Exploring the importance of mental health


Canva graphic by Alexis Rosol

Stress has become a new normal among high school students. With loads of school work to do and participating in after school activities such as sports, service hours, the arts, or even leisure activities, many students struggle to cope with the copious amount of anxiety accompanying such packed schedules and responsibilities.

Sophomore Maya Villa shares that not only school work stresses her out but also her competitive sports activities. She explains how the stress has affected her physically and how she copes with her work.

“My stress at school is not too bad,” Villa said. “However, I get very stressed about races and sometimes I throw up before a meet. I try to cope with that stress by thinking about other things, going on my phone, or talking with my friends.”
Villa believes that procrastination is the main reason for stress in her life. Even though procrastination gives her temporary relief, it does not help her in the long run.
“I would tell anyone struggling with mental health to just get up and do whatever they want to do,” Villa said. “Getting things done makes me feel better and when I procrastinate or am lazy I feel worse. Be productive so that you are happier.”

CHOC counselor Dr. Ana D’Abreu explains what students should do when they feel overwhelmed, especially during more challenging times. She suggests that students reach out to people for help and contact the CHOC counselors for extra support.

“If you are going through a hard time, acknowledge the situation and your feelings,” D’Abreu said. “Try not to ’push through’ and ignore what you are going through. Reach out to a friend or family member and let them know that life has been harder than usual… Set small goals for school. For example, ‘finish two assignments tonight,’ or ‘go to office hours,’ or ‘participate once in class.’ The more often you achieve your small goals, the more successful and motivated you’ll feel.”

So what can students do in their daily lives to help them have strong and good mental health? Giving one’s body the basic needs and living an active, nutritious lifestyle is one fantastic thing to implement into daily life.

“Take care of your basic needs- eat healthy meals and get 8 hours of sleep,” D’Abreu said. “Schedule time to care for your wellbeing- and make sure this isn’t screen time. Do something you enjoy- draw, play an instrument, go on a walk with your dog.”

So you start feeling stressed. Oh no! What can you do? D’Abreu shares some fantastic ideas on how to calm down and rethink the situation amid hardship.

“One of the best things you can do is practicing mindfulness,” D’Abreu said. “Belly (diaphragmatic) breathing is one of the best ways to help regulate your overwhelmed/anxious nervous system. Identify the activities that make you feel calm (music, drawing, baking, walking, etc.), places that are calming (park, church, Grotto, etc.), and soothing activities/items (drinking tea, lotions, aromatherapy, fuzzy blankets).”

Mental health is essential and can affect many aspects of life if not taken care of. D’Abreu and other counselors believe that it is critical to prioritize one’s mental health.

“Mental health affects everything- your academics, relationships, and physical health,” D’Abreu said. “If you don’t take care of your mental health, it can lead to less motivation, difficulty with concentration/attention, tiredness, feeling distant from friends/family, isolating yourself, and/or poor immune system health, which leads to getting sick easily.”

Along with our partnership with CHOC, students also have access to other school counselors. School counselors are credited mental health professionals who can help students academically, socially, and emotionally. One of these counselors is Kim Dittrich.

“We can serve students academically, with classes and graduation requirements, with College and career planning, and socially/emotionally by helping you get through your school day,” Dittrich said. “Everyday stressors like test taking anxiety, relationship issues and stress are all things you can seek assistance for with your school counselor.”

Many students experience academic, social, and extracurricular pressures, which is why maintaining a healthy mindset is essential. Speaking to one’s school counselor is an excellent way to feel less overwhelmed about school work and extracurriculars. All students are assigned a counselor to help them communicate with their teachers and educate them on time management skills.

“Balance [is key],” Dittrich said. “School is important but so is taking care of yourself. Set good boundaries for yourself and make sure you take some time to decompress. Even a five minute dance break in your living room can be enough to lift your mood and give your brain a break from other tasks or worries.”

Dittrich expresses how finding a practical coping skill will help students when stressed. She encourages students to find something they love, like coloring or journaling.

“I personally love to share grounding exercises with my students, and it helps me too,” Dittrich said. “A good way to start with that is to name five things you can touch, hear, smell and see. It is a simple task for your brain so it automatically calms you because you forget about the upcoming test or anxiety, even if it is for a few minutes.”

Focusing on one’s feelings and practicing self-care can help a student live a healthier life. Dittrich believes that if students are not taking care of themselves first, they will not be able to succeed in school or extracurricular activities.

“You can’t function properly if your basic needs are not being met,” Dittrich said. “The better you feel about yourself the easier other things are. Positivity and self care don’t solve every problem but it can help.”