Starting a new school year is exciting, but it can also be nerve-racking.
This year, you may be feeling more worried than usual. That’s completely normal. After all, you and your friends may be going back to the physical classroom for the first time in a long time.
It’s ok if you feel worried, anxious or unsure. The good news is that there are ways to manage those feelings so you can start this year feeling confident and excited for what’s ahead!
Here are 7 tips for starting the year with a little less stress.
1. Get your annual physical (including vaccinations)
Now is the time to get your annual physical and make sure you have all your required immunizations. Review your immunizations with your doctor and make sure you provide the most up to date records to your school. Click here for the NYC Department of Education’s immunization requirements, which explain what vaccinations are required for each grade level.
If you’re 12 years old or older and haven’t already, you should also talk to your parent or guardian and medical provider about getting your COVID-19 vaccine. COVID-19 vaccination is required for high-risk Public Schools Athletic League (PSAL) sports, and it’s an important tool to keep yourself, your family, and your community safe and healthy. Learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine, and schedule an appointment through NYC’s vaccine finder, Mount Sinai, or right here at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center.
Your doctor’s appointment is also a great time to bring up any other questions or concerns you have. Do you get a lot of headaches? Are you worried about period cramps? Do you need sexually transmitted infection (STI, sometimes called STD) testing? Ask your medical provider!
If you’re in NYC, you can schedule your annual physical and get your vaccines (including your COVID-19 vaccine) at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center. We provide confidential, judgment-free health care to young people 10-26 years old—all at no cost to you.
2. Do your to-do list
If you tend to procrastinate (and let’s be honest, who doesn’t?), you’ve probably had the same to-do list all summer. If you’ve been meaning to reorganize your room, donate your old clothes, or get new glasses, now is the time! Soon, you’ll be juggling a new schedule packed with homework, sports, and afterschool activities. Dealing with all that will be easier if you know that you’ve taken care of everything else you need to.
If you don’t have one already, start a to-do list and add items as soon as you think of them. You can use a free list or organizing app to help.
If your teacher has already sent you a supply list, make sure you get these supplies before school starts. Ask local churches, thrift stores, or your school about free or affordable supplies.
3. Get some sleep
If it’s been harder to fall asleep early and wake up early, you’re not alone. Teens naturally go to bed and wake up later. In fact, early school start times work against teens’ natural sleep cycles.
But this isn’t an excuse to sleep through first period! Instead, it means you need to put in extra effort to get the recommended 8-10 hours of sleep a night. Sleep is an important part of your health, just like fitness and nutrition. Without enough sleep, you may feel irritable or tired, and find it hard to pay attention in class.
Establishing a pre-sleep routine that you do every night can make getting a good night’s rest way easier. Try to go to bed at around the same time each night, put your phone away an hour before bed, and avoid caffeine after noon. Instead, take a warm shower, read a book, listen to a podcast, or zone out to some relaxing music. Make sure your room is at a comfortable, cool temperature, and get extra-cozy with some comfy PJs. Click here for more dos and don’ts for a good night’s sleep.
4. Eat breakfast (and lunch!)
We know you’ve heard this before. But seriously—don’t skip meals, and don’t forget breakfast! Your body and brain need fuel to work and feel their best. Eating before school helps improve your concentration and energy throughout the day. Skipping meals can make you feel sluggish or light-headed, give you a headache, and make it hard to concentrate. Plus, students who eat breakfast tend to do better in school.
You may feel like you can power through to lunchtime without food, but you’ll feel and perform better if you eat earlier. If mornings are especially crazy, take a granola bar, piece of fruit, or other favorite food on the go. Plan and prepare your meals at the beginning of the week (or at least the night before). That way, you don’t have to think about it in the morning when you’re rushing out the door.
Check here for some healthy lunch ideas and to learn more about what happens to your body when you skip meals.
5. Pay attention to your body
Starting the new school year is full of unknowns and anxieties, especially if you’re transitioning to a new school. Remember that you can’t be your best unless you feel your best. Check in with yourself weekly—how’s your energy? Are you able to concentrate? Do you have any aches or pains you’ve been ignoring? Pay attention to what your body is telling you.
If a problem isn’t going away, you should talk about it with a medical provider. Consider keeping a journal or downloading a health app to keep track of your habits and their effect on your mood and health.
6. Be kind to yourself (now more than ever)
No one is perfect. Don’t beat yourself up because you didn’t do well on a test or had an embarrassing moment. Take a moment to recognize that you’re only human, that you’ll make mistakes again, and that that is not only ok but good! Make time to do things that make you happy, whether that’s hanging out with a friend, taking a long bubble bath, or rocking out to your favorite song.
With (*gestures*) everything going on in the world right now, it’s normal to feel a little (or a lot) overwhelmed.
Give yourself room to feel what you’re feeling. Talk with your family or friends about what’s going on. If you’re not enjoying activities you used to, feel paralyzed, or are having a hard time doing everyday activities (like getting out of bed, going to school, leaving the house), tell a parent or trusted adult. They can help you get help. Remember: you are not alone. It’s ok to not be ok. Use this guide to help you take care of your emotional health.
7. Be open to new experiences—and a new you
Even with this change and uncertainty, there will remain some constants in your life, like old friends and familiar habits. It’s great to have these when you’re dealing with a ton of uncertainties. After all, there is comfort in familiarity. However, don’t let that keep you from exploring new activities or identities, especially as you grow and explore your new environment. Your idea of who you are may be changing. Don’t shy away from changes in your beliefs, values or self-identity. Instead, have fun exploring them. That’s what being young is for!
The Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center is located in New York City. It provides comprehensive, confidential, judgment free health care to over 12,000 young people every year—all at no cost to patients. This column is not intended to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services to you or to any other individual, only general information for education purposes only.
A version of this article was originally published in August, 2016.
Reviewed by Rachel Colon, LCSW