How to Break Out of Your Shell at School

Guest article for Teen Vogue by Dr. Carol 

Moving to a new state and starting over at a new school sounds exhilarating — until you realize it’s time to socialize with a whole new group. With so many changes, acclimatizing to college may seem more difficult than your advanced calculus class. But remember: Everyone is feeling the same way as you — some students are just easier at hiding it, Dr. Carol Langlois, a teen and youth culture expert and author of Girl Talk: Boys, Bullies and Body Image, tells Teen Vogue. With that in mind, use these tips to help you break out of your shell so college is no sweat.

Sleep tight

Yes, eight hours of shut-eye is definitely your ticket to staying awake during class, but it also presents an opportunity to begin a new slate and help manage those night-before jitters.

“Set yourself up for success before you go to bed. Have your alarm set to play your favorite song so you wake up in a comfortable space. Or, have a photo of you and your best friends by the bed that you can look at first thing in the morning. I’d rather wake up looking at that instead of a bunch of schoolbooks sprawled across the floor,” Dr. Carol says.

Similarly, anything that reminds you that you are talented, valued, and loved creates the same effect. Dig up any trophies or special ribbons and splay them across your night table.

Start your morning off on the right foot

Yes, breakfast is definitely a must, but overnight oats aren’t going to do you any good if your mind isn’t in the right place.

Dr. Carol suggests practicing positive thinking for three to five minutes before you get out of bed (that does not include scrolling through Instagram!). Keep your eyes closed and remain calm, breathing in and out.

“Tell yourself ‘Today is going to be a good day. I am going to have fun with my friends. School is going to be okay,’ and so forth,” she says. “You have to consistently manage the negative attitude, get out of bed with a clear head, and start the day in a positive space, or at least move in that direction.”

Don’t overanalyze

Think about all those times you tried to rehearse what you’d say out loud, only to beat yourself up after it came out wrong, or someone spoke over you and you missed your chance. Conversations that flow organically breed deeper bonds.

“I know this may sound strange, but don’t think too much. Stop constantly second-guessing, questioning, and wondering. I know blocking out the negative can be exhausting, but what’s the alternative? Being depressed, sad, or angry? Think of all the energy you waste dwelling on those feelings,” Dr. Carol says.

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Why Sleep Rituals are Important for Teens.

Can’t fall asleep?images

Sometimes it’s hard for teens to wind down by the end of the day. Between school, sports,
tutors, friends and homework—their brains are constantly on overdrive. No wonder many teens complain of waking up tired in the AM. They aren’t getting the proper rest they need. Think about it. People teach us how to drive, how to cook, how to study…so why don’t people teach us how to sleep?  The solution is a sleep ritual.

Here are a few tips to help you sleep.

  1. Limit your screen time.  Not just at night, but during the day.  Opt for going outside, reading, or relaxing without a smart phone or tablet near by. It helps your brain wind down.
  2. An hour before bed, begin what I like to call the “sleep ritual”.  Put away all school books, notebooks, homework, etc., and pack your backpack for the next day. Then, put the bag out of sight, ready for the morning.
  3. Shut all computers, smart phones, and video games off.  The key here is no bright lights distracting you.
  4. Pull down your bed covers, then lower the lights in your room. This triggers your brain that sleep is coming. (*Low music is optional.)
  5. Take a warm shower in low light or no light. Slow down your mind in the shower by breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. Focus on your breathe.  The warm water helps produce oxytocin, which help us relax and preps us for sleep.
  6. After the shower, keep your eyes cast downward. This limits the visual distractions that cue your brain to be active again. After leaving the shower, so straight to your room.  Do not interact with family, or get distracted by sounds.
  7. Once you enter your room, shut off the low light (and music if it’s not on a timer) and go to bed. Chances are you will fall a sleep faster and sleep more soundly.

Facts/Tips

1) Watching tv in bed is the worse! It doesn’t trigger sleep and inevitably you will keep waking up when the actions on the screen shift in volume.  This disrupts your entire sleep cycle.

2) We sleep best in cool environments. So, if you have a habit of keeping socks on before bed or loading on the covers, think about changing that habit. Chances are you kick off the socks in the night and wake up from being over heated.  Open a window as well.

3) Drink a glass of water before bead. It hydrates the brain and helps with it’s “self-cleaning” process. You will wake up more rested.

4) If you are a light sleeper, sleep with ear plugs. The average person wakes up far more during the night than they realize.  Just because you can’t remember waking up, doesn’t mean that you didn’t.

Is Your Teen too Emotional? She May Just Need More Sleep.

Trust me, I’m not trying to disregard the very real mood swings, hormonal  shifts or menstrual effects that happen during the teen years. But, not getting enough sleep can exacerbate any and all of these conditions. The average teen gets roughly 5 hours of sleep nightly during a school week. That’s just not enough. The human body is still growing and the brain still forming until age 25. Sleep plays a vital part in the growth of a healthy body and mind. Many teens try to make up for this sleep deprivation on the weekends by sleeping those two days away, but that doesn’t really balance things out.

I started thinking about teens and sleep after interviewing a 16-year-old girl at one of the high schools in San Francisco. She was extremely emotional throughout the interview even when discussing non-emotional issues. She became teary-eyed every time she spoke. Even if I made the conversation light hearted and joked, she still had watery eyes. This was all a bit extreme, even for a 16-year-old girl.  So, I asked her if she’s always this emotional and she said “pretty much.” Finally, she said something that clicked during our conversation. She said that she was stressed and exhausted all the time. So, I asked her how much sleep she gets a night. She said, probably 3 or 4 hours. I told her that may be the problem or at least part of her problem. Not getting enough sleep can make anyone irritable and more emotional. Just ask any new mom or graduate students trying to complete a thesis. Small spurts of relief on the weekends, just doesn’t repair the system fully. Next time your teen seems a bit moody or irritable, first ask her if she’s sleeping enough. The average teen should be getting between 8 and 9 hours of sleep nightly for peak health. Check in with your teen on her sleep habits from time to time. Help teach healthy sleep patterns and encourage them to get to bed at a consistent time nightly.