Peer to Peer Program Helps 8th Graders With Stress and Anxiety

Upper Schoolers were back in the Middle School this week, this time helping their 8th grade classmates understand stress and anxiety.

Discussion centered around defining stress and anxiety, managing the expectations of themselves, their parents and teachers, and other students, strategies to handle stress, and learning how to know if help is needed. Mentor Estephanie Estrada ’21 said, “Being a mentor means using the mistakes that I have made and teaching it to these younger kids, but also sharing what has worked along the way.”

Stress and anxiety happen to just about everyone, the mentors explained, and stress isn’t always negative. Positive stress includes things that you’re looking forward to and keeps you feeling alive and energized. It can be motivating to get things done, and a warning system when something is actually wrong. In fact, some amount of stress keeps the immune system healthier. Too much stress, though, can take a toll on mental and physical health, can cause a lack of attention and motivation, and can make it hard to fall or stay asleep. Mentor Gretel Wurdack ’21 said, “Middle school can be a tough time because everyone is trying to figure out friendships and find themselves too, so if I can help them at all, I love to give it a try.”

Learning how to manage stress is key, along with understanding when to get help and where to go. The mentors shared stories and discussed situations where they wish they had not stressed so much when they were in the Middle School. They encouraged the 8th graders to contribute to the conversation by sharing their own stories and healthy coping mechanisms. Advisories all had some common stressors: homework, assessments, family, friends, sports…and life in general. There is a lot going on in a Middle Schooler’s world! The key is to recognize when stress moves to anxiety and how to safely cope with it. Mentors shared some great tips: planning ahead so you don’t get behind from the start, surrounding yourself with positive people, positively reframe your mindset going into a test, and set your own goals instead of basing them off what others are doing. They also talked about what to do if students are worried about themselves or a friend, and who to talk to. We have an abundance of great resources here at MICDS, including teachers, counselors, learning specialists, nurses and of course our Upper School mentors. Upper Schoolers also stressed that talking to parents is perhaps the best option. “I hope that this program brings a sense of reassurance to them,” Mentor Simrin Phatak ’21 said, “and remind them that there are always people here to help whenever they need it.

Mentors shared that, looking back, they wished they hadn’t placed so much emphasis on grades, and recognized that they put pressure on themselves unnecessarily. They also talked about how to deal with friends who increase anxiety.

The topic of stress and anxiety evolved after the first year of the Peer to Peer program. Mentors asked 7th graders last year what topics they wanted to cover, and the largest response was for stress and anxiety. “We are a high achieving school,” said Vicki Thurman, Director of Student Services and faculty moderator for Peer to Peer. “Students are in a mix with a lot of other high achievers who come from high achieving families. This can make students feel anxious at times.”

Many thanks to our wonderful team of Upper School Peer to Peer mentors for making such a difference in the lives of their Middle School friends yet again!