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  • Eve Rebora

As APs Approach, Walls Counselor and Psychologist Give Advice

Dr. McDowell’s room is on the first floor, in room 123 / Credits: David Sipos

One-third of high school students face mental health challenges, a percentage that has only increased in recent years, according to CDC data. Walls students are no exception to this trend, and with APs, college decisions, and final report cards right around the corner, mental health has become especially pertinent. Thankfully, SWW is equipped with a team of mental health staff to help support students: school psychologist Dr. Lori McDowell and social worker Elizabeth Kosin. Here are just a few of their tips for getting through the stress and mental drain of the school year.

Recognize the Signs

Ms. Kosin stressed that students consistently don’t extend themselves “enough compassion and grace to rest,” as many prioritize their grades and activities over their own needs. To combat this, students must try to be cognizant of when they need extra support and rest.

Although Ms. Kosin notes that everyone’s body responds in different ways, physical symptoms are a red flag that should signal to students that they need to take a break. These symptoms can include low energy levels, stomach pain, and trouble sleeping, among others.

Signals in the form of physical symptoms are the body’s way of saying “hey, pay attention,” explained Ms. Kosin, and students should respond to those signs by setting down the textbooks and getting some rest. “A car going 100 miles an hour is gonna crash,” analogized Dr. McDowell.

Be Honest with Yourself and Others

Upon recognizing the signs of mental health strain, students should address it with themselves and others. Ms. Kosin said one of the biggest problems with mental health at SWW is the issue of “masking.” Students feel ashamed about struggling mentally, making it hard to solve the issue. Students can’t give themselves support or receive support from others if they’re unable to honestly assess their mental state.

Prioritize Mood Boosters

Students can often get wrapped up in what they need to do for school rather than for themselves. A healthy mental state requires balancing between the two. Ms. Kosin recommends asking “what are those things that give you joy?” And making it a priority to implement them in a daily routine. She suggests that students should implement mood boosters “not just in the short term to get out of negative feelings” but in more consistent, long-term habits. These can be fun activities like hanging out with friends or practicing hobbies.

But Dr. McDowell emphasizes that these habits can be as simple as eating a well-balanced breakfast and getting a good night’s sleep, simple steps that can promote joy and even help students to perform better in school. Students should focus on doing the tasks that make them feel good on a consistent basis to consistently see results.

Give Yourself Enough Time

For students anxious about tests, Ms. Kosin stressed the idea that students should give themselves enough time in advance to study. Students should be “able to rest and restore and study over a period of time versus cramming in one moment or not doing at all.” Not only does this provide more time to study, but the balanced approach also benefits students’ wellness. In fact, studies find that rest is beneficial to memorization and therefore is key to allowing enough chances to rest during testing season rather than pulling a late night cram session. As Dr. McDowell added, “your brain is processing all the information you’ve gotten all day and it needs a little downtime overnight with sleeping.”

Discover Your Coping Methods

There are so many different coping skills for testing anxiety and it can be very helpful to test out which skill works best before testing day. Determining what works best to give “yourself that miniature rest or break during the test, or when you’re studying” is essential. This could be taking deep breaths, noticing three things you can touch, feel, and smell, or even taking a bathroom break for a change of scenery. There are so many different coping skills out there and what works is “individually specific” which is why it can be helpful to try out multiple and stick to whatever works best for you.

Seek out Further Help

Even after seeking out all the quick coping skills and strategies many students may feel that they are still experiencing poor mental health. “I want young people to know that if that is happening, it’s not a moral failure,” Ms. Kosin says. This often means a student needs more support and should seek help from parents, guardians, or mental health staff. Both Dr. McDowell and Ms. Kosin are more than happy to provide support to students who feel they need it.

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