By Katie Azevedo, M.Ed.
School stress is real. There’s stress about assignments, tests, social drama, sports, schedules, time, college applications, studying and grades – the list goes on.
In this blog post, I share what I argue is the number one source of school stress for most students, regardless of what type of stress it is. In other words, there’s one common denominator for stress about tests, time, grades, assignments, and studying. Curious? Read on.
The number one source of school stress for most students
Nearly all school stress comes from a lack of clarity.
When we don’t have total clarity about what we’re doing, how we’re spending our time, what’s expected of us, or how to do the thing, we can feel overwhelmed and anxious. So whether you’re stressed out about an upcoming test, or stressed out about adding a part-time job to your after-school schedule, a lack of total clarity is usually at the root. Let’s look deeper.
Stress about time
Stress about time is a hard one. Time stress isn’t just a “student problem” – rather, it’s something that affects nearly everyone. That said, the primary source of stress about time is not having total clarity about how much time you have and how you should spend it.
I recommend that all students use Google Calendar and learn how to use the time-blocking strategy to make time visible. Time blocking isn’t necessary every day, but it’s an excellent tool for getting total clarity about how much time you really have, not just how much time you wish or hope you have.
At the end of the day, you need XX amount of time to do YY amount of things. Not knowing if YY fits in XX is stressful.
Stress about grades
Stress about grades often comes from not knowing the following:
- Your current grade status
- How to improve your grades
- Whether you can improve your grades in time (for end of quarter, semester, year, graduation, etc.)
- Why your grades aren’t what you want them to be
Each of the above scenarios can be improved by gaining clarity. For example, if you don’t know what your current grades are, figure out what your current grades are. If you’re stressed because you don’t know whether you can improve your grades in time, then do the math and figure out what you’d need to earn on upcoming assignments to earn the grade you want. If you don’t understand why your grades aren’t what you want them to be – and that’s stressing you out – then do an autopsy on your current study habits and figure out where you can get better.
Stress about assignments
Homework assignments and long-term assignments can certainly cause student stress. That’s because these things are … hard. But what makes homework and assignments harder than they need to be is not having total clarity.
It’s stressful to know you have an essay due in a week, but you don’t know what you’re writing it on. It’s stressful to know you have to do six math proofs but you don’t know how to do them. It’s also stressful when you know you have “something” due in chemistry, but you don’t know exactly what.
DOING your assignments is hard enough. But when you don’t know exactly what to do or how to do it, the stress is magnified.
What’s the solution? Commit to finally keeping track of your homework and long-term assignments in an assignment notebook. Stop using your learning management system (Canvas, Google Classroom, etc.) as a way to track what’s due. (Ugh! Your LMS doesn’t allow you to enter in your own tasks and due dates, which is the whole foundation of true task management.)
Also, get in the habit of digging into your long-term assignments way earlier than you want to, so that you can at least scope out what’s required of you. (Again, this is all about seeking clarity.) There’s nothing worse than thinking you have a small history project due in three days, only to realize it’s actually a huge project that will take more than three days to complete – and you have no idea how to do it.
Stress about studying
By its very nature, studying is stressful. Throw in a dose of procrastination and late-night study sessions, and it only gets worse.
But again, you can decrease that stress by seeking clarity around exactly what you’re going to study and when you’re going to study it. I created a free printable study planner template so you can map out exactly what you’re studying, and on what days.
How does this work? If you have a chemistry test next Friday, a guaranteed way to stress yourself out (and, let’s be real, get a bad grade) is to start studying Thursday night. A better way is to dig into your study materials dayssss in advance, and map out which sections you’ll study on each day leading up to the test. That way, you’re tapping into the power of spaced repetition and giving yourself time to clarify confusing concepts before the test.
Final notes about school stress
School stress is inevitable. It’s just something that comes with doing hard things. But here’s my message: so much stress is avoidable (or able to be decreased) by doing what it takes to seek total clarity. Ask questions. Don’t avoid the hard answers. Use calendars to make time visible. Confront the reality of your grades. Stop hiding. Get clear.