Reflecting on my Junior Year

 In Promoting Tolerance, Random Thoughts

A year filled with academic pressure, loads of anxiety, and obstacles to overcome: that was my junior year. Unfortunately, this past school year was without a doubt, one of the most stressful and difficult. The hours of studying and homework, on top of test prep and thinking about college drained me– mentally and emotionally. Worse yet, the anxiety I was experiencing was so extreme it even impacted my health. However, knowing that life won’t get any easier, I am beyond thankful for having experienced and enduring these stressful times. There is no better way to learn about yourself than having to grapple with challenges and battling through them. I’d like to share what helped me cope with my anxiety and what I learned about myself with my you, my community, and especially with my peers.  Maybe what helps me, can help you. 

  1. Planning each day with flexibility and variability
  2. Exercising or being active physically at least once a day
  3. Socializing and connecting with others in order to avoid being isolated and grumpy 
  4. Being open to other people’s feedback, but ultimately being your own judge.
  5. And lastly and most importantly, rather than obsessing over perfection, we should strive for progression. 

 

  1. Healthy & Balanced Planning: Flexibility & Priority

I am an extremely detailed planner when it comes to scheduling and organizing my days. But personally, being a scrupulous planner has not always benefited me: sometimes, planning makes me inflexible and upset when my preset schedule changes abruptly. However, there is an extent to which I must arrange my day to feel organized, productive, and to effectively complete any task. This year, it was a challenging for me to find the balance between when I should stick my plan or when I should go with the flow. For example, I discovered that abandoning a social outing to study because I have a test the next day is not worth it. Hanging out with my friends and taking a break from the stress will put you at ease, thus improve focus and/or test performance all together. It is also important to remain flexible for others and allot time to those you care for. Deviating from your plan to grab coffee or lunch with a close friend or do someone a favor is extremely enriching and rewarding. In my experience, I planned far too rigidly, seldom making time to socialize with my friends (besides studying together). Because I was so busy with school work in the evening, family dinners were reserved for weekends only. I would refuse to sit at the dinner table with my parents so I could continue working. This mistake is one I regret, as the conversations families have at the dinner table— whether it be sharing events, news, or funny stories— bring a nice and relaxing close to each day. Even having a short, 15-minute conversation arouses good feelings.  Your well being and overall health are the main elements around which you should schedule each day. Balancing your time between working, relaxing, socializing, and spending time with family is an every day necessity. When you make your plan, don’t obsess too much over the details: there is always a way to get things done if your day shifts.

Learning to prioritize was one of my most difficult obstacles this past year. Rather than procrastinating, I’d often stress myself out upon receiving the task, and complete it right away. This “pre-crastination” hurt me when I was assigned various projects from different classes over longer periods of time: feeling overwhelmed, I experienced panick attacks and was unable to sleep at night. For instance, when I had a big project due in two weeks and three worksheets to complete for the next day, I’d rush to finish all of them as soon as I could. Although procrastinating is a more common issue, the methods to prioritizing a schedule are the same. Having a planner is a great way to plan each day using hourly time blocks. Assessing how long it takes for you to complete a certain task would be a great way to begin managing your expectations. In addition, it has been proven that writing things down makes you more likely to complete them. Obviously, tasks that are due first must be finished first. Larger long term projects must be spaced out throughout the time provided to complete them: doing a little bit each day and dividing the project into a few sections helps balance the massive chunk. When I began to pace myself by penciling in my schedule on an hourly/daily basis and work in a balanced and progressive manner, I realized I had plenty of time and never had to panic in the first place. 

 

  1. Sweat Once a Day: Alone or With a Friend

This past year, due to extreme anxiety, I needed an outlet. Sitting in a classroom for six to eight hours a day is draining. When I told myself I was “too busy” to workout were always the days where I’d panic or end up with terrible migraines. For me, exercising everyday is essential to living a healthy life both physically and mentally.  I play tennis on a regular basis, but sometimes, it was difficult to play in the afternoon as I was depleted of energy after school. Since I often wake up early, I tried doing fitness classes or running before school on the days when I knew I’d be busy after school. This life style may be hard to start, but the levels of concentration and focus I feel at school or doing homework after exercising are much higher.

Taking a fitness class or playing a sport provides for a social outlet while doing something healthy and fun. For example, my best friend and I signed up to workout classes together and continue to attend them 3-4 times per week. With tension and stress being relieved in the body and mind alike, I am content and relaxed for longer periods of time. After physical activity, I am always more energized and motivated to study. Whether it be starting a highschool sport, signing up to a gym, or even walking outside for an hour or so, any form of exercise will improve focus and performance on exams or any type of work. 

