Youth ACT! Perspectives on Back-To-School Stress

Author: Quincy Koster

As students all over the country head back to school after months of being physically separated from friends, teachers, classmates, and coaches, it’s only natural for young folks to feel a little hesitant as they face the start of a new school year this fall.

At A Call To Men, we know one of the most important facets of the work we do is to support and empower the next generation of change-makers. We asked a few of the inspiring young leaders from this year’s Youth ACT! cohort to share their perspectives on tackling back-to-school anxiety, finding and using their voices for good, and their advice for the year ahead. Here’s what they had to say:

How do you practice self-care during stressful times?

Azul: My self care looks like playing my guitar, watching TV shows, and running with my dog. Self-care is super personal. We often see self care as something that’s being sold, when it’s really something that you need to do yourself. That healing starts with you, and that self-care starts with you – it doesn’t come from Bath and Body Works or from shopping. Community care and self care also go hand in hand – the difference is that you help others as you’re helping yourself, too.

Leora: Self-care, to me, is spending time alone. I deeply value my solitude, and I’ve come to understand that being alone doesn’t necessarily mean you are lonely. When I am having a stressful time, I do my best to limit any factors that will further overwhelm me including social media, being around a lot of people, and work. Taking time to be in my own space with my thoughts is so important to me. Life moves so fast sometimes, and it can be very hard to keep up – stepping aside once in a while to just breathe and be is so valuable. There are days where the stress is just too unbearable and I would rather spend my hours in bed, this is expected; we are only human after all. Nonetheless, I always say “don’t neglect yourself.” If I am having a bad day, I let myself have the bad day – but I try to remind myself that I am worthy of fuel and movement. Remembering to drink water or even taking my dog out for a short walk may seem like small tasks, but can turn my day into something beautiful.

Jasmin: When I’m really stressed, I love working on diamond paintings. They’re paintings in which you stick beads to their corresponding number on a sticky canvas. While some might think it’s tedious, I love putting hours of effort into a project and seeing the final outcome. Additionally, I rely heavily on my planner to keep track of everything I need to do, so I can prevent myself from being overwhelmed.

Jordan: During stressful times, I practice self-care by taking small actions to help boost my mood. Sometimes it’s as simple as taking a walk for 15 minutes and leaving my phone at home. Or sometimes, if I have to stay inside for whatever reason, I’ll leave my phone in a separate room for a little while so I can disconnect. I will also make a cup of tea and listen to music that I love. Another thing I do is write about how I’m feeling – it could be a journal entry or a poem or a song. It feels really good to get your thoughts and experiences out and channel them into something creative.

What’s one piece of advice you’d offer to current and future students?

Azul: Put yourself first before anything, make sure you’re comfortable in spaces, if you’re not, don’t ignore that. Make sure you are communicating with your parents, counselors and teachers as well. Because that communication makes a connection that is unbreakable.

Jasmin: One piece of advice I would give current and future students is to make bonds and connections! Friends last a lifetime, so become acquainted with someone new, because you never know how well you guys can connect if you never try. Additionally, become friends with your teachers and professors because they could be amazing resources to reference or reach out to in the future. The whole world is connected; therefore, making connections will give you countless opportunities, perspectives, and memories.

Jordan: Don’t equate your self worth with how well you do on a test or an assignment – you are so much more than how you do in school.

Leora: One piece of advice I’d offer to current and future students is to cherish and nurture your relationship with yourself first. As students who are growing and learning to navigate society, we are always told to make connections and establish relationships that will benefit us. The most important connection you have is the one with yourself, so why not spend time developing it? I believe that when you are secure and certain of yourself, you will naturally begin to see relationships in your life flourish. So, spend time with yourself and try new things. Don’t take things too seriously, just have fun and learn something!

What is helping (or has helped) you thrive in high school?

Azul: Finding my passion by exploring different electives has helped me thrive.

Leora: Something that helped me thrive in high school was taking the time to find my niche. High school can seem like a complicated and scary part of your life, but it doesn’t have to be. The way I see it, everyone around you is also figuring out their interests, passions, and life goals – all the while exploring themselves and others. The trick is to keep an open mind until you find something that sticks. Try everything. Join clubs and take weird classes if you can, go on trips, and seek out mentors. I had absolutely no idea who I wanted to be or what I wanted to do – which is understandable because I was 15 – but the pressure to have it all figured out was still there. I started looking at high school as a learning experience rather than something to always achieve in. This is when I found my niche, discovered my passions, and learned so much about myself. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Not knowing and admitting to not knowing, are not signs of weakness, they are strengths.

