Top 20 Ways to Stay Zen During the School Year

We were thrilled by the number of unique responses we received to our Summer of Zen Scholarship essay prompt: "What do you do to avoid academic burnout and stay zen?" So many of you shared such stellar tips that we couldn't possibly keep them all to ourselves. 

And so, after carefully reading all 1,000+ entries, we curated this list of top tips for staying zen in high school.  Try to find your tip below!

mountain scene

Don’t let your school supplies stress you out.

“Stress Management: The best way to deter the silent killer is to take away its tools. All of your pens must be blue or green as they are psychologically relaxing and help reduce panic during tests. DON’T USE RED.” –Andy D.

Dance to the beat of your own drum.

“I turn up my bluetooth speaker as loud as it will go and I dance around my bedroom like nobody's watching (and thankfully they aren’t because dancing is not my forte).” –Natalie C.

“When I let go of all my worries and move my body to a beat that takes me on an imaginary adventure, I find zen.” –Sophie Z.

Spend time with animals.

“. . . a chicken trusts in its own instincts and doesn’t worry about what is expected of it. It simply survives. That zen is found in all of nature and I enjoy it most in my chickens.” –Kaitlin M.

“My school, for example, recently added a faculty member: Finn, a therapy dog. I go to the counseling center to play with the stress-relieving puppy whenever I'm overwhelmed.” –Jenna W.

Stay focused on one task at at time...

“Take your work 20 minutes at a time and relax for 5 minutes in between. You're only as tired as you think . . .  Zero in and focus on what you need done.” –Nishee P.

…or jump around from one thing to another to prevent boredom.

“Most [people] I know finish one subject's homework and move on to the next. Not me. Nope. To continue on the path of avoiding academic burnout like the plague I skip around. Maybe I'll do English homework for a bit and move on to math later, who knows? That way I don't lose interest because I keep hopping around. “ –Kylie S.

Take a mini-vacation with a good book. 

“…I turn to books and imaginations to alleviate the burdens. When I read novels, I tend to be brought into the book, forgetting of my own life. As my eyes devour each printed word, a story unfolds and I am an actress playing the main character. I live out the novel and participate in the thrills, surprises, emotions, and obstacles that the author provides.” –Gi Y.

Have an (intellectual) argument.

“To avoid burnout, I like to debate. It sounds counterintuitive, but it helps to get your mind off of whatever you were working on in class and shifts your focus into the competition.” – Rhiannon J.

Take a walk in the park, the mountains, the beach, or your own backyard.

“I love to step outside into my backyard for a few minutes to look up at the stars and admire their beauty. I find it quite amazing that such simple yet complex entities offer a relaxing escape from the realities of life.” – Ellie G.

“I often go to one of the few natural places left in this tourist made city. …there are no thoughts, just calm. The wind there smells like earth, and it picks up the fine sand off the desert floor and brushes against my hair and cheek.” –Danielle B.

“I take inspiration from my childhood, which was filled with seemingly never-ending days spent outside in the sun where I would climb trees explore the nooks and crannies of my backyard.” –Reiko G.

“Making time to do the things that I love doing, like going to the beach, are ways that I can relax and refresh my mind. Having fun is so important because we aren’t meant to live out these high school years as walking zombies.” – Mackenzie R.

don't stop believing in your dreams.

“I've taken my shiny childhood dream off the dusty shelf in my mind, and placed it front and center. Coming to the realization that my efforts are for a greater purpose completely changed my approach in life. Suddenly, each piece of homework is valuable currency, paving my way towards that almighty diploma. But the dream doesn't stop there; the diploma is my ticket to my dream university, and later, a job that I love.” –Lauren H.

“Having specific, accomplishable goals is one of my biggest secrets for not feeling stressed or exhausted. The feeling when I get to mark through a goal is delightful; it often makes me want to complete more. I work on my goals day by day and try not to worry about the next.” – Christina H.

Get your thoughts down on paper.

