Stress, Weightlifting and School

I had a rowing coach in college who liked to remind me that in order to get stronger, faster and more competetive, “you have to get comfortable with the discomfort”. Many of the juniors I advise are gearing up to take the SAT in a few weeks. The emotions displayed in my office range from apathy to mild stress to full blown panic and tears. While I’m continually reminding teens not to take on too much and to be mindful of their workloads and balance between school, extracurriculars and downtime, I also think it’s important to remember that stress is not always a bad thing. When the stakes are high and you’re prepping for a test that holds a lot of weight around college admissions, it’s normal to be stressed or concerned and to be uncomfortable…both with the work to prepare and the feelings associated with the test. I tell my students that it’s similar to a championship game, an audition, performance or big presentation that has a lot riding on it. Students need to learn to get used to that discomfort and not only manage it but learn how to leverage it.

Classes are getting progressively harder from Freshman year to Senior year on purpose–this is all in preparation for college. I think we need to reframe how we look at challenges and stress, and help our kids reframe this as well. Discomfort (to a degree) is not a bad thing, it’s how we grow and get stronger. Anyone who’s followed my blog or social media, knows that I’m a huge Lisa D’Amour fan. While her material is geared towards girls, there is a lot that rings true for all adolescent teens (and their parents). She covers the issue of stress and girls and it resonated with me. Here are some highlights:

Being pushed beyond one’s comfort zone is a good thing
D’Amour uses the analogy of weightlifting and progressive overload: gradually lifting heavier weights over time
School is one long program with progressive overload
We have lost sight of the fact that getting stronger is often uncomfortable
The best way to combat test anxiety is to practice (take practice tests!)
Recovery is vital and different for each person

With that, I think it’s critical to emphasize that sleep, good nutrition and free time are just as important as progressively loading up on work. Just like athletes need rest and recovery, so do our kids. Everyone is different in terms of how they recharge. This is all part of the journey; I’m grateful to be working alongside students and families.

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