Counselling Chronicle (6)
The Importance of a Balanced Lifestyle
Many high school students report difficulties managing stress relating to their studies. The 2012-2016 Youth Mental Health Report found that two of the top three concerns 15-19 year olds reported were: 1) coping with stress, and 2) school or study problems .
The primary challenge in helping adolescents achieve academically while maintaining a sense of wellbeing is helping them understand the importance of a balanced lifestyle.
Organisational and time management skills are vital in helping adolescents prepare for exams and assessments, and early preparation often prevents last minute panic. For suggestions on helping adolescents develop organisational skills please see Issue 5 of the Counselling Chronicle.
While organisational and planning skills are imperative in the lead up to assessments, self-care plays a vital role in allowing students to be in the right “headspace” to perform well in their assessments, and to allow themselves to learn and retain information while studying.
The remainder of this issue of the Counselling Chronicle is concerned with self-care strategies necessary to promoting psychological wellbeing.
1) PHYSICAL HEALTH AND SELF-CARE
The following physical self-care strategies are vital to incorporate into an adolescent’s daily routine:
It is very important to maintain a balanced and nutritious diet.
Foods rich in sugar and fats with no nutritional value place adolescents at an increased risk for obesity and a range of other health issues.
Additionally, the “sugar crashes” may result in irritability, lethargy or low mood.
For people aged 13-17, experts recommend at least 60 accumulated minutes of daily moderate-vigorous intensity exercise .
Exercise is good for managing stress and mental health as it:
- Releases muscle tension and helps people feel relaxed.
- Facilitates the release and burn of adrenaline (a stress hormone).
- Stimulates the release of endorphins associated with positive mood, increased energy levels and sleep regulation.
- Improves immune system functioning.
- Promotes cardiovascular health, leaving people feeling more energised.
It can take a couple of weeks to reset disordered sleep routines. Persistence is key.
Adolescents of high school age should be sleeping approximately 9-10 hours per night.
2) PSYCHOLOGICAL HEALTH AND SELF-CARE
To maintain psychological well-being, it is important to have a mix of 1) pleasurable activities, 2) activities that provide a sense of achievement, and 3) activities that connect a person with other people.
To manage and prevent stress, adolescents should make time for activities that represent the different areas of the pie chart (see chart below), remembering to include both exciting and relaxing activities.
3) HELPFUL THINKING AND SELF-TALK
As humans, the way individuals think influences the way they feel and behave (see the cartoon below for an example).
Accordingly, the way a student thinks about their studying and academic progress influences how they may feel about it, and impacts on how they prepare for assessments.
It is important to encourage students to change any unhelpful thoughts (e.g. “I’m going to fail”) to be more helpful (e.g. “I’ve done what I can, I will see what happens and then deal with the outcome”).
 Youth mental health report: Youth Survey 2012-16, Mission Australia & Black Dog Institute, https://blackdoginstitute.org.au/docs/default-source/research/evidence-and-policy-section/2017-youth-mental-health-report_mission-australia-and-black-dog-institute.pdf?sfvrsn=6
 Australia’s Physical Activity & Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines for Young People, Australian Government: Department of Health, www.health.gov.au