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High School Hurdles: When School Throws Shade

Updated: Dec 23, 2018


By Dr. Carmen Lalonde


It was exciting at first, the anticipation of seeing your friends, hearing about everyone’s summer adventures, and everything seemed to be going ok… and then it all comes crashing down. Loads of assignments, navigating the demands in each class, and ugh…the social drama, and all of sudden it just feels VERY overwhelming. High school can be a great and a tough place, and if you struggle with anxiety, depression, or social issues, whether you are a freshman, sophomore, junior, or senior, it can feel scary.


We mentioned in a previous post on back to school worries, that anxiety is one of the most common issues that affect teens at school. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression is also common in teens and young adults and is also one of the leading causes of difficulties at school, as low mood and lack of energy (two common symptoms of depression) can affect your ability to manage daily routines such as sleeping, eating, and completing your school work. So, if you are a high school student and you struggle with the demands of school or you have anxiety or depression, here are some tips you can use to help you wade through the academic and social maze that high school can feel like.


1. Maintain multiple social circles.

  • Shifty friends, new peers with conflicting interests, and new “in-groups” are challenging situations to manage, and when you become the target of gossip or drama, you can begin to feel hopeless and very alone. If your social world has started to feel very small, the idea of going to school can feel impossible.

  • Having friendships outside of school can help you feel less alone and provides a social spot that is not connected to the drama that often occurs at school. Having friends or activities unconnected to your school life can help you have a safe place to talk about issues without the worry of it becoming the headline gossip of the week.

  • Another way to combat feeling isolated at school is to join different social groups, clubs, and make friends with people who don’t typically run with your crowd. This way, if something goes awry with your current group, you won’t be left without any friends.

2. Create a calendar or daytimer.

  • Managing the demands of each class is an enormous task. Some teachers assign homework each day, some each week, and others are just plain unpredictable it seems. Trying to hold all of this information in your head can create massive anxiety, and lead to feelings of defeat and the thought that, “it’s just not worth it.”

  • Learning how to organize your daily tasks can not only help reduce anxiety, it can also help you feel more confident. If you have never used a daytimer, try finding one that you like (there are a million on Amazon to choose from), or if you are a tech person, try out a few calendar apps. Or if you are old school, try a classic wall calendar to begin to organize your daily and weekly tasks.

  • You can start by listing out your daily classes, and then add in long-term due dates for assignments. One helpful hack with planning is to think about how long an assignment might take to complete, and then add on a few extra hours. This way, if the homework takes longer than expected, you have set up a safety net to give you more time.

  • Also, giving yourself reminders before an assignment is due can also help orient you to starting your work sooner, which will help reduce anxiety and that awful feeling of cramming the night before an assignment or test. And while, asking your parents for help may be a strategy lower on your list, sometimes seeking their advice is a great way to learn how to manage increasing life demands.

3. Get good sleep (not too much, not too little)

We have all heard it, “get more sleep, go to bed, it will help.” Easier said than done. Mindlessly scrolling through social media, watching just one more show on Netflix, or attempting to cram for that test you forgot to study for, make it nearly impossible to get good sleep.


Sleep, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics plays an essential role in managing anxiety, depression, social stress, and school performance. Yes, we just heard it, hot off the press from the experts, not only your parents say this, sleep will help you feel better. So if you’re like most teens who have a hard time getting good sleep, here are some ideas to try to get those ever-valuable Zzzs:

  1. Set a time limit for when you will shut all social media off and try to stick to this each night.

  2. Don’t take your phone to bed with you. The more you are looking at a screen, the more alert your brain is and therefore, the longer it will take you to fall asleep.

  3. Set an actual bedtime and wake-up time for yourself that allows you to get as much of the recommended 8-9 hours of sleep a night as possible.

  4. Enlist one of your friends to create a sleep routine with you, and at night you can support each other in sticking to your goals.

As hard as it is for everyone to get enough sleep, getting enough rest at night will improve mood, reduce anxieties and increase your self-confidence.


5. Be active.

According to American Psychological Association exercise reduces anxiety, improves mood (makes you feel better) and helps with concentration and memory. And while this might feel like an added job to the list of work you have to do, exercise can really help distract from the grind of school work.


  • One way to add activity to your schedule can be to explore the different clubs and sports teams at your high school to see what sparks your interest. You can also explore the recreational facilities in your neighborhood to see if there are some special deals for teens.

  • Another way to increase your activity level is to walk a portion of the way to or from school. Getting in a brisk walk before your head into class or after school can help create balance, clear your mind, and improve your mood.

4. Make a list of what motivates you.

  • Sometimes the demands of school can become so great that we lose track of what makes us happy. The daily grind of school can feel so far away from your life goals that you lose sight of what motivates you to keep going to school. Sometimes reminding yourself of why you want or have to complete school can help you see the light at the end of the tunnel.

  • I have often recommended to the teens I work with that they create a motivation board or a “life goals list” with their short-term and long-term aspirations listed out. I have them place it in a spot where they can see it each day, like a mirror or by their bed. Many told me that reading this on a daily basis helped them feel more energy for the day.

5. Reward yourself.

  • Setting up an award system can also help you stick to your goals or things you want to accomplish. Basic behavioral principles state that if you want to increase the chances of doing something, reward yourself after doing the behavior, and you are more likely to do that behavior again.

  • So, if you feel great after completing an assignment and you reward yourself with your favorite show or hanging with friends, you are more likely to complete future tasks on time. So, if you enjoy going for special drinks at Starbucks with your friends, or to the movies, or taking long hot baths, use these as rewards for yourself for being successful with your goals and routines.

  • If you are able to stick to your sleep routine, reward yourself the next morning. If you complete an assignment on time, allow yourself to watch your favorite show for 30 minutes afterwards.

6. Develop a relationship with school counselors and know when to ask for help.

It can be intimidating and scary, but speaking to your school counselor and creating a relationship with them can help you feel less anxious at school. Knowing that there is someone at school who understands your worries, and who is devoted to your successful completion of high school can be a source of relief and refuge at school.

  • Guidance counselors are there to help, and if you can create a good relationship with one of them, they can be that go-to person, that safe haven, when things feel like they are falling apart.

  • They can also help support you in seeking outside help if your anxiety, depression, or school struggles remain constant.

  • Knowing how and when to ask for help is an important skill to develop that requires knowing yourself, your moods, your worries, and the right people to ask for help. Even though relationships with adults and parents can be complicated during high school, know that your parents, teachers, and guidance counselors are there to help.

Hopefully, these strategies and developing the skill of asking for help will add a little relief as you make your way through the hurdles of high school. Good luck!

Disclaimer

This site is for information only. It is not therapy. This blog is only for informational and educational purposes and should not be considered therapy or any form of treatment. We are not able to respond to specific questions or comments about personal situations, appropriate diagnosis or treatment, or otherwise, provide any clinical opinions. If you think you need immediate assistance, call your local emergency number.


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