Sloane Molloy has spent the last few weeks busily gearing up for the new school year. The counselor will join students in the halls of Glynn Middle School in Brunswick on Thursday, the first day of school.
Many of those students are likely to feel a mix of emotions — from exuberance to anxiousness — as they begin the 2017 to 2018 school year. But Molloy knows there are instances where the excitement can transform into something troubling.
“Young people in general, especially during a time of transition, are exposed to a variety of stressors,” she said.
Stress and anxiety are a very real part of a students lives, regardless of their age or background. And, while it often passes, Molloy cautions parents about situations that could prove damaging for their children.
“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 toward change and growth,” she said. “However, when stress and anxiety exist for an extended period of time, they can become a burden or even a health risk.”
Stress and anxiety can impact a person in a number of ways. That can include physical maladies like headaches, insomnia or lack of appetite. It can also lead to personality changes such as withdrawing from friends and family. If left unaddressed, it could lead to substance abuse or suicidal thoughts. Molloy said there are many things parents should look for in their children.
“As a school counselor working with middle school students, I see stress manifest itself in many ways, disrupting sleep, appetite, mood and academic performance. In extreme circumstances, it can lead to withdrawal, depression, risk-taking, substance abuse and or thoughts of suicide. Stress is also a trigger for anxiety or perfectionism,” Molloy said.
Like her middle school counterpart, Kathryn Sadowski knows how stress can impact students — both physically and emotionally.
“There are a lot of things that can cause stress, especially for high schoolers,” the Brunswick High counselor said. “There’s keeping up with classes but there’s also the socialization aspect. While we’re here for academics, socializing in your teen years is very important. In a lot of cases, they are worried more about their friends than almost anything else.”
Regardless of what might be the cause of the stress, both Molloy and Sadowiski have a number of suggestions for parents when it comes to helping their children combat that pressure. For starters, getting organized can help alleviate much of the scholastic stress students feel.
“I am not the world’s most organized person but I have found that keeping a list really helps me. I suggest the same for students. I have a high school student and I know he gets stressed when he is not on top of what he needs to be doing,” Sadowiski said. “So making a list is very helpful.”
She also believes placing firm limits on cellphone and internet use can help keep students balanced.
“Set a bedtime and take their phones away, not as a punishment, but if they have their phones they will stay up on them. That will lead to missing out on sleep, which adds stress to the body,” she said.
Vigilance on the parents part is truly key when it comes to pinpointing what issues a student is facing. Both Molloy and Sadowiski said communication and observation is critical when it comes to keeping stress in check.
“We see the kids most of the day and might be able to find out things on our own, but parents are the ones who are more likely to see these signs. If you do notice something, you need to contact the school counselor so that we are made aware that way we can do some digging and take action, especially if there is bullying involved,” Sadowiski said.
Molloy concurred. She also encourages parents to be as invested as possible in their children’s lives. And, if something sparks concern, reaching out to others is important.
“Reach out to your school counselor, mental health professional or medical doctor for resources if you are unsure how to get the help you need. Most school counselors agree that helping students develop self-regulation skills works better than trying to make them anxiety-free,” Molloy said.
“Today many add the additional goals of making students ‘stress smart’ and increasing mindfulness. The two research-based counseling approaches shown to be effective in teaching positive ways to cope with anxious behavior are cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness-based stress reduction.”