As parents of young adults, we’re all too familiar with stress, but our kids suffer from it too. Stress rates among teens and young adults have spiked in recent years and it's no wonder. Junior and senior year of high school and the lead-up to college applications are prime time for stress overload. So are the first few weeks of college, the weeks of midterms and lead-up to final exams. There may be a day or two of stresslessness in there somewhere, but who can tell?
And 20somethings are hardly immune. They’re trying to figure out their lives and make ends meet.
But when that late night phone call comes from a child who’s freaking out, the last thing they want to hear is a lecture on the importance of doing your homework and planning ahead. (Save it for after the crisis.) Instead, here's a list of things you can advise that may offer immediate relief:
- Sleep: Cutting back on sleep may seem like a good way to eke out a few more hours for exam cramming, but missing even a few hours of sleep two or more nights in a row can result in sleep deprivation. Concentration drops, memory function is impaired, and the brain turns foggy and sluggish – hardly the optimal conditions for studying. There’s a clear connection between the amount of sleep a student gets and his GPA, and studies have shown that morning owls perform better academically. So tell your frantic child to set the alarm for 7 a.m., plan on doing some hard core – and vastly refreshed – studying then and get some sleep now.
- Make a list: If thoughts are racing through your child’s brain with such velocity that he can’t sleep, tell him to make a list. We’d all love to have a Pensieve, the magical basin Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore used to hold memories and thoughts when they threatened to overwhelm his brain. But a to-do list works nearly as well.
- Eat well: Brains need nourishment. Eating a balanced diet that’s heavy in protein and complex carbohydrates, as opposed to donuts, beer, and someone else’s Ritalin, makes a huge difference in one’s body’s ability to cope with stress and perform well. Keep that in mind when sending your college child an exam week care package too. (P.S. Tell him that limiting caffeine is essential. Less coffee means decreased jitters and less interrupted sleep.)
- Prioritize: Tell him to work on the most critical or difficult courses or projects first, when his brain is fresh. Too much work? Tell him to look at his schedule and eliminate the non-essentials. Remind him that the world will not stop if he tanks a test.
- Try a study group: Studying with a group quells panic. It lets students play to their own strengths, and maximizes and organizes study time. Plus, the companionship helps soothe frayed nerves.
- Take breaks: Go for a run, take a nap – but no more than 20-30 minutes and no later than mid-afternoon. Make an exam worry doll and let it do the worrying. Or use one of these "Top Ten De-stressing Activities" to clear the mind. (P.S. They work on grown-ups too.)