Avoiding the Back-to-School Stress Mess

Most parents and students focus on time management as one of the keys to academic success. But managing stress is just as important. In fact, managing one’s stress and workload go hand in hand according to Michelle Harcrow, assistant director of health promotion and wellness at The University of Alabama.

Harcrow recommends developing a plan based on your needs before tackling the extra-curricular activities and coursework in a school year.

“A student would need to have a general plan for each semester that includes their schedule of classes, mealtime/exercise, study time per class, extracurricular involvement, work plans and any major travel. Then, best case scenario, use a semester-based planner to layout the major responsibilities each week.”

While it is usually a less overwhelming approach to create a day-to-day or weekly plan, looking at the big picture first allows the student to whittle the list down to the more immediate issues.

“For a beginner, start with Day One and then add a day at a time until you feel more comfortable branching out to a whole week, followed by a week and a half, then two weeks, etc.”

This allows the student to learn the all-important life skill of time management and to use that skill as a stress-management technique.

“‘Life is going to happen’ as I tell my students. Life is not an emergency and should not be viewed as such. We need to be prepared for what we know is going to happen and build in some flexibility for what we do not expect,” says Harcrow. “Another important life lesson is that 'failure to plan on the part of an individual should not constitute an emergency for someone else'; therefore, take responsibility for your own life and time, and help those around you to do the same.”

Once a plan is in place, Harcrow recommends the followings steps to achieving goals set for the year:

  • Prioritize your school assignments, work, and social life - key word is BALANCE them based on importance/deadlines.
  • Set realistic goals that you can accomplish in a timely manner
  • Celebrate your accomplishments with healthy rewards (a movie, dinner, a new game)
  • Rest - put it into your schedule and stick to it! The body needs rest and fuel to recover from stress and life. It is important to incorporate a healthy diet with fresh fruits and vegetables into your life. Limit fast foods and excessive sweets. Additionally, a solid sleep schedule with at least 7 hours/night will help the mind stay focused and the body resist illnesses.