End of semester stress starts as winter break approaches. Around this time, it becomes apparent whether or not the habits used throughout the semester have set your teen up for a smooth end of the year. Are you and your student experiencing an end of semester “slump,” or burst in stress?

Often the last weeks before the holiday break are filled with frustration. Have you wondered about how to end the semester without the tension and tears?

These five Stress-Stoppers will help reduce the struggle for both parents and teens as you begin to create healthier habits.

1. Break the habit of using thoughts and speech that include “can’t,” “won’t,” “should,” “should have,” “could have,” and “would have.”

First, these words and phrases mentally put you in a powerless and hopeless stance. This is a dangerous mental state to be in when you’re expecting yourself to accomplish anything.

Second, these words and phrases will get you stuck in either the past or the future, rather than allowing you to focus on the present moment (which is the only moment in which we have control or influence).

Third, these words and phrases put unnecessary pressure on you because they encourage black-and-white thinking. They may cause you to demand perfection from yourself, which is unreasonable and discouraging, increasing the end of semester stress.

As a parent, notice what you tend to say to your teen about academics and examine the message you’re really sending. It is a message of encouragement and possibility, or is it a message of pressure and discouragement? Practice new ways of speaking to your teen about his or her work in order to reduce end of semester stress.

As a teen, notice what messages you are sending yourself about your capabilities. It’s not only work habits that become more obvious at the end of the semester; how you handle stress, how you feel about your capabilities and your expectations of yourself become more clear. Are you treating yourself in a healthy way? Practice new ways of pushing yourself to get things done that don’t include any negative messages about yourself.

2. Break the habit of viewing busy-ness as productivity.

Just because you’re spending time on work doesn’t mean you are being productive. The goal isn’t to spend more time, it’s to be more efficient. Making a priority list will help you use your time more efficiently, as well as help you gauge the amount of effort that each task really requires from you.

As a parent, you can help your teen prioritize if he or she is open to it. More importantly, you can make your own priority list of expectations of your teen. Often (and with good intentions) a parent will express expectations in an unclear, unorganized way (or at inopportune times). Being mindful of your expectations and how you communicate them to your teen can also make a huge impact in reducing your teen’s end of semester stress.

As a teen, you know your work habits and your mind better than anyone else. You can’t do it all in one day, so separate the things that need to get done with the things that can wait. Get a calendar and make a plan that you feel you can really stick with; and even when you slip up, don’t give up. You may actually find that this process makes the work seem less daunting.

3. Set a purpose.

With your eye on the prize, you can keep yourself motivated and make the effort seem worth it.

As a parent, remember that you can’t do this for your teen. The more you try to, the less you’ll be able to serve your necessary parenting role of support. Let your teen make choices and stay informed on what the choices are. Keep an open mind, but pay attention to the results you’re seeing and have an open discussion with your teen if something concerns you.

As a teen, think about what you really want from your future. Then, shift your focus completely to just be on the things that you can do now. Even if some of the work you do now is unpleasant, you’ll be able to congratulate yourself later for being consistent with working toward your chosen goal for your future.

4. Get out of the bubble.

Physically, go outside for a while. Mentally, imagine the hopes and goals that you’ll need to stay motivated. Looking at the big picture will help take some of the pressure off. It’s important to try your hardest, but end of semester stress also isn’t a life or death situation.

As a parent, pause during this time to appreciate your teen. Take an inventory of the ways your teen has grown over the semester. It could be friendships, communication abilities, physical growth. Notice any feelings that you have about these changes, whether it’s joy, fear, sadness, excitement, etc. Think about what your hopes are for the end of next semester and how to start strong next time.

As a teen, getting perspective on your life overall will keep you focused and push you to try without unnecessary anxiety or exhaustion. Also, take healthy breaks. There is even healthy procrastination (i.e. cleaning your desk, not scrolling through Instagram). Plus, there’s always time for a few deep breaths before you continue working.

5. Give help and get help.

Offering assistance to someone else not only gives you a rewarding feeling, but it can be a reminder that things aren’t as tough for you as they seem. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help from a friend or someone who may understand your situation.

As a parent, consider that it’s more important to be a source of emotional support (by listening to your teen) than it is to always have the best advice. Also, don’t ignore things that concern you about your teen’s emotions and behavior. If there has been a negative behavior pattern with your teen for a while, it’s time to make a change.

Don’t hesitate to find resources now to prepare your teen for current and future experiences, both academic and personal. As your teen’s parent, you can have the foresight and the perspective to understand that your teen could benefit from additional understanding and practical personal tools, which can be accessed through resources such as an individual or family therapist.

As a teen, make yourself available to both asking for what you need and to being a valuable asset to those around you (maybe friends or siblings). Also, notice what helps and what doesn’t when it comes to your choices. Small things like the song you listen to, the snack you chose, how late you stay up, and who you talk to today can have a huge impact on your motivation level and your focus.

Parents and teens around you are finding new ways to navigate the end of semester stress. I encourage you to find a way to make these tools useful for you, and to reach out to me with any questions about them. Let the countdown to winter break begin!
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