Feelings of stress and anxiety are a part of life. Some levels of stress can actually be good for us, as the right kind of stress encourages us to work toward change and growth. However, when stress and anxiety exist for an extended period of time, they can become a burden or even a health risk.

The experience of attending high school and preparing for life after school may expose you to higher levels of stress than any you’ve experienced before. That’s part of growing up and taking on new challenges, which is a necessary and beneficial process. In the moment, though, feeling the brunt of that stress can be quite difficult to handle.

Elré Potgieter, a third-year BAgri student. Photo: Supplied

Elré Potgieter, a BAgri student. 

What is stress?

Stress is the body’s reaction to a challenge. Though stress is often perceived as bad, it can actually be good in some respects. The right kind of stress can sharpen the mind and reflexes. In some cases though, too much stress, or too long periods of stress, can leave you feeling fatigued and worn out and can affect your life negatively.

Some might experience physical effects like headaches or stomach troubles. Others might feel overwhelmed by worries, have trouble sleeping, or be more easily irritated. Whatever combination of negative affects you personally experience, it’s not pleasant, and it can get in the way of your goals.

Techniques for managing stress

You don’t have to resign yourself to the negative effects of stress. There are ways to work on managing your stress that can help you to stay healthy as you pursue your dreams. Here are some approaches for dealing with the stress of the high school experience.

1. Give yourself a break

Take time to do things that make you happy. It might feel like you don’t have time to do this, but a twenty minute break will do more good than harm to your productivity. All of us need time to rest and refuel, do not feel like it is bad to take breaks.

What you do in your break is up to you. Whatever activity you choose, it should be something that’s distinctly different from your schoolwork, college applications, or whatever else is causing your stress in the first place. Getting distracted from your stressors, even if it’s just for a little while, is a great thing.

“Go for a jog to clear your head. Get outside,” is the advice that says 3rd year BAgri student Elré Potgieter gives.

Going for a jog or a walk is good for many reasons – you get away from your work environment, you get some fresh air, you relax your mind and the exercise is very good for you.

Hein Johnson, a third-year BAgri student. Photo: Supplied

Hein Johnson, a third-year BAgri student.

“Watch some stand-up comedy in your breaks,” is another piece of advice from 3rd year BAgri student, Hein Johnson. “Don’t watch something that takes too much focus, just something that makes you laugh for a bit.”

Watching something short on YouTube can be very good, but watch out that you don’t watch something too long or that takes into a spiral down social media!

2. Stay organised and have a tidy workspace

Cleaning your desk and the space you study in can be annoying, but very beneficial when it comes to keeping you distraction-free while studying. It makes for a more pleasant work experience and limits you from procrastinating later on by shifting things around to make space.

This also helps you to have everything that you need around you. So you can go sit and study and not have to shuffle through stacks of books and paper.

“This might be strange, but plan the type of study snacks you have at hand,” says Dona van Eeden, post graduate student at Stellenbosch University. “I always need to snack while I study, and eating something that can mess up your papers, or make your fingers greasy makes for an unpleasant studying experience. I love to snack on fresh veggies when I can.”

Avoiding stress

I know what you’re thinking; if we could avoid stress then why do we feel stressed? And although there is no way to completely avoid stress, there are some ways to get a better handle on the things that cause it, how you respond to it, and what it does to you. These techniques can help you avoid stress.

1. Have a good support system

When life gets tough, go to friends or family and talk to them. Chances are your friends might be feeling the same amount of stress and you can help each other through it. A study group can also be a good way to plan ahead and have a good support structure when it comes to school work and studying.

2. Know your triggers

You know yourself, have a look at what stresses you out. Is it not having enough sleep because you stayed up too late studying? Plan ahead so that you don’t leave so much work for the last minute.

Struggling to juggle everything that you have to do? Evaluate everything that you have put on your plate and see if it really is necessary to say “yes” to all those extra activities. We all want to do extra-curriculars to put on our CV, but at some point you could be biting off more than you can chew.

3. Manage your time

You know your test schedule long before it’s exam time. Write down what you need to do, plan out time to study (and remember to schedule breaks as well). Dedicate yourself to sticking to your schedule.

4. Exercise

You might be rolling your eyes, because everybody keeps hammering on about the importance of exercise. But that’s because it truly is beneficial for your mind and your body to move and be active. There are many different types of exercises, don’t force yourself to run if you hate doing it. Try stretching, boxing or even climbing trees.

Don’t just exercise when you are stressed, but make it part of your weekly routine in order to avoid unnecessary stress later on.

Do what works for you. There is no one strategy that works for everybody. But that said, apply some dedication and effort into your lifestyle. We can’t just do things that we enjoy all the time, sometimes you have to push yourself to stick to your exercise and studying schedule. And it will pay off.