Jasmin: My simple answer is my motivation. I love being able to say I put my best foot forward towards everything I do. I’m a go-getter, and whenever I’m given an interesting opportunity, I take it. This motivation has helped me be in the 1% of my class ranking and have the largest resume amongst all my peers. Furthermore, along my journey to success, I inspire others along the way and that’s the most satisfying experience. I love helping others and being able to do so through my efforts is enough to continue striving for more.

Jordan: Finding friends who fully accepted me and supported me no matter what really helped me thrive because I always had a solid base to return to. Also, academically, using a planner really helped me to stay organized.

What are you looking forward to about going back to school?

Azul: I am looking forward to the new environment and the awesome opportunities that I will encounter, and also that character development.

Jasmin: I’m most excited to actually see my friends, peers, and teachers in person again. I’m a very extroverted person and I feel at ease when I am around people. Additionally, I’m really excited to go back to school as the new and changed person I am! Not only have I been working on having a positive and inclusive mindset, but I’ve also been working on my sense of style and I want to showcase it! Overall, I’m really excited for my senior year and can’t wait to leave my mark on my school and other people.

Jordan: I love the fall weather! Also, despite whatever pressures school brings (which can be a lot), I try to remind myself that I do really enjoy learning and getting the opportunity to explore so many topics in depth.

Leora: I am looking forward to seeing my college campus for the first time! I’m also very excited (although slightly nervous) to finally meet my professors and other students that I’ve only ever interacted with over a screen. I am glad that NYC is taking proper steps to ensure everyone can return to school safely. I don’t anticipate things will be the same as before Covid, but I know that we are a community of resilience and perseverance. I can’t wait to step out of the F train, get a whiff of the (polluted) morning air and walk down the street to school where other students are settling into the building with coffees and bacon egg N cheeses in hand.

What does #HealthyManhood look like to you?

Azul: #HealthyManhood is being respectful to yourself and others.

Jasmin: To me, #HealthyManhood looks like an environment where men aren’t afraid to not satisfy the expectations society wants them to meet. Men are reluctant to show emotion, weakness, and failure because they don’t want to be called girl-like or not good enough. Creating healthy manhood will not only get rid of these fears that men face, but also allow men to express who they truly are. Change starts now, and we have to start letting men know it’s okay to be unique and express themselves the way they want to.

Leora: To me, #HealthyManhood means accountability and healing. It means a world where men and boys are taught to be emotional, caring, empathetic, and kind. #HealthyManhood to me means dismantling the patriarchy and creating a culture of healing and growth where men and boys can defer to women and girls instead of overpowering them. Healthy Manhood looks like a world where violence against women and girls does not exist and those who are in the margins of the margins are safe and loved. Healthy Manhood also looks like accountability and emotional reflection among men and boys; a culture of holding each other accountable and learning from our mistakes. Healthy Manhood looks like a world where we can dismantle social constructs of gender and freely express our humanity.

Jordan: #HealthyManhood looks like taking responsibility for your actions and engaging in deep self-reflection as to why you have felt the need to act or be a certain way. It means learning how to really, truly, and thoughtfully listen to others. It also means finding the courage to have difficult or uncomfortable (but also exciting and liberating) conversations with the men in your life about masculinity. It looks like speaking up and saying something is wrong when you know it is. Lastly, I feel like it looks like freeing yourself from the rigidity of what we have been taught a man is supposed to be like–it’s staying true to yourself whether it aligns with what the dominant culture deems as manly or not.


If you know a young leader committed to helping dismantle sexism and racism in their family, school, or community, be sure to reserve them a seat in A Call to Men’s upcoming Youth Training Institute. This free 3-hour session provides in-depth training and education to help young folks create meaningful impact in their work and allyship practice. Join us for this free workshop — October 20, 2021 from 5:30 – 8:30 p.m. ET.

If you’re an educator looking for additional resources to support the young people in your life, download our free Live Respect curriculum for gender equity and violence prevention (designed for grades 6-12).

For more perspectives from today’s young leaders, be sure to follow Youth ACT! on Instagram.