Following a year of added stress and uncertainty for all, student mental health is a more critical topic than ever. Students were already experiencing a decrease in mental health even before the pandemic hit in 2019. In 2018, the American Psychological Association released survey results sharing that “Gen Z is significantly more likely to report their mental health as fair or poor, with 27 percent saying this is the case.” The results point to several stress-inducing issues as contributing to the cause.
Older students may already have stress management habits that negatively impact their mental health. Younger students may not have yet faced levels of stress that require active management. However all students can benefit from learning how to healthily manage stress and the tools could benefit their mental health for the rest of their life.
Sleep and Eat Well
Studies have shown that getting enough sleep and eating a healthy, balanced diet can contribute to positive mental health. MyPlate, run by the US Department of Agriculture, is a resource for families interested in learning more about balanced diets and the importance of each food group.
Due to the profound effect of sleep on mental health, the National Sleep Foundation offers various ranges of necessary sleep, depending on age. According to their recommendation, school-age children (that is, from 6 to 13 years old) should get between 9 and 11 hours of sleep per night. For teenagers, they recommend approximately 8 to 10 hours.
To support high-quality, uninterrupted sleep, they specifically highlight what they like to call good “sleep hygiene,” or establishing environments or routines that encourage quality sleep. Examples of good sleep hygiene could include going to bed and waking up at consistent times, limiting daytime naps and maintaining a consistent, calming bedtime routine.
Experience the Great Outdoors
According to a paper published in 2014 that cites several studies, “Proximity to greenspace has been associated with lower levels of stress (Thompson et al., 2012) and reduced symptomology for depression and anxiety (Beyer et al., 2014), while interacting with nature can improve cognition for children with attention deficits (Taylor and Kuo, 2009) and individuals with depression (Berman et al., 2012).”
In short, there’s growing evidence that regardless of age, the simple act of spending time surrounded by the world’s natural beauty can be beneficial to mental health. Regularly hiking, walking in the park, visiting the beach or even playing in the yard can help your student focus better and increase positive feelings.
Make Time for Exercise
Those regular hikes or walks in the park serve another purpose: getting enough physical activity. Many use exercise as an outlet for channeling stress productively. Several studies over the years show that getting adequate light-intensity and moderate to vigorous physical activity can reduce stress and improve cognitive performance.
In addition to hiking or walking, getting your student involved in sports, exercise classes, martial arts or other organized forms of exercise can inspire them to move their body.
Participate in Extracurriculars
If your student finds something they’re passionate about, seeking out related extracurriculars can positively impact their mental health.
At iCademy Global, we offer a wide range of extracurriculars that students can participate in both virtually and partnering with organizations within their own communities.
Humans are inherently social creatures (yes, introverts, too!), and for some students, schooling virtually can feel a bit lonely. While parents often think of younger students as needing guidance while making friends, older students may need help, too. Work to create an open pathway for honest communication with your student.
If they’re struggling with making friends, encourage them to work on group projects outside of school and in-person at Re:Fuel with their group. Getting them actively involved in extracurriculars can help them meet others around their age with similar interests. Encourage them to meet a friend at the mall, grab a beverage at a cafe or go see a movie together at the theater. Sometimes a little push is all they need!
Set Reasonable, Attainable Goals
Without set goals to work toward, some students may struggle to focus. Helping your student set manageable, measurable goals can provide them with a concrete sense of direction and sense of accomplishment when they reach their goals. Psychologists recommend the S.M.A.R.T. approach to setting goals. They should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-based.
Work with your student to develop a good mix of short-term and long-term goals that are meaningful for them, both academically and personally. You might consider helping them set goals for completing a large upcoming project due date, or daily goals for finishing their chores. Checking each item off their list offers a deep sense of accomplishment.
Facilitate Open Communication
Sometimes the best way to learn about your student’s mental health is simply to ask them about how they’re feeling. Are they feeling overwhelmed? Anxious? Are they feeling consistently sad, seemingly without reason? Do they simply need to vent about a challenging project?
While the questions you ask are important to starting the conversation, the best thing you can do is listen to your student and take their words seriously. They need to trust that not only will you listen to them, but you’ll take them seriously and sincerely offer them help when they need it without judgment.
Establishing good mental health habits as early as possible can greatly benefit students, whether they’re actively experiencing stressors or not. Set them up for success not only in academics, but also in future interpersonal relationships and their professional careers by teaching them how to properly manage their stress now.