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Back to School Survival Guide

Let's face it: This fall is unlike any other. Heading back to school can be stressful under normal circumstances, but you haven’t stepped into a classroom in— how long has it been?—and a lot has changed since then (hello, masks . . . goodbye, sharing snacks). Whether you’re back in a classroom or still remote learning (aka reading this in your pajamas), it’s understandable if you’re anxious about getting your head back in the game. The good news is, some simple hacks can go a long way. Follow this guide to get pumped, stay focused, keep your cool, and make the most of the school year. It’s bound to be different, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be awesome.

1) STOCK YOUR LOCKER (OR YOUR AT-HOME WORK SPACE)

If you’re prepared for whatever the day brings, you’ll be able to focus on your work, not your worries. Have these supplies on hand:

1. A mask: Think school colors, a cheerful pattern, or even a photo print of your own smile.

2. Hand sanitizer: Make sure it contains at least 65 percent alcohol (but wash with soap and water when possible).

3. Hand cream: All that handwashing can cause dry skin, so keep a small bottle of lotion in your locker.

A basket: Keep your books, laptop, and papers in it so you can relocate if family members invade your space.

Headphones: Even if you aren’t listening to anything, they’ll send the signal that you are not to be disturbed.

Color-coordinated folders and notebooks: Give each class its own color, and file printouts after every class.

A tasty snack: Mix cereal, pretzels, or popcorn with dried fruit and chocolate chips or M&M’s. Other options: dried seaweed snacks; seasoned roasted chickpeas.

2) CHOOSE A HYPE SONG

Even if you’re not an athlete, you can steal one of their moves: Pick an energizing tune to listen to as you walk up to your school’s front door (or sit down at your desk at home). These worked for some past and present Major League Baseball players:

  • “BAILA BAILA BAILA” by Ozuna (Aaron Judge, Yankees)
  • “FLOWER” by Moby (Bryce Harper, Phillies)
  • “THUNDERSTRUCK” by AC/DC (Noah Syndergaard, Mets)
  • “SUMMER” by Marshmello (Kris Bryant, Cubs)
  • “FIRESTONE” by Kygo (José Altuve, Astros)
  • “SPACE JAM” by Quad City DJ’s (Steven Souza Jr., Cubs)
  • 3) DO AN EGO-BOOSTING SECURITY REFRESH

    You’re probably using your devices more than ever these days, and it’s always a good idea to periodically update passwords. This time, create new passwords that double as stealth motivators. For example, think of a phrase like “You will make honor roll” or “You’ve got this under control,” then use the first letter from each word, a number, and a symbol (Ywmhr20!) to make the password. Every time you type it in, you’ll send yourself an encouraging message.

    4) FIND A QUICK CALM

    At least one of these things is bound to happen to you at some point this year: a homework overload; a technical glitch right before an online test; a panic-filled run-in with a crush, either over text or in real life. They’ll trigger your body to release stress hormones, and you might feel anxious, sweaty, and nauseated. But before you run to the nurse’s office or hide under your bed, do a five sense check-in, which will help you calm down and stay in the moment. Here’s how:

    1. Identify five things you can see.
    2. Identify four things you can hear.
    3. Identify three things you can touch.
    4. Identify two things you can smell.
    5. Identify one thing you can taste.

    5) CONQUER YOUR PROCRASTINATION

    Of course you’re going to get started on your science project . . . just as soon as you finish watching this TikTok. Sound familiar? You’re likely procrastinating because you feel overwhelmed. Fight overload by breaking your work into manageable chunks. Here’s how:

  • Set a timer for 25 minutes and work until the timer stops.
  • Give yourself a check mark!
  • Take a two- to five-minute break. (Now’s the perfect time for a stretch.)
  • Set the timer again and repeat.
  • After four checks, take a 15 minute break. (Have a mini dance party or get a snack.)
  • Do the whole cycle again, then reward yourself with 20 minutes of TikTok or an episode of The Office.
  • 6) CREATE A CORONA-FREE ZONE

    Sick of talking about the pandemic? If you’re sitting at the lunch table or waiting for an online class to start, try these non-virus-related conversation starters:
    • What’s the weirdest thing you loved as a kid?
    • Do you believe in aliens?
    • Would you rather be too hot or too cold?
    • Is a hot dog a sandwich?

    7) SET SOME GOALWORTHY GOALS

    It’s likely your only goal lately has been to brush your teeth. Now’s the time to aim higher—for example, keeping your room clean. Just make sure your goal is S.M.A.R.T.: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-based. Here’s how to do it:

    SPECIFIC: We’d probably all like to be tidier, especially since we’re indoors so much these days, but as a goal, that’s pretty vague. Make it specific by vowing to clean your room each weekend.

    MEASURABLE: What exactly does a clean room mean to you? Making your bed, hanging up clothes, dusting your dresser? Make yourself a list you can check each week.

    ACHIEVABLE: If you share a room with a sibling, you’ll never have full control over what your space looks like. Make sure to set a goal you can actually reach, like keeping your bed or closet neat.

    REALISTIC: Maybe you don’t have time to make your bed each morning and vacuum each night, but you can put away your clothes every day.

    TIME-BASED: Set mini goals, like having a clean room for two weeks in a row, and one big goal, like keeping your room neat for the entire school year. Don’t forget to reward yourself along the way!

    8) EARN AN A+ IN DELICIOUSNESS

    Whether you’re packing a brown bag or browsing in the fridge, choosing the right combo of foods will keep you feeling full and energized. Pick one item from each box and wave goodbye to your afternoon slump!

    PROTEINS

    Chicken, sliced turkey, tuna, cheese, eggs, and nut butters take time for your body to digest, so they’ll keep hunger away for a few hours.

    GRAINS

    Grain-rich foods like crackers, bread, pasta, and rice will help fill you up. (Don’t stress too much about whole wheat vs. white. As long as you’re eating a grain as a carbohydrate, you’re in good shape.)

    FIBER

    Fruits and vegetables contain a lot of filling fiber. Apples, carrots, and tomatoes are easy go-tos, but even foods like pickles have fiber.

    TRY THIS: 1. Stack slices of pear and cheddar cheese on a wheat cracker. 2. Pile tuna salad on a piece of rye with baby carrots and cucumber slices on the side. 3. Dip apple wedges and mini pretzels in almond butter. Delish!

    9) BLOCK TEXT NECK

    Yes, “text neck” is a thing, and it affects teens more than anyone. You get it from hanging your head to look down at your phone, which can make your head feel up to six times heavier to your neck muscles! To avoid putting too much strain on your neck, hold your phone at eye level.

    (BONUS TIP: It’s also a good practice to make sure your computer screen is at eye level, so your head is upright and you’re looking at the top third of your screen.)

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