If you’re a senior in the throes of college applications, you’re probably feeling a lot of pressure. The more stress you feel, the more your productivity and effectiveness suffer, right at the time that you need your best work to surface. Here’s how to get back on track, according to Shawn Achor, a Harvard psychologist and the author of The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work.
First, Achor says that when you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed, the quickest way to recover is to actually put those feelings into words. Talk about them with a friend, or even write them in a journal. I will admit that I rolled my eyes a little at that suggestion (did I really need a book to tell me that talking it out is a good thing?), but he presents some pretty compelling brain science to back up why it’s so useful to get your feelings out.
Next, Achor recommends that you recognize which parts of your situation are actually in your control, then relentlessly focus there. Don’t try to solve your entire problem, just pick one part that you can fix and fix it. The more progress you make, the better you’ll feel and the better work you’ll produce.
So, back to you seniors. Deadlines are looming. The pressure is on. Don’t bottle up that stress. Talk to your friends who are still diligently working away on their applications. Or spend ten minutes just putting those feelings into words.
Then, focus on what you can control. You can't change the deadlines. You can't change the grade you got in Spanish sophomore year, the fact that your friend got into AP US history and you didn't, or the reality that you didn't start your applications as early as you should have. Those are out of your control now, so ignore them. Instead, focus on one small application project. Write one essay, or fill out one application. Celebrate your small win and move on to the next item.
Remember, though, the first step won’t work if you don’t follow it with the second step. If you spend more time over the next three weeks complaining about your situation than you do working to fix it, your balance is out of whack. Share your stresses, but then get back to work on one piece and keep making progress.
And parents, you have an important role here. If your student talks about her stress, listen to her. Be a kind and encouraging ear. And as each item gets checked off the application to-do list, celebrate the small win before you ask how the rest of the work is going.