  1. Reach Out & Break Out

At the beginning of the school year, I failed to reach out to my friends and meet new students. Because I refused to break out of my study hole, I sometimes found myself lonely and isolated. In a large and competitive school with over 2,700 students, I was often too intimidated to break out of my shell and overly absorbed in my academics. Thinking that my studies and test results were all that mattered, I was buried in the books. Anxiety-ridden and easily agitated, I communicated curtly and avoided spending time with others if it didn’t mean I would be studying or exercising. I surrounded my day around my work and put no effort into new relationships, nonetheless spending time with my friends or family. After my mom encouraged me to sign up for a few clubs and socialize, I joined French club at my school and began taking a break at lunch (instead of studying in the library at lunch time). I soon realized that making friends and learning about others and their experiences is equally enriching to sitting in a classroom and absorbing content. 

Reaching out to others also opens up collaboration with new ideas and diverse perspectives. These fresh ideas give us constant boosts of energy and excitment to learn more. Finding comfort in others you trust and supporting each other is beyond rewarding as different friends can help brainstorm a variety of solutions to conflicts you may face. Once I began taking a break at lunch everyday and talk to friends and meet their friends whom I didn’t know, my mood swung in a positive direction, feeling more motivated. The people you meet throughout your life will build bridges that foster opportunities at the moment or in the future. 72 year old Patricia Hunt, quoted in the New York Times commenting on the importance of friends and mentors in her life,  says “You need several (friends/mentors). I have been lucky enough to find them. They have made all the difference.” 

  1. Man is the Measure of All Things: Who’s to Judge?

Pressure: it’s what high school is all about. Whether it’s peer pressure to conform to social standards, pressure from parents about college, or pressure from teachers to complete a load of assignments, we find ourselves labeled based upon the expectations of others. Many adolescents are overly self-conscious and lack confidence, often coming to believe what others say they are or should be. For instance with grades, a B grade made me think less of myself as opposed to when I received an A. Because the highschool environment shoots bullets of pressure from every corner, we must remember that despite what boxes others put us in, it doesn’t change who we are. You are the only one responsible for achieving your goals and striving toward your long-term purpose; no matter what happens, knowing that you tried your best places you in the A box. To take the example of grades further, this year, a teacher told a student they should not bother taking the AP exam because they were performing poorly in the class. But despite the teacher’s judgment, the student took the test and not only passed, but scored perfectly with a 5. Healthy feedback from others should be acknowledged and perhaps acted upon, but always taken with a grain of salt.

Neither the grades you receive, how many AP classes you take,  your GPA, nor the name of the university you attend make you who you are. It is rather the morals, values, and ethics you act with on a daily basis that encompass your true character. If you find your principles being skewed, it’s time to critique your judgment and reflect on your actions. As your own judge, only you hold the power to change yourself. 

  1. Obsess Over Progression, Not Perfection

Unsurprisingly, the detail orientation that is present in my planning also goes into my school work. Details are important, but many times, they are less pressing than the bulk of content itself. It is necessary that one evaluates the risks and opportunities of spending time on minor elements before deciding to do so. If one is rushed, it would be smarter if they avoided the details and focused on just completing the task accurately. If you are like me and work scrupulously, you must plan accordingly to eliminate anxiety.  

Obsessing over the precision in my work, I also tend to stress over the perfection of the results. Setting the expectations for myself extremely high, I overworked myself to the extent my performance was hindered and I was left disappointed with some grades I received (especially on tests). For exams this past year, studying endlessly, I expected myself to score at least a 90% on all exams; when I did not score an A- or above, I was upset and self-deprecating. However, understanding that we all have our strengths and weaknesses and our good days and bad days, I realized that it is simply impossible to reach the bar of perfection immediately and constantly. Instead, to relieve anxiety, I learned to put myself in a different mindset: thinking “today should be better than yesterday” and trying your absolute best without thinking of the outcome puts me at ease. I can reflect on what I needed to improve from yesterday and concentrate solely on those aspects the following day. Not only is a lifestyle surrounding progress more rewarding and fulfilling, but it engages, energizes, and excites you to learn more. 

There is much to be said about how challenges and extreme conditions elicit unforeseen reactions. These experiences bring about self-reflection and changes in lifestyle and habits. Where stressful experiences exacerbate and are inevitable later in life, these early moments of hardship actually serve to prepare us. This past school year, the stress I endured gave me opportunities to discover myself, experimenting with different tactics to feel better, work more productively, and live a healthier life.

 Trying to implement one of these methods may lead to finding another gateway that works for you. Always remember, if something is so stressful that it is detrimental to your well being or your health, it’s not worth it. We must all be tolerant, respectful, and compassionate toward ourselves first– to both body and mind. Only after finding harmony within ourselves, we are able to grow with, contribute to, and support those around you. The changes in my habits make each day evermore satisfying and rewarding.

Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.

 

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