Let's be real. High school is stressful. The movies did not prepare me for the hard work or the lack of dance outbreaks. High school is tough and romance is completely unrealistic to find. As a young, naive girl, I set my standards high for my teenage years.

However, my experience has been nowhere close to the "High School Musical experience". I soon came to realize that it is honestly just a huge disappointment, and Gabrielle and Troy are really too good to be true. My childhood was practically #fakenews all along.

There is a lot of pressure on high school students of the modern age to be perfect: to excel in academics, athletics, and social relationships. You have to get straight A's, you have to be the team captain of your track team, you have to make it up to Tiffany that you couldn't hang out with her last Friday. The end goal? College, I guess. But sometimes, it seems like college is a long way off.

High school students are increasingly experiencing the strain of society's expectations, far more than is appropriate for kids our age. Teen athletes are being pushed above and beyond their physical capabilities as they continuously push their adolescent bodies against all known boundaries.

Teen scholars are being pressured to achieve above and beyond their peers in a giant competition that ultimately starts and ends when you submit your college application. All while doing this you have to make room for your friends, find a way to accomplish all of your school work, and try not to go crazy.

Although high school is really difficult, there are ways to manage its difficulties. You cannot perform intellectually or physically at your best when your mind isn't in the game. The most important thing to keep in mind when taking care of your mental health is to focus on yourself and knowing that the little things can make all the difference.

1. Drink More Water

Hydration Bottles

Rubbermaid Products on Flickr

I cannot stress enough how important this is to your mental health. Every single cell in your body needs water, and when it doesn't get enough of it, the efficiency of your cells decreases dramatically. Logically, our bodies work best when they are properly hydrated. You should be drinking water with every meal, including breakfast. However, easiest way to drink more water at school is by carrying a water bottle around and refilling it periodically in between classes.

For me, I have what I call my "water and pee schedule." It might be a bit TMI, but I aim to drink certain amounts of water during certain classes so I can refill them on my way to my next class. Strategically, with water fountains and bathroom locations in reference to my classrooms in mind, I have found out my perfect schedule alternating between water-refilling and bathroom-going. A particular schedule that fits along with my school periods may not necessarily work best for you, I strongly suggest devising your own "water and pee schedule." The best method to making one is really a matter of trial and error. 

2. Improve Your Diet

Beautiful Picture Of Healthy Food

uwlideas on Flickr

But wait, isn't this physical health? Well scientifically, your diet directly affects your mental health. Your body receives high quality, organic, whole foods far differently than cheap, GMO, over-processed foods. Your health should not be sacrificed for the sake of your work, trust me. The ramen and giant gallon of coffee is not a good idea.

For busy students, meal prepping will be your best friend. Don't know how to cook? Last night's leftovers with some extra greens function well as a throw-it-all-together salad, or even adding in something like rice can add substance to boring leftovers. Additionally, learning how to cook basic carbs, like rice, and basic proteins, like chicken, can really help you out in the long run in college.

Although this may seem unrealistic, healthy eating doesn't have to be a chore when you prep for it. If you're a night owl, night prepping might be your thing. However, if you're an early bird like me, waking up early to pack your meals will really help in making sure that you are eating right at school.

3. Wake Up Earlier 

Alarm clock in bedroom

wuestenigel on Flickr

Okay, this sounds ridiculous, but hear me out on this. Waking up early is not only difficult physically but sometimes summoning mental willpower to so is even harder. While some people seem to thrive in early mornings, others swear by Red Bull and 2 am genius. But contrary to popular belief, it is possible to become a morning person. 

Scientifically, there are things you can do to improve the quality of your sleep and make it easier to wake up. There is also research to show that your diet is associated with sufficient sleep, with insufficient sleep being associated with increased caloric consumption, poor dietary habits and obesity. Thus, an improved diet can cause an increased quality of sleep and more restful sleep allows you to wake up earlier and make healthy meal choices. 

But there is also a reason for the stereotype of chipper and cheery early birds, and that is because waking up earlier is associated with a better mood. Have you ever been late to something in the morning and then it feels like everything else for the rest of the day goes wrong? Well, waking up early removes the stress of the morning to get up and hurry out of the door on time. This can immediately set a positive tone for your day.

Additionally, waking up earlier also eliminates your sleep inertia, that feeling of initial grogginess that you feel when you wake up. Becoming an early bird and going through your sleep inertia phase before you get to school makes a huge difference, especially in your first-period class.

4. Make Your Own "Me Time"


Sole Treadmill on Flickr

Now, this is isn't about procrastination when you're doing your homework, it's about genuinely being in the moment and savoring time to yourself. Studies have shown that a period of self-care can drastically improve your mental health. Find something that you enjoy and take a period within the day to relax your mind. Now, this can seem ridiculous to anyone with a busy schedule. Among the sports practices, band rehearsals, or club meetings, it may seem actually close to impossible, but I assure you that you can do it.

The easiest way to incorporate self care is to try to make little changes in your routine. Maybe you like to eat decadent breakfasts so try and wake up early once or twice a week to make some waffles and eggs for yourself. Maybe you like to paint your nails so try and spend time after doing your homework to paint your nails maybe once a week. It really depends on what you prefer to do but taking this time to disconnect from your to-do list can really make a difference in your mental health.

5. Start Planning

Gina Kong

We all have that friend who has a meticulous planner or a stunning bullet journal. They seem like they have their sh*t together, and that is mostly because they do; they make room for things in their life to happen and they prepare accordingly. Lots of scientific studies have shown how planning decreases stress levels. In the words of psychologist and self-help author Robert Epstein, planning helps fight "stress before it even starts, planning things rather than letting them happen."

For a busy high school student this meaning knowing when you have a big event or busy weekend. This means knowing when your tests are or when your next group project is due. Knowing where and when important events are is a crucial life skill that prepares you for things so they don't sneak up on you. Not only that, planning also allows you to time budget, which is knowing when you will have time to sit down and get work done in preparation for a day when you know that you'll be busy. Learning how to accommodate around your weekly schedule is a skill that will last you a life time.

High school is stressful and it can be really hard to manage all of that stress both physically and mentally. We all are trying our best in this competitive world and it can sometimes seem that it is all too much. When you're feeling like that, stressed, anxious and worried, you need to take the time to focus and care for yourself before you can go out and be the best person you can be. Be happily stressed! With hard work and a positive mindset you can do anything, you can make things happen and you can truly be the best version of you.