Guest Post: High School Counselor Irene Yu on How to Destress

January 18, 2018
Leslie Dixon

Irene Yu DestressIt’s a brand new year and for many an opportunity to begin a fresh start. New resolutions are made and many are challenging themselves to make self-improvements whether it be to eat healthier, lose weight, etc. However, after a long holiday break students may return to school with anxiety and stress. Trying to keep up with the daily assignments, working on group projects, prepping for exams, doing extracurricular activities, plus family obligations and you’ve got a booked calendar!

While it’s important for all students to challenge themselves so that they can grow and learn, some students may over-extend themselves, and the stress and anxiety may result in a panic attack or a mental meltdown.

Students will often exhibit symptoms of anxiety, such as an accelerated heart rate, nervousness, and a fear of failure when juggling a number of commitments, yet there are strategies to control some of these characteristics before they get out of control.

My top five strategies are as follows:

1) Take deep breaths
A simple exercise such as pausing and taking big deep breaths will help you center yourself and reevaluate the tasks at hand. Often students will think about multiple things at a time and when they stop, inhale, then exhale, they have a moment to lower their heart rate and consider which task they’d want to tackle first versus clouding their mind with all the options.

2) Write things down
I cannot emphasize enough how important and helpful it is when you write things down. The very act of writing makes you more aware of your tasks. Second, you’re able to visualize your responsibilities, which can put things into perspective. Finally, crossing things off to see the progress you’ve made can be incredibly satisfying.

3) Exercise
Running and working up a sweat is great for a number of reasons. In one sense your body releases endorphins, which helps you feel positive and accomplished once you’ve done your workout. Additionally, you will be able to sleep more soundly as it may tire you out.

4) Listen to music
Studies that show when you listen to classical music you can lower your heart rate and be at peace. To turn up some Bach or Mozart!

5) Ask for help
It often seems like students are carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders, but they don’t have to. There are a number of people who can help when asked – after all, “it takes a village to raise a child.”

If a student is struggling with a class, they should talk to their teacher. Yes, the student may feel embarrassed, but otherwise the teacher may not even know that the student is struggling. Open communication is necessary so that all stakeholders can be informed, and teachers often times won’t know that a student is struggling unless they speak up.

Students can also get additional help through homework clubs or tutorials – additional times where teachers or tutors are available to provide academic support. And finally, parents and family members are a key stakeholders who can play a very influential role in helping students succeed. Whether it be helping students pick up some supplies, or arranging a tutor, parents a great source of support.

Balancing school work with extracurricular activities and other obligations is an art-form, yet incorporating these strategies into your daily routine can certainly help decrease your level of stress and anxiety. We’re all works in progress, and while struggle is inevitable, we all can take steps to manage our stress.

Irene Yu graduated with her Masters in Psychological Counseling from Columbia University in New York. She’s been a counselor for 5 years and is currently working in Southern California. She recently launched her YouTube channel to provide free resources for students and families. For more information please visit her website

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