Six Steps to Help Students Overcome Being Overwhelmed


Believe it or not, today's young adults are overwhelmed. Dr. Tim Elmore shares six action steps parents and leaders can take to help kids manage their stress.

One of the clear signs of being overwhelmed or stressed is forgetfulness. We tend to forget basic items when our minds are preoccupied with data, angst or expectations.

Historically, research has equated forgetfulness with old age. In fact, when someone forgets or misplaces something, they admit to having a “senior moment.” But a new survey tells a different story.

A Trending Machine National Poll found that Millennials, ages 18-34 are, in fact, much more likely than those 55 or older to forget everyday things:

  • What day it is (Youth are twice as likely)
  • Where they put their keys (Youth are 40% more likely)
  • Forget to bring their lunch  (Youth are three times more likely)
  • Believe it or not…take a shower (Youth are three times more likely)

What’s behind all this? Therapist Patricia Gutentag says, “Stress often leads to forgetfulness, depression and poor judgment. We find higher rates of ADHD diagnosis in young adults. This is a population that has grown up multitasking using technology, often compounded by lack of sleep, all of which results in high levels of forgetfulness.” (Huffington Post)

Believe it or not, our young adults today are overwhelmed.

It’s interesting to note that the number one word college students use to describe their life is the word: “overwhelmed.” Approximately 94% of students say they are overwhelmed with life. 44% say they are so overwhelmed it’s difficult to function. And nearly one in ten admitted that they’ve thought about suicide in the past year.

Six Leadership Steps You Can Take

This is basic—but to lead a population of overwhelmed students, we can practice six action steps with them:

1. Simplify

Help them sort out their priorities and separate their “have to do’s” from their “want to do’s.” Often, they get these confused. Next, help them to simplify their complex agenda into a manageable amount of items. Help them say “no.”

2. Clarify

Help them to sort out what their vision is; ask questions to enable them to recognize what’s really important, so they can be about that business. I often tell students: you can do anything but you can’t do everything. Help them prioritize.

3. Demystify

Sometimes, kids assume it is impossible to meet all the expectations others have of them. I suppose this could be true for some—but most students simply need a mentor to help them remove their fears and assumptions of what’s feasible.

4. Intensify

Perhaps you’ll need to introduce them to an old-fashioned method for preventing stress: a to-do list. Show them how to list all the actions they must perform, then position them on the list in the proper order, pursuing the top 20% first.

5. Gamify

This one works well with students, especially males. Turn the priorities that must be achieved into a game. They can be timed or scored with points and transformed into a competition. This enables the “work” to feel like play.

6. Rectify

Students need to know they cannot be disillusioned unless they are first “illusioned.” This means, we must reject unrealistic expectations (illusions) of life always being easy, quick or fun. We must help students rectify their faulty expectations of life.

As you teach and invest in young people—you’ll likely need to help them navigate this emotional challenge.

What else can we do to equip them?

Most of you who read this blog are familiar with the challenges of teaching, coaching or parenting this emerging generation of students, the ones born since 1990 that I call Generation iY. Adults must be more intentional than ever about cultivating life skills and emotional intelligence in these “screenagers” today. Most of what you’ll read on these young adults is negative—in magazines, journals and nationwide surveys.

However—it’s easy to forget the incredible “upside” to these students. They possess characteristics, based on the culture they’ve grown up in, that we can capitalize on, enabling them to become incredible adults as they mature. I just spoke about these at Kansas State University to staff and coaches: 

1. They feel special and are confident.

This research has remained constant for over a decade. Young people from Gen Y enter school and sports with a confidence that reflects how they’ve been affirmed by mom and dad. 86% of high school students believe the next “Bill Gates” is in their generation; 51% believe they “know” the next Bill Gates; 24% believe they “are” the next Bill Gates. Receiving trophies and ribbons throughout childhood and being praised by family has enabled many to be bold and audacious in their dreaming. We must help them align their strengths with those dreams and take wise risks.

2. They are social and love operating in community.

The average high school student is disconnected from friends only one hour in a 24- hour day. Many sleep and even shower with their cell phones—they love staying in touch. Half of teens today show up high “I” on the DISC profile. They see themselves as a social generation that can multi-task, text and communicate with others; they’re the new TGIF Generation, except theirs is about: Twitter, Google, Instagram and Facebook. Their native tongue: social media. We must help them use these amazing skills for redemptive purposes and prevent them from being overwhelmed by it all.

3. They are tech savvy and intuitive with portable devices.

Pew Research tells us that teens would rather give up their “pinky finger” than their cell phone. They put technology in the same category as “air and water.” It’s like an appendage to their body. In the Land of Tomorrow, we are the “immigrant” and they are the “native.” They will learn more from a portable device than a classroom. We all know—technology isn’t going away. So, we must enable them to control it rather than vice versa and learn to utilize it well, as they pursue their mission in life.

4. They love family and want to create it wherever they go.

This one has remained constant over ten years of research. Teens continue to love family and want to “create family” in their college experience, their jobs and on their teams. In one annual nationwide high school survey, high school students were asked the question: Who is your hero? For the first time in years, they did not list an athlete at the top of the list. Number one was mom and dad. Number two was grandma and grandpa. In response, we do well to create a sense of trust and support as we put them to work and guide them as mentors.

5. They are aware of their influence and want to use it.

Young adults in Generation iY have grown up in a world where they know that one of their tweets could go viral; one of their YouTube posts could go viral; one of their blogs could go viral…you get the picture. This is a new day where one touch of a screen or button can send a message to thousands. Receiving Likes, Comments, Retweets and Views is the new currency. Influence is a conscious thing. So, we must help them channel that influence into places that result in positive outcomes.

I get excited about the possibilities for their future. Are you ready to lead them?

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