The fall season brings a minor but welcome drop in temperature to our area, but it also brings an unwelcome anxiety spike for many high school students.

In recent conversations with a couple of our professional partners, we shared our observations that more students seem to be experiencing higher levels of anxiety this fall than in previous years.

It’s no wonder that high school seniors, in particular, exhibit signs of increased stress. After all, they are preparing for a big life change in moving from a familiar high school campus to the adult world. Other factors contribute to pressures piling up on these students, and unfortunately, some worries, such as the nuances triggered by their social relationships, aren’t completely within parents’ and teachers’ ability to resolve.

But what can adults who care about our stressed-out students do to alleviate some of those other pressure points?

Consulting with my friendly experts, we drew up a list of frequent stress triggers and tips for helping students and their families cope during the senior stress season and emerge in good health—physically, mentally and emotionally.

1. Recognize that pressure, often inadvertent, comes from parents, peers, counselors, teachers and even students’ expectations of themselves. Parents can lighten the pressure by actively encouraging and empowering students through the process.

2. Watch for red flags in behaviors that signal help is needed for students in these and similar situations: a student from a high-achieving family who’s afraid he’ll “let down” his family if he isn’t accepted into the “right” college; a student who fears her university-bound friends will leave her behind if she goes to technical college; and the student who’s not sleeping because he’s working a part-time job, volunteering in the community and trying to earn top grades to qualify for a scholarship.

3. Be mindful of and help your student prepare for deadlines. The college application deadline was Nov. 1 for the University of Florida and Florida State University. Upcoming deadlines are Nov. 15 and Jan. 1 for other colleges, and some, including State College of Florida and University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, have rolling admission. The application period opened Oct. 1 for FAFSA and Bright Futures Scholarships—both important sources of free funds for postsecondary education, and no funds will be awarded if the student doesn’t apply.

4. Assist with completing complex applications. The college admission process has grown more complex, time-consuming and individualized per institution. There is no “one” template that can be used for every application, and it is easy to be denied admission because a custom requirement was overlooked. Parents who don’t feel qualified to provide direct assistance can direct their students to resources at schools, such as the Student Success Centers at Riverview High School and North Port High School, the College Resource Center at Booker High School or the Rotary Futures Center at Venice High School just to name a few.

5. Help students focus and prioritize postsecondary options. It’s tempting to say, “The world is your oyster” and advise a young adult to explore all opportunities. But it takes a lot of time to complete applications for college, job training programs, financial aid and scholarships, and the senior year of high school is when students need to zero in on short lists. By talking with students, parents can help them figure out what’s most important for their postsecondary education. If college is their choice, what will make a certain college a good fit? Academic reputation? Social life? Size of campus? Internships? Study-abroad programs?

6. Most importantly, keep open the lines of communication. Students are vulnerable to internalizing stress until anxiety builds to unhealthy levels and they shut down. Parents can increase their students’ self-confidence with encouraging assurances such as: “I know you’re giving it your best.” “We’re here for you.” “You’ve got this.” “Just breathe.”

For additional information on tips and checklists, visit

Special acknowledgment to Peni Riedinger and Debra Landesberg for contributing to this article.