“…I write anything and everything, from poetry to novels to novellas to even just random letters I'll never send. … I pour myself into paragraphs and prose and allow my mind to be reborn, ready for the next academic challenge I will face.” –Emily P.

“When writing to myself it is my time to see myself as a friend and an advocate instead of an opponent, my time to connect to who I am and want to be.” –Karina D.

Cook a meal or bake a dessert.

“Baking cookies was a great way to make friends my freshmen year and an even better way to stay zen in the rigorous academic environment of high school.” –Olivia J.

"Once I get home I race upstairs, slide on my favorite pajamas, crank up my classic rock playlist, and hop onto Pinterest. After deciding on a delicious and relatively healthy meal, I start cooking. My mom has always said nothing is impossible after a great meal. –Lea Y.

Take time outs. They’re not just for toddlers anymore.

“Saturdays are sacred and as such no work of any kind shall be done for the duration of the day. This sacred day keeps my sanity intact and also motivates me to avoid wasting the weekend on mounds of homework that I procrastinated on.” –Athena S.

“I use a technique known as the Pomodoro Technique in which breaks occur after every twenty-five minutes of work. ... This then motivates me to do more work.” – Ashlee R.

Your break is your own, so spend it doing what you love.

“My cure for the academic burnout is a hardcore dose of gaming. Anyone who says killing post-apocalyptic mutants is bad for children has clearly never tried it as it’s fantastic for stress.” – Natalie R.

Take a warm, relaxing bath (cup of tea optional).

“I like to take baths. … The feeling of the warm water soaking into my bones is just so stress-relieving and allows me to continue to have motivation for my studies.” –Megan T.

“…me, a cup of tea, and a shower. …simply sitting down and drinking my tea in the most secluded and comfortable spot available--the shower floor. You see, this action breaks expectations. No one is supposed to even sit down in a shower, let alone drink tea in there; this is the beauty in breaking a pattern..” –Megan M.

Snack well. Snack often.

 “Four words. Birthday Cake Ice Cream. That's how I stay zen. I eat the ice cream, I feel the party, I find the joy.” –Alexa H.

“Address your requirements before you address the assignment’s requirements. Have you eaten? Food supplies energy and the ability to focus.” –Jaicey W.

Release your inner artist.

“Personally, I find myself the most relaxed when I unleash my creativity. I browse online for projects I want to create. Through this process, I taught myself to crochet scarves and stuff animals, hand-lettering (calligraphy), and jewelry making. ... I like playing with shades of colors, feeling the brush or pencil in my hand and hearing the scratches and tinkling sounds as I manipulate my tools and medium.” –PeiWen X.

“Doing my makeup is the one time of the day where I am an artist, painting a picture of my mood on my eyes, telling a story through my lip color. Not only am I able to reveal my creativity, it also helps me relieve stress.” –Christian P.

Need to put your energy into something productive that isn’t schoolwork? Try cleaning.

“I like to do something most people, in general, loathe: cleaning. Something about it seems so relaxing to me and I don't think about anything. My house does not take a long time to get messy so cleaning is something I can do whenever I want.” –Antara K.

Immerse yourself in music.

“As Elsa put it, sometimes you just got to “let it go.” The way she belts out her notes on the mountain top is something I do anytime I’m stressed out in my room—standing on my bed—singing off key.” –Kimberly F.

“Video game soundtracks keep your brain stimulated while keeping you calm. I wonder what else I could use this for...wait a second. What about studying!?” –Addison L.

Take a breath. Feel the zen.

“Staying zen is a crucial part of education. Let's say that the academic year is a mental marathon. If you overwork yourself, you won't be able to make it to the end in good condition or at all. “ –Alexander C.

“The word "zen" evokes an image in my mind: a person sits on the sandy coastline, watching a mesmerizing sunset and sipping tea.” –Chau N.

“Finally, my last trick to not exploding from school-related stress is to remember 5 by 5 rule. “If it's not going to matter in 5 years, don't spend more than 5 minutes being upset about it.” –Sarah L.