For many teens, a new school year is a chance to catch up with friends and dive into fun extracurricular activities. Unfortunately, some teens find the transition back to school really stressful. In 2014, the American Psychological Association noted that teens in the United States report stress at significantly higher levels than what they believe is healthy, and their reported stress is even higher during the school year. While school should be challenging, students should not experience symptoms of stress (e.g., stomach pain, headaches, feeling irritable or overwhelmed) on a regular basis. Here are some tips to keep in mind this school year:

Define success. Many of us equate success with wealth, power, or status. This belief isn’t bad, but it is limiting. What does success mean to you? What would you choose to do even if you were not required to do it?

Stop comparing. Research tells us that social comparison contributes to increased stress. We’ve all had the experience of scrolling through social media and feeling as though the grass really is greener on the other side. If we measure ourselves against someone else’s definition of success, we will always come up short. What are your unique skills? When do you feel proud of yourself?

Set yourself up for success. Most of us do not schedule time to unwind – we wait for a break to magically appear in our daily schedule. In order to set yourself up for success, take a close look at your schedule and find small windows of time to de-stress. Do you have time for a 10 minute meditation or a 20 minute power nap? How about setting aside 5 minutes before soccer practice to eat a snack and listen to your favorite song? Make sure to put these self-care breaks in your calendar the same way you would write down the date and time of an important exam.

Rethink your coping strategies. There is a difference between what we believe will decrease our stress and what actually decreases our stress. When we play video games, check social media, or watch TV, we feel relaxed. However, these activities do not decrease stress levels as much as playing sports/exercising, listening to music, talking to friends, or reading a book. Take a closer look at how you unwind after a stressful day. Is there another activity that you would be willing to try to cope more effectively with stress?

Be kind to yourself. Have you ever seen a duck swimming on a lake? It glides across the water effortlessly. If you look under the water, you might be surprised to see its feet paddling like crazy. It can feel like everyone is gliding effortlessly through high school, but this just isn’t the case. All of us are paddling like our life depends on it. Check out the online communities at Change to Chill and Half of Us and remember you’re not alone.

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