Bipolar disorder Mental health Youth mental health

Student-to-student: Tips for managing school stress for teens with bipolar disorder

teenagers at school

It’s straight talk about the realities of back to school from students, for students.

The team at Sunnybrook’s Centre for Youth Bipolar Disorder asked some teens in the clinic for their suggestions on how they manage back to school season and prepare for the return to the classroom.  Here’s what they had to say:

What has the return to school been like for you from an emotional perspective?

It can be a bit scary sometimes to go back to a place filled with not-so-good memories. But it becomes easier when I focus on what’s ahead as opposed to what’s behind. There’s always something to look forward to, whether it’s seeing old friends, meeting new ones or just learning something new.”

After working full time this summer, I am excited about returning to school because I look forward to reuniting with my university friends, resuming club activities, and overall grow as a person as I transition into adulthood.”

How do you prepare for the return to school?

“I make sure to build a daily routine before the school year even begins! This includes fixing my sleep schedule before classes start and exercising at regular times throughout the week so I can keep the momentum going into the new school year.”

“I just remind myself of everything that has helped me in the past. It’s reassuring to know that I’ve dealt with this before and I have a plan.”

“A week before the fall semester starts, I typically will set alarm for 8 am to get my body used to getting up at an early time and begin a structured routine that I will experience for the school year. I find this to be extremely beneficial in terms of health and academic achievement. Aside from reading past lecture materials, I use the last week to mentally prepare for the year to come and engage in relaxing activities. “

What advice do you have for other students who are starting the school year, or for students’ in their first year at university, college or away from home?

“Find out if your school or university/college has any support services or accommodations!”

“Take advantage of your school’s accessibility services! As a student with a permanent disability, you may be eligible for a reduced tuition fee if you wish to take fewer than a full course load (e.g. less than five courses per semester), extra time and a private room when writing tests, a note-taking service if you are unable to attend classes, and assignment extensions.”

“Starting post-secondary is a difficult milestone for anyone. It’s important to remember that everyone around you is experiencing the same challenges. However, maintaining a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, and time management skills are imperative for a good school year. Although spending time with friends is important, prioritize school work first and try to maintain a healthy balance between social life and academics. Do not be afraid to take a reduced course load or take your time. Go at your own pace whether it may be faster or slower. It is important to listen to yourself and your body during this time as only you know what is best for yourself. There will be points in the year where you will be stressed and frustrated, just know those feelings are normal and keep imagining the future you are working towards to remind yourself what all of your hard work is for.”

Is there anything else you would like to add?

“As a student, it can be easy to think that school is the number one priority. It’s not uncommon for a student to sacrifice sleep in order to study. That’s not an option for me anymore, and in a way, it forces me to prioritize my health. The problem-solving tools and self-care practices that I use to cope with stress can be used by any student.”

“Please have a balanced lifestyle! When you’re in school, it’s easy to get preoccupied with your studies only and neglect exercise, extra-curricular activities, and socializing with friends. In reality, it might be the activities outside of classes that will allow you to de-stress and actually become productive in the long run without burnout.”


Written by teen patients from the Centre for Youth Bipolar Disorder

Learn more: Back to School Tips for Students with Bipolar Disorder from the Centre for Youth Bipolar Disorder

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Centre For Youth Bipolar Disorder

Sunnybrook's Centre for Youth Bipolar Disorder seeks to improve outcomes for teenagers with bipolar disorder through treatment, research, education & advocacy.