Peace of Mind: Stress

It is probably a safe bet to say that more than a few students have come to your office (this week!?!) to tell you how stressed they are feeling. Guidance Counsellors are often among the first to hear about it when students are stressed out.

Stress is a state of worry brought on by difficult or challenging situations. Sometimes these situations are caused by external factors (a parent has taken ill, a relationship has fallen apart, a deadline is approaching) or internal factors (a tendency to over-worry, poor time management, procrastination). Whether brought on by something within or without, stress is a natural part of life and poses necessary and important challenges that allow our students to build their resiliency and hone their ability to deal with life’s struggles. No one is immune to stress.

Causes of stress

Here is a list of stressors that may factor into why our students are feeling stressed.

  • Worry or concern about someone or something.
  • Feeling a lack of control of situations.
  • Overwhelming responsibilities.
  • Significant life changes.
  • Pressure placed on the student by a loved one, a friend, a teacher, or a boss.
  • Abuse, discrimination, and/or bullying.
  • Approaching deadlines for assignments.
  • Tests and exams.
  • Transitioning from holidays to school and vice versa.
  • Working a job and trying to make time for study.
  • Organizing schoolwork.  
  • Procrastination.
  • Time management.

This is a sample of some of the stress-filled concerns students might bring with them to their guidance appointments. The list could obviously be much longer.

Problems associated with stress

Students need to find healthy ways to deal with stress; there are a myriad of physical, emotional, and mental issues that surface when stress proves overwhelming. These include headaches, dizziness, high blood pressure, muscle tension, insomnia, and stomach problems. These physical symptoms are often accompanied by overwhelming feelings of anxiety, sadness, irritation, anger, restlessness, and a lack of motivation. When a student comes to your office expressing feelings of stress, practice as much empathy as possible—even if you feel the student is exaggerating or has contributed to circumstances that have created the stressful situation. A Guidance Counsellor’s calm and open-minded support is important for the student to see if they hope to find a way to navigate their stress and build resiliency.

Dealing with stress

There are plenty of strategies a Guidance Counsellor can suggest for students dealing with stress. It seems that with every Peace of Mind topic—no matter what the issue—we start with the big four factors that help someone get their life on track:

  • Eat.
  • Sleep.
  • Exercise.
  • Breathe.

Without healthy nutritious eating habits, a proper amount of sleep, some physical exercise (even just a walk), and an emphasis on breathing properly (nice deep breaths that help people relax), a person’s mental health will suffer. Perhaps Guidance Counsellors can start by asking students how they are doing in terms of the big four at the start of their discussion of stress.

Beyond these essential activities, experts suggest these ideas for managing stress:

  • Connect with friends and family.
  • Find activities that help you relax.
  • Manage your screen time—especially time on social media!
  • Manage your study time (“work smarter, not harder”).
  • Meditation.
  • Take steps to feel like you’re in control of your life.
  • Volunteer or find ways to help others.
  • Determine what stresses you out.
  • Reflect on how you feel when you’re stressed.
  • Reflect on how you’ve dealt with stress in the past.  
  • Set healthy boundaries.
  • Turn your phone off at night.
  • Ask for help.

Stress is something that requires a person’s attention. It needs to be dealt with—not ignored or supressed. Guidance Counsellors can help students identify their stressors and share strategies to help them move forward.

Final thoughts

Stress is a natural response to challenging situations. Without our stress response, we’d be vulnerable to a great deal of harm. Guidance Counsellors are in a position to demonstrate to their students that stress is both normal and manageable. Done with a spirit of compassion and realism, Guidance Counsellors can teach their students the merits of confronting stress and the benefits of developing stress management strategies.

By: Sean Dolan