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Marvin Ridge dives into stress with Community Read Day

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WAXHAW – Marvin Ridge High School knows stress is a significant part of a teenager’s life.

The school wanted to open up a conversation through its annual Community Read Day that seeking help for their anxiety is OK.Community Read Day

Since 2008, English teacher Lindsey Arant has worked with a committee to select a book for students that contains central themes deemed important to students. On Community Read Day, students discuss the book’s themes in each of their classes and participate in an assembly to create an open dialogue about the themes.

Arant said she wanted to find an alternative to monotonous summer reading assignments that often result in negative grades while also building a strong sense of school community.

The school has delved into themes from “The Boy In the Striped Pajamas,” as well as books about the Middle East.

Marvin Ridge Media Coordinator Carren Heartley said the committee wanted to make Community Read Day more relevant to the students and something they could relate to.

Committee members realized many students experience significant pressure from their school, parents and peers to overachieve and enter into a competition of “best” post-high school endeavors.

“It’s a fact that teenagers are more under stress than adults are because they don’t have the control over their lives, but they are less likely to realize it and to get help,” Heartley said.

This year, the school looked at “The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids” by Alexandra Robbins as the starting point for conversation.

“I think (the committee) found is that kids are so stressed out,” PTSO President Mary Asbury said. “There is so much stress for kids to be overachievers in sports, to be overachievers to be going to the best college. Marvin Ridge is a place where parents push for kids to be overachievers.”

The school wanted to bring in experts of adolescent stress to talk about advantageous ways to deal with stress opposed to using drugs, she added.

Marvin Ridge invited psychologist Ryan Livingston, counselor Kate Penny and clinician Abby Thayer, of the Carolinas HealthCare System Behavioral Health Center, to talk to students about the pressures Generation Z faces, the stress and mental health issues they cause and healthy ways to deal them.

Generation Z, those born in 1995 or later, will constitute 40 percent of all U.S. consumers, so Thayer believes the community needs to start paying attention to their needs now. This generation has more concerns about debt and what’s going on in the world, which could lead to increased anxiety and depression, she told students on March 24.

Forty-five percent of about 600 Marvin Ridge students said they stress “every day, all day,” with grades, the future and money being the majority of triggers.

The majority of those students said they feel like they “somewhat” manage their stress or “not at all.”

Asbury was stunned students labeled money as a large stress trigger, but she wonders if the area’s affluent culture makes teens feel they have to keep up appearance, even when their family life could tell a different story.

She also was surprised sports was among students’ triggers, particularly as Penny suggested exercise as a way to decrease stress, but she acknowledges that Marvin Ridge boasts teams that achieve state and regional recognition.

“I would imagine that a lot of the athletes feel that stress,” Asbury said. “They’ve got to keep up that tradition of being the winning school in Union County and in our conference and in our state.”

Heartley said she hopes the students take away ways to identify that the need assistance managing their stress, as well as not have a negative connotation to receiving help.

“They need to know that they’re not alone and to realize their other peers are probably going through the same thing,” Heartley said.

Asbury said she hopes this event could be a jumping off point for Union County Public Schools to sponsor a program to deal with the negative ways students deal with stress, such as drug and alcohol abuse.

Ways to cut down stress

Kate Penny, a counselor with Carolinas HealthCare System Behavioral Health Center, provided some tips and tricks to cutting down anxiety and stress:

Deep breathing
Meditation Apps
Talking with a friend
Seeing a therapist (which could be acquired through Skyping or FaceTiming)