By Hanna Beukelman, Writer
Squirming at a desk for 6 hours a day leaves little time to idle in the bliss of being a teenager. Adolescents are left to wonder, “How do we cope?”
Student life is constantly evolving– trying to maintain total coherence with good mental health simultaneously can feel impossible. Even for the most conscientious students, balancing the two can feel like an unattainable standard. The American Psychological Association reports that 42% of teens do not effectively manage their stress, however, through discussion with peers and professionals, we can learn to dilute overwhelming stress into mindfulness.
“We believe in our values to the point where they are an integral and subconscious part of our person,” advocates Mary Fiore, NPHS school psychologist. Both inside and outside the confinement of school, what students decide to do with their time heavily relies on their personal values.
Ms. Fiore argues, “They would be the best experts to decide what their values should be,” explaining that if a student feels heard by an adult as opposed to being encumbered by expectations, they may have a greater investment in their success, as it will feel more self driven.”
Many authoritative figures still force their own values onto teenagers, with pressure to be successful, achieve high grades, and be “responsible.” 60% of young people have been unable to cope with pressure to succeed, based on studies from The Mental Health Foundation, a UK organization whose mission is to achieve “Good mental health for all.”
A typical argument from adult figures is that of protection, and a desire to witness teenagers realize happiness. Though not inherently negative, this cannot exonerate blame. High success expectancy from adults cultivates an external pressure that can quickly feel unmanageable.
When questioned about her opinion regarding the subject matter, Fiore does not hesitate to put her wisdom to use. “I’ve noticed that a lot of the expectations seem to be coming from adults, like, ‘you need to value your future.’ It must be really hard for students because they don’t even know what their future is supposed to look like,” Fiore says. “They don’t know, like, how are they supposed to anticipate a future if they’re struggling to navigate the present?”
This exact point came into conference with junior Julia Demskie, one of the Editors-in-Chief of the School Newspaper The Maroon, a dedicated actress, and serious overachiever. Ready for a good night’s sleep and a break from the bustle of daytime, Demskie stirred in protest of feeling forced to live in the future.
“School is such a weird thing because people expect you to be a kid and be treated as a kid, and also somehow know what you need to do for the rest of your life,” Demskie says. As the end of her high school career creeps closer, Demskie voices her fear of never having the time to explore the many facets of her person. Being bound to a single lifestyle plagued with familiarity post-college is also a common source of internal pressure among students. One where growth, self discovery, and change becomes stagnant.
Ms. Fiore explains that allowing either comfort or discomfort to hold priority over the other is when our ability to flourish becomes dormant. “It is that sort of undulation between the two (comfort and discomfort) we need to thrive,” Fiore says.
A healthy avenue to channel such feelings of anxiety is to find an invariable source of comfort, whether it be a person, object or place. A female– sophomore, anonymous, shares this indrawn coping mechanism. She shares the place that soothes her the most– “A lot of times I’ll bike to the bridge when I’m not feeling good,” where the whir of the water alleviates her problems.
Nature’s whispering leaves and trickling streams whisper consolation to people of all varieties. Sophomore Dylan Mcquade-Dolan agrees, sharing he feels at peace often, but only when he’s outside: “The other day I went on a bike ride up in the Gunks and oh my god, that felt amazing.” Dolan feels nature is supportive because “It’s just a clean slate,” offering a retreat from juggling student council, sports, and schoolwork.
Nature is a productive and accessible method of coping with life. Fiore notes that nature can make life seem more simple, as it “carries metaphors for life within each blade of grass.” Students are urged to spend time outside because of physical health benefits, but considering the emotional satisfaction can be much more persuasive. Going on a walk, a bike ride, or simply existing in a more grounding environment will help students to better endure stress.
Nature’s ability to sow the seeds of rumination is one of the reasons it is so helpful. Sincere and honest understanding of one’s stressors, and daresay values, can help students to accommodate their needs and nurture their mental well-being by developing individual coping mechanisms.
“I make sure each year I’m taking at least one art class. I love being creative so much,” the anonymous sophomore proclaims her love of art and its exponential growth. She says, “Growing up, that was actually my childhood. Just sitting while my dad would paint, I would do my own thing.” The sophomore has found a productive outlet that is very characteristic to her personality. She claims her love surpasses the boundaries of hobby; creativity and art’s ability to help her cope with mental noise has grown her love for it.
Julia Demskie also has an eye for the creative, though she favors a pen over a paintbrush. Writing and journaling are ways for her to slow down moments of crescendo and address each mingled and blurred feeling. Taking the time for introspection makes moving forward more simple: “I like being able to turn pain into something productive and tangible that can help me express what I’m feeling and also help me release it.” To do this, she writes. Her passion for writing has in turn led to her position as an Editor-in-Chief of The Maroon.
Demskie also highlights how our environment factors into how we manage our stress and get things done. Lighting candles and drinking tea aids Demskie in finishing her stack of schoolwork and articles without tension– deciphering why this is so, she explains, “Making the environment more inviting makes the workload feel less intimidating.”
Lighting candles and drinking tea is not the only way to set a mood. Dolan turns to music for solace. “Listening to music helps a lot. Especially when I’m stressed, bass boosted music can just make me feel something,” he says, describing the out-of-body sensation of a good song.
Regardless of whether it is dulcet or soulful, music grants us the ability to transcend above our problems, and as Dolan mentioned, make you feel something. Stressing about a math quiz? Try staying stressed while “Uptown Funk ” by Bruno Mars or “You Belong With Me” by Taylor Swift booms in the background.
Dance. Frolick outside. Make art. Be creative. Recognize how to tend to your stress by slowing down and understanding yourself in the present– your values, your needs. Healthy coping mechanisms may even diverge from the desperation of moving forward and preserving mental equilibrium into passion. Passion, whether it be for the arts or for that one bench that gives you a nice view of the mountains. Nurturing ourselves in moments of seeming calamity has the potential to sculpt our ever-pressing futures.
Fiore, practiced in the art of mindfulness, is trying to put her mastery to use– “I actually encouraged teachers to provide a mindful moment for students at the beginning of class,” she says. Clearly a visionary for NPHS, she believes in setting this precedent of peace among the school– “a moment to just settle our bodies down, take a few breaths, and just actually be in their own bodies, and be in their own seat and be here right now, as opposed to the future.” She wonders, “If they’re constantly focusing on the future, how are you supposed to focus on the present, which is where all this stuff is happening?”
Be a teenager.
“It’s such a human thing, how similar we are. It’s a cliche, I know, but we are all going through something,” Demskie says.
Featured Image: Illustration by Fallon Geisler