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CPS Stress Busters!

In September, as the first tests and major due dates were rolling in, I saw many of my friends and classmates get hit by the first stress wave of the year. In response, I sent out a survey about the stress levels of CPS students. Think of it as a CPS temperature check. I had four main goals in doing this:

1. Monitor and report the stress levels of CPS students so that we would know when our friends need a little extra support

2. Discover the root of the problem and how to fix it

3. Report what other people want or have to say about stress and sleep

4. Finally, learn strategies for staying healthy from each other

I hoped that making the survey anonymous would make students open up and answer me honestly. I guess it worked, because people were definitely frank. Here are the summaries of the 130 responses I received (I put questions in bold and the summarized results in a box in red for quick perusing):

What grade are you in?

To start, I need to get the basics out of the way:

On a scale of 1-10, how stressed are you on a school night (1 being least stressed and 10 being most stressed)?

To get to the meat of this survey, I touched on everyone’s favorite topic: !!!stress!!!

But how much stress is healthy anyway?

In my CAP group, Dooley showed us a TED talk in which psychologist Kelly McGonigal explained that a certain amount of stress was indeed healthy and could increase productivity, as long as one had the right mindset about it. This mindset was thinking of stress not as a danger to one’s health but as a natural product of evolution that could help us better react to situations that arise.

Everyone defines stress a little bit differently, and one situation could be stressful for some, while others would feel relatively relaxed. And admit it: we all exaggerate our stress sometimes. But even so, there must be something we can all do to help. In order to do that, we need to find out the cause of our stress. The next few questions that I asked helped to shed some light on this.

What do you think is causing your stress?

Students told me the following:

A lot of the stress in our lives comes simply from being busy: there is a very important difference between unhealthy, unnecessary stress factors and just having a lot of tasks on our to do list, such as homework and extracurriculars. Also, some of these stressors are unavoidable, natural parts of life that motivate us, whether for the next history paper or for our goals in life. Can we really stop worrying about the future or thinking of our social concerns? We certainly try.

Many people try to not get caught up in the anxiety of the uncontrollable future by being mindful to focus on the moment and what they can actively control.

Procrastination is something else entirely; entire books are written about it, such as The Procrastination Equation and The Now Habit (google “books on procrastination”– it will provide hours more of procrastination for you).

We all understand that the everyday can be extremely overwhelming. As an easily stressed person myself, I empathize deeply with the student who wrote as a major stressor, “LIFE!?!”

On average, how many hours per school night do you spend on homework?

Since homework was such a significant source of stress for the CPS student population, I will delve into this subject a bit more to hopefully clarify my results.

How many hours of sleep do you get per school night on average? Please be honest!!

Lack of sleep was another major stressor for students. I was curious as to how much sleep my peers got per night (or at least claimed to get per night).

How does this compare with the rest of the US? According to Nationwide Children’s Hospital, teens across the US get between 7 and 7.25 hours of sleep per school night, the same as CPS students. However, studies show that teenagers need 9 to 9.5 hours of sleep per night. Obviously, getting enough sleep is a problem that the entire country’s teens face.

Do you think you are getting enough sleep?

If you answered “no” for the previous question, what do you think could be changed to reduce stress or help you get more sleep?

I left this question open ended, asking students to answer in a few sentences. Here are a few solutions for getting more sleep that people mentioned in their comments:

  1. Get better at time management (i.e. less procrastination)

  2. Explore different methods of destressing and find one that works for specific time constraints

  3. A later start to the school day or sleeping in more on weekends

  4. Find a better/different way to balance workload with personal or family time

What do you do to relax or destress on a school night?

I was curious as to how people handle their stress so that we could learn some helpful strategies from each other. Here are some of the techniques people reported working for them:

  1. “Cry and watch Youtube.”

  2. “Dinner with my family”

  3. “Listen to music”

  4. “Climb in the gym”

  5. “Go upside down”

  6. “Read”

  7. “Watch Netflix”

  8. “Look at memes”

  9. “Drink tea”

  10. “Take a shower”

  11. “Creative writing”

  12. “Run”

  13. “Play piano or violin”

  14. “Swim or eat”

  15. “Cook”

  16. “Pet my dog”

My final question for you is: What can we, as a community, do to help each other out?

It looks like many of us have found ways to successfully alleviate our stress such as crying (a healthy form of venting), spending time with family, doing something we love, or even “going upside down” (okay… whatever works for you… but wait, is this a form of yoga? because that’s a great way to destress).

A popular activity seems to be doing something active, from swimming to going on a run. This has been scientifically proven to raise spirits (by Dr. Mark Hamer and colleagues from the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London). Personally, I strongly recommend climbing in the rock climbing gym (Berkeley Ironworks or Great Western Power Company are fantastic gyms, by the way!).

Others relax through creative pursuits, from writing, playing music, to cooking and experimenting with new recipes, which is also a great way to focus your brain on something other than school stress.

Next time you and your friends are feeling stressed, give one of these a try and let me know how it goes!

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