The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly led to an increase in mental health issues among children and teenagers across the country. The stress caused by the pandemic, including periods of social isolation; sickness and death among family and friends; constant uncertainty; and the adjustment to a completely new way of living and operating at home and at school has led to heightened anxiety, depression, and other mental-health related issues among teens on a national scale.
This unfortunate reality is certainly felt close to home, specifically within our own school community. Among students on the KO campus, it appears that stress levels are at an all-time high and, from my own personal experience, I can attest to that fact. Being thrown back into a hectic school day after last year’s more relaxed academic, athletic, and extracurricular schedules has been a difficult adjustment for many students. The most common stressors felt by KO students are the sheer amount of schoolwork; the heavy weight of after-school commitments that was almost entirely lifted last year; and higher expectations from teachers along with the need to stay on top of numerous deadlines. Oftentimes, these stresses make it so that students aren’t getting the proper 8-10 hours of sleep recommended for teenagers, creating a vicious cycle that ultimately results in even more stress.
The KO administration does, however, recognize the overall decline in students’ mental well-being. In his recent note to KO students and parents, Head of School Tom Dillow wrote, “While we welcome the return of school traditions, social events, and a bit more academic rigor, we have also become acutely aware that our students and faculty… have not emerged from the past 18 months completely unscathed.”
I was really pleased with Mr. Dillow’s acknowledgment of the difficult time we students are experiencing in high school during a global pandemic, and I think that it is important to recognize that adults in the KO community are also feeling stressed and are making efforts to provide relief for students. One such effort was detailed by Mr. Dillow in the same letter, whereby he made the gracious decision to extend Thanksgiving break to a full week, as was the case last year, for he feels that “the extra days will allow all to decompress, enjoy much-needed downtime.” I, as well as my peers, are extremely grateful for this extended break. Especially for seniors, whose stresses come from not only grades, athletics, and other extracurricular activities, but also from the daunting college application process, the extra days of Thanksgiving break will be both beneficial and necessary.
But it is important to have a game plan going into break in order to maximize the days we have off and, most importantly, to work to increase our mental wellness, which is what the extended break is intended for. Therefore, I have outlined below a few tips for improving your emotional well-being.
First, try to stay positive: It is important to maintain a positive mindset in all that you do. Try to find a healthy balance between your “positive” and your “negative” feelings so that the negativity doesn’t take over.
Second, take care of your physical health: Your physical health and your mental health are closely connected, so in order to improve one, you must also work on the other. Some ways that you can do this are by being physically active through exercise, getting enough sleep, and eating healthy.
Third, practice relaxation techniques: When you think of relaxation techniques, I bet most of your minds jump straight to mindfulness and to the notorious “mindful minute.” But it is so important to engage in practices that return your body to its natural, relaxed state and release the tension that builds up from stress and anxiety. These practices could be as quick and simple as taking a minute or two to engage in deep, focused breathing, or as involved as taking a meditation or a yoga class.
Finally, make it a priority to spend time with family and friends: Making connections with those around you is vital to your happiness. Social interaction and mental health have long been linked together for having a positive cause-and-effect relationship, so surround yourself with the people who will provide you with a strong support system, and never be afraid to ask for help if you need it.
I hope that you all take the extended break as an opportunity to focus on your mental health and well-being and that you come back from Thanksgiving break ready to jump back into school with a clear mind, less stress, and excitement about the new year ahead.