A student's guide to handling stress and staying focused at school

By Bridie McArthur
Are you feeling anxious/distracted/absolutely just utterly done and frazzled and unable to even fathom starting that assignment?

The periodic feeling of everything being TOO MUCH (all-caps necessary) is pretty much intrinsic to the senior high-school student experience. A common symptom is looking at your burgeoning to-do list, seeing you have three assignments due in a two-day period, and promptly screaming internally —— or, like me, running straight to the last stall in the bathroom and having a much-needed cry (unhygienic? Probably. Therapeutic? Absolutely). Here are my top tips for breaking down that wall of dread and panic to actually get things done.

Reminder: You can’t do everything.

It is impossible to do everything and do everything well. Unfortunately, you can’t put an equal amount of energy into every assignment or class, especially if you have multiple on the go at once and they’re somehow due in the same week/day/hour. Look at when things are due, their level of difficulty, if they’re time-consuming, and prioritise. Look after yourself! It’s so hard to do anything when you’re stressed or burnt out, so take steps to lessen those feelings: meditation, yoga, and exercise can be helpful.

Planning is key

In order to try and get everything done, and done as well as is possible, planning is paramount. This can manifest in a meticulous timetable detailing at what exact second you need to be finished by, or in a checklist outlining every step you need to take to finish. Here’s an example of the latter:

  1. Pick a topic

  1. Research

  1. Plan out the structure of your essay

  1. Write introduction

  1. Write body paragraphs

  1. Write conclusion

  1. Edit

  1. Edit more

To-do lists

As much as a super-long to-do list is a source of stress for many, they are also incredibly helpful. Keep them simple you could go by class, listing assignments and homework tasks, or you could go chronologically by due date. Whatever will give you a visual aid for what you have to do so that you don’t forget anything in your stressed-out, panicked, frazzled headspace that is likely to hit at peak assessment times (maybe I’m projecting here).

Talk to your teachers

If you’re really stressed or stuck, reach out to your teachers. They’re a goldmine of tips and advice, especially because they are very well-acquainted with the assignment or class you’re struggling with.

Just do it!

It may be Nike’s slogan, but adopt it for your own use. Sometimes you just need a kick to get going: put on that (metaphorical) boot and give yourself a kick! ‘Doing it’ could be completing any of the above, and it often extends to just starting that assignment. You know you need to.

Stress is pretty much inevitable, but unfortunately school and life doesn’t stop when we’re stressed. Prioritise yourself! Take care of yourself first, and then it’ll be easier to get on top of everything – I know, I know, easier said than done. If anything, that last bathroom stall is always there (but really, plan, write a to-do list, and talk to your teachers before you turn to this option. If you’ve exhausted those, go have a cry.)

Further reading:

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