Thoughts

Anxiety increases when we think irrationally. Believing, "Nothing ever goes right for me", or "Something bad will happen", are generalisations and make you feel bad. Notice when you use such negative statements and challenge them. Ask yourself:


"Is it true?"

"Is this thought based on a fact or a feeling?"

"What would my best friend say about this?"


And then challenge the thought and see how it is only a thought, not necessarily reality. Imagine life without that thought and think about how different things could be if you didn't believe this thought.


Get Outside

Run, walk the dog, kick a football, meander around your back garden. Be active in the outdoors. It is so good for your body and mind.


Life can be stressful. School can be fun but it can also be hard. Academic stress and friendship worries can take their toll. Don't suffer in silence. If you have tried many of the above strategies and still feel very anxious or low, please talk to someone. You might talk to a parent, friend or teacher but if you feel unable to share with those close to you, ask your parent/carer if you might speak to a counsellor. Many schools already have counsellors on site, so make use of this, and if not, there are many of us out there in private practice, who are eager to help.







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