Have you heard of the Stress Olympics? If not, I encourage you to pick up Rachel Simmons newest book Enough as She Is and read Chapter 7 which talks about perfectionism and the rise of the stress culture. Chances are if you're reading this and you have young kids you've heard something similar to the following:
Kid 1: "I bet I can throw the ball farther than you."
Kid 2: "Oh yeah well I can throw the ball farther and do it with my eyes closed."
This "one-upping" of each other happens early in childhood and yet Rachel Simmons notices that it's happening in an unhealthy way in high school. The example she gives in her book goes something like this:
Student 1: "I'm so tired. I only slept five hours last night."
Student 2: "Yeah well I'm so tired because I have 2 tests and got 2 hours of sleep."
Student 3: "You think that's bad. I pulled an all-nighter and have 3 tests today."
There's this growing sense of pride that is associated with being "soooooo stressed" and "soooo tired." The Stress Olympics then breeds this culture of busyness where if you aren't tired and stressed, you must not be working hard enough. What is the solution then?
Let me offer a few thoughts. First of all, unfortunately the Stress Olympics is part of a larger problem with our society valuing and praising being busy and although that is not something one parent can solve, below are some helpful tips in working with your child:
1. Validate the feeling and dig deeper. "Wow it sounds like you are feeling stressed. I wonder what other feeling you can identify as well?" This allows your child to tap into their feelings vocabulary. Is it an exciting stress like the week before a big performance? Is it an overwhelmed stress such as writing college application essays? Is it a fearful stress because chemistry is really confusing?
2. Take small steps. The most common "type" of stress I hear and see in my work is the overwhelmed kind so I work with students on creating timelines and breaking larger assignments and tasks into more manageable chunks. The part of the brain responsible for planning and organization is the prefrontal cortex which is still developing in adolescents so they need strategies on how to break larger tasks down. You might say, "Okay so let me check to see if I heard you. Your research paper for history is due in a month and it's between 10-12 pages and worth a lot of points. Is that right? What do you think is your first step in tackling a large assignment like that?"
3. Provide coaching about healthy coping skills. "Wow it does seem like you have a lot on your plate right now. It's important to balance study time with time for yourself. What ideas do you have for how you might balance work and fun?" Questions like these help coach students to tap into healthy coping skills such as playing basketball, taking the dog for a walk, baking, etc. If your child is receptive to your coaching, provide an example of an activity that helps you. "I know that at work before a big meeting I take a 5 minute stroll around the block to clear my head and that helps. I wonder if there's something similar that might work for you?"
Looking for help with time management and relaxation strategies? Contact me and I'd be happy to work with your student.