My favorite movie is The Wizard of Oz. As a little girl I was obsessed with Glinda, the Good Witch of the north. I loved her sparkly dress and her smiling face telling Dorothy that as long as she follows the yellow brick road, all will be well and she'll get back home. Easy enough, right? Glinda is the good witch whom we want to follow her advice, but as you all know, the wicked witch of the west comes in and RUINS EVERYTHING! (insert screaming, dramatic voice here)
Good stress you say? Is that a thing? How can it be? Well, I am here to tell you that, there is indeed, good stress. We call it productive stress. It helps you stay motivated, driven and ambitious. Productive stress is helpful and, while still annoying, stress is inevitable and we can learn to use it for good, rather than evil (or wicked.)
I work with a lot of students. Students in elementary school, jr high, high school, college and beyond. Every year, there is a pattern of motivation and stress that I see as the new school year approaches and it shifts as they struggle through the semesters.
Productive stress is usually found in the beginning of the school year. There's excitement mixed with worry, throw some uncertainty in there and you've got a good definition of anxiety. Most students find this anxiety bothersome but push through to stay on top of their organization, get their new supplies and map out their new schedule.
Through the first month or two, the novelty begins to wear off and students begin to feel the pressure. The stress becomes much less exciting and much more overwhelming. They begin to not prioritize organization and but rather allow the chaos to consume their every thought. Anxiety has taken over with no excitement in site. Enter unproductive stress.
Unproductive stress is the wicked one. The one we rrreeaaallly dislike. The one that is using our stress for evil, not good. Unproductive stress creates a halt in our progress and motivation to struggle through. We want to throw our hands up and just call it quits. Which is what many students feel mid semester.
It is common for students to begin to feel very alone in the chaos. They feel their teachers don't care and don't realize they have a billion other tasks to complete before tomorrow. They feel their support system wouldn't understand or isn't empathetic to their overwhelming stress. They have projects, papers, tests and daily homework. They have extra curricular activities such as sports and instruments. They're exhausted and still need to stay on top of their social life with friendships to maintain and outings to attend. It's a lot. And they feel it, hard, usually mid-semester.
Unproductive stress creates clouds in judgement and the sense of failure before there's even a chance to fail. They've gotten off the yellow brick road by this disruption of unproductive stress. Unproductive stress encourages unhealthy thinking and giving up. We do not want our kids to feel this kind of stress.
As mentioned, stress is inevitable. It's especially inevitable when in the role of student.
The art of good stress is to
allow it to be there, accept it, and have a plan to tackle it head on.
This takes a formula that includes: organization (check out my suggestion for to-do lists here), balance (I will be writing about this soon but in the meantime you can check out my post about balance here), support from loved ones, and the practice of positive self talk to remind yourself that all things are temporary and you can get through this day, week, month, year. (Emotional Hurricanes), and motivating incentives.
As a parent, we can't protect our kids from stressors. Such is life. But we want to help our kids avoid the unproductive stress by allowing them to
prep for it properly and prioritizing strong mental health. We want to encourage good sleep sc
hedules, low screen use (almost all of my clients use their screens to avoid, avoid, avoid *ahem* procrastinate-- but with that comes dopamine dumps and lack of sleep-- and possibly cyber bullying or unnecessary drama), connection with family members, moments of relaxation and offering to help where needed.
Productive stress is not always fun but it's manageable. Unproductive stress is always horrible and feels out of control.
No one is immune to stress, so it's important to stay on the good side of it. If you feel yourself (or your child) has gotten off the path of productivity, it surely doesn't feel good, dare I say wicked? And you deserve to feel better so you can get through the remainder of this semester. The holidays are right around the corner and you can do this! Get back on that yellow brick road so you can find your way back home!-- and maybe sing a song or two ;)