Finding the Balance

Laura Nicolescu, Co-Editor-In-Chief

In between homework, tests, college applications, volunteering, extracurricular activities and work, life can be overwhelming. When the elusive sleeping, exercising, eating right and maintaining some kind of a social life is added to the equation, there are few who can pull off such a balancing feat.

However, these things are crucial for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. The National Sleep Foundation says teens need about eight to 10 hours of sleep each night to function best, a laughable statistic for those of us taking 1,200 AP classes (ok, five). Nurse Ronda Wise said sleep is food for the brain and is crucial for teens.

“Serotonin is made in the brain while we sleep, which protects against depression,” Wise said. “Sleep deprivation and depression go hand in hand in teens. Those with earlier bedtimes are significantly less likely to suffer depression and suicidal thoughts.”

She said many negative effects on teens’ mental health and bodies can occur from lack of sleep.

“Lack of sleep can make teens more emotional, causing crying and/or angry outbursts for little or no reason,” Wise said. “It can also increase the risk of substance abuse, increase the possibility of obesity, lower the immune system, which leads to illness, and can increase the chance of becoming dependent on anxiety or sleep meds.”

In addition, teens should aim for at least 60 minutes of exercise every day, something that can be problematic to fit into a busy schedule and something that may not be a priority.

“If you don’t have time for a continuous hour of exercise, it can always be broken into 10-15 min increments,” Wise said. “Whenever possible, get outside and breathe fresh air.”

She said other aspects of a healthy lifestyle include not skipping meals, cutting back on screen time and drinking plenty of water every day.

“Make healthy choices and limit the sugar and fats you eat,” Wise said. “Strive for less than two hours a day on your phone, and put it down one hour before going to sleep. It’s also important to drink water- not sodas, not monsters or red bulls, not six cups of Starbucks- water!”

Counselor Michelle Ott oversees the Whole Child Committee, designed to promote the optimal physical, emotional, social, and educational development of students. One of the main components of the model is that each student learns about and practices a healthy lifestyle.

“All of FISD schools have a committee that they use to help promote wellness in the school,” Ott said. “Every school does things a little bit different, but the basic premise is to help with health, healthy eating, weight, exercise, just to maintain a good healthy environment for your body.”

Current research suggests physical and psychological health are prerequisites for academic achievement, yet many students find this hard to do and may sacrifice their health for a high GPA and high grades.

“I do think that the emphasis, and it seems like more so in Frisco than other school districts, is on grades, GPA, rank, academics,” Ott said. “The stress that kids put on themselves take away from time with family or their activities or stuff that they really love or enjoy, but I think it’s important to put emphasis on those things because it helps you be a better person academically.”

However, when it gets to the point that academics is taking away from a teen’s core values, it’s time to reevaluate.

“If you’re staying up until two, three, four in the morning to do homework, then you may need a discussion at the six weeks or semester, that maybe it’s too much for me right now,” Ott said. “When it comes to the point that it’s taking away from who you are as a person because you’re staying up until two, three in the morning, maybe you don’t need to be in that class.”

Ott said teens need to find a balance.

“I think of life like a pie,” Ott said. “You have different pieces of your pie, and one piece could be friends, one piece could be family, one piece could be school. If one’s out of balance, you tend to not have that healthy lifestyle. Now that I’m in high school as a counselor I see that taking many Pre-AP or AP classes can cause imbalance and it does affect kids with their sleep and lifestyle.”

She said teens can reach that elusive balance between school and life by taking classes they’re passionate about and trying to be a well-rounded person.

“Take classes that you’re interested in, but also classes that are going to be challenging you,” Ott said. “But don’t let that be your focus. You really need to have other things in your life that are hobbies, talents, something that you pursue that helps you become a well-rounded person, that you’re involved in community service, that you’re involved in clubs here, something that’s not just academics.”

Trying to do it all, however, can cause teens a lot of stress, which can affect the body, mood and behavior.

“The most common effects of stress include headache, muscle tension or pain, chest pain, upset stomach and sleep problems,” Wise said. “It can also cause feelings of being overwhelmed, feeling deep sadness or depression, or feeling irritable and/or angry, along with overeating or undereating, drug or alcohol abuse, and social withdrawal.”

Ott said teens can cope with stress through time management and finding what works best as a stress relief.

“Try to set a schedule, use a planner, have some quality time to do homework so that when you’re done you can spend time with friends and go do fun things,” Ott said. “Try to find what your stress is, and see what works for you. Sometimes people do things that are not so healthy when they’re stressed, so I would say try to distract yourself from bad habits.”

Overall, a teen should set goals and priorities that include several parts of their life, not just one, in order to have a healthy lifestyle.

“I know it’s hard, and being in high school, the focus is academics, but I think that trying to make that just be your focus and your priority all the time is not healthy,” Ott said. “When it starts affecting other parts of your life that you really enjoy, then maybe it’s time to reevaluate and go, I don’t know that the GPA or rank is most important, I’m just going to focus on AP classes that are my interest. That way it’ll help me be well rounded in that pie, so everything’s well balanced in my life.”