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CAMH in the Headlines Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health

High School Survival Guide – Mental Health Edition

Group of teenagers

By the National Youth Advisory Committee (NYAC) – special thanks to contributors Chanel B., Janice L., Caroline M., Molly C., Jayun B., Maree R., Yazmine G., Marvi M., Soundari R., Robin S., Christal H., Lucie L., Finola D., and Maverick S.

BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP. What’s that you hear? Your alarm is going off in the morning? Mom is flicking your lights on and off? It’s that time of year again… Back to school.

Below is a list of advice, tips and thoughts from youth across Canada. We have all gone through high school and made it out unscathed (for the most part). We want to give you some ideas that we wish we had known when we started in hopes that they will help you maintain your mental wellness through the year.

Life After High School

  • Remember that school is a part of who you are – not something that entirely defines you. There is more to life than academics.
  • Don’t put too much pressure on yourself: Approach high school as four years of learning about yourself, about the world, about what type of people you want in your life and about how you want to live your life.
  • High school only takes up 4 years of your life. During high school, it seems never ending but there is so much of life after high school.

Experiences

  • Get involved! Choose 1 or 2 teams or clubs to dedicate your time to without overwhelming yourself. It is so important to allot time in your schedule to do the things that you love and enjoy.
  • Take 5 minutes each day to find inspiration. Ted.com is a great place to start.
  • Friends are important. Being there for them is a part of friendship. Nonetheless, remember that you matter as well. If drama or issues are becoming too much, it is okay to say “I need a break” or “I can’t help you right now but this person maybe can”. You can’t help others as well as you would like if you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed as well.
  • Life very rarely goes according to plan. If plan A doesn’t work out, there is always Plans B-Z to fall back on.
  • If you have a negative relationship with school, fill your life outside of school with positive experiences so that you have a source of positivity to draw on if things at school get bad.

Organization

  • Try to ask the questions that you have about subjects as you go along. Studying from notes that you didn’t understand in the first place doesn’t work!
  • Keep ‘Unit Reviews’ around because they come in handy during exam time.
  • Try to get in the habit of dating all of your lined paper. When you are reviewing for exams, it can help you stay organized.
  • Make meditation or physical activity part of your daily routine. Eating healthy, staying active and getting sleep are the best things you can do for your body!
  • Be realistic. Homework is a part of high school that won’t go away no matter how hard you try to ignore it. Know when you may need to put in the extra few hours and when you are able to get to bed early. Remember to cut yourself some slack.
  • Make sure that you aren’t spending TOO much time on homework and letting it take over your life. It’s important to keep up but sleep is also important. Balance is key.
  • Find someone who you can ask for notes from when you aren’t in class.
  • Make sure you know ahead of time what each post-secondary program requires for admission (specific courses, grades, essays). If you don’t get in, it’s not the end of the world! Taking an extra year in school or taking time off to work or travel is very common and adds variety to your life.

Social Media

  • ‘LIKES’ on a photo are not everything. Just because a picture doesn’t get 4000 likes doesn’t mean that you are any less of a wonderful person. Live your life outside of apps.
  • Remember that your favorite television show is still going to be there on the weekend, in a few months, and even in a few years. You can always watch it later. Taking a break to watch an episode of a program can be effective (as long as you set a limit of one episode) and then get back to work!
  • Don’t be afraid to take a break from social media every now and then. Reduce the time spent on it and you’ll see a difference.
  • Use apps like Quiz Let, Self-Control Procrastination App, Khan Academy, Spreader

Stress Relief

  • If you are struggling with a course, ask for help from anyone and everyone. Be resourceful. If you don’t understand your teacher, Google it. Watch a video. Ask a parent. Don’t think for one second that you are ‘too stupid’ or lack the ability to understand it.
  • KEEP A JOURNAL – you may think that it is a girly waste of time but think again. You don’t have to write in it every day and you don’t have to write a lot. A word, a sentence, a paragraph – whatever makes you comfortable. Journaling can help you work through difficult emotions, become more self-aware, vent about things that are bothering or exciting you, or help to calm you during periods of high stress or anxiety.
  • Do things that you enjoy in your downtime – writing, physical activity, sports, reading, seeing a movie, etc.
  • Take a tech break – GO OFFLINE.
  • When things stress you out, step back and ask, “Is this going to matter in 5 years?” You’ll be surprised how often the answer is “probably not”.
  • Always have one thing that you can do to make you happy.
  • Change locations when you are feeling stuck. Getting outside made all the difference to me!
  • Stay organized and find a way that you enjoy: Keep a pretty notebook, download a cool app, have colorful pens – stick to it!
  • Download a self-care calendar and do something for yourself each day.
  • Make sleep a priority! (Within reason of course)
  • If you are stuck, take a 5-10 minute walk around the block. It’s only two or 3 songs on your iPod and you’ll feel recharged. Take your dog if you have one!
  • VENT. Don’t keep it all in.

Supports

  • Ask questions! High school can be intimidating but more people are willing to help you than you may think! Inform yourself about peer mentorship clubs and student groups.
  • Make time to attend family gatherings and community gatherings outside of school. It allows you to see the world outside of school.
  • If you are ever feeling down or depressed, don’t wait. Talk to someone about how you are feeling. Stress and pressures of school and life can take a toll on a person and there are people who will listen if you let them. Don’t think that what you have to say or what you are feeling isn’t ‘big’ enough.
  • If you know someone being bullied, seems depressed, or just not being themselves, tell someone about it. Sometimes, you may just end up saving someone’s life. I always say, I would rather you be mad at me than you be dead.
  • Be honest to people about what you need.
  • Realize that sometimes, you are only friends with people because you see them every day. I’ve formed some of my greatest friendships outside of high school.

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