High Stress of High School
By Lucy Cipriani
The pressure to have a fulfilling high school experience is drastically increasing among students across America. About 8 percent of today’s U.S. teens suffer from some type of diagnosed anxiety disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. From keeping grades up, to playing sports, to participating in extracurriculars, to volunteering, high schoolers are beginning to feel more stressed than any previous generation.
So, why are we more stressed?
Perhaps it is the pressure to maintain a high GPA in order to get into a “good college” or to know exactly what we want to do when we get older. The truth is, it’s difficult to navigate through this fast-paced, perpetually plugged-in society. We are constantly pressured by our parents, teachers, administrators, and peers to be successful. The fear of failure prevents some high schoolers from having a well-rounded high school career.
Sophomore Elsa Dunn explained the ongoing cycle of anxiety she faces on a day-to-day basis.
“After going to school for seven hours, then practice for two hours, then another two hours of homework, I feel really stressed. And if you can’t finish your homework, everything snowballs and you just get more stressed and anxious,” said Dunn.
Many high school students feel similarly to Dunn, and consistently struggle to keep a balanced academic and social life.
A little stress can be good, as it makes us more competitive and motivates us to do more and work harder. However, stress has many effects on the body and mind when it persists over long period of time.
“Elevated levels of stress hormones can degrade the immune system, cause heart problems, exacerbate respiratory and gastrointestinal issues, and bring on chronic anxiety and depression,” according to psychologist Mary Alvord. “That’s bad for anyone, but it can be especially bad for high schoolers.”
Anxiety and stress can also lead to insomnia, changes in mood, lack of motivation, and introverted social behavior. These symptoms take a detrimental toll on students well-being, and often cause more stress to accumulate. In addition, many students improperly manage their anxiety. Drinking, smoking weed, oversleeping, overeating, and pushing issues aside are all unhealthy ways teens cope with the stress of high school.
School counselors and nurses alike have blamed increased amounts of social and academic stress as causes for this surge in anxiety that has not only affected the teens who struggle but school administrators trying to help their students. Administrators witness stress and melancholy among students, and often notice a decline in academic performance and well-being.
Marie McMahon explained what she experiences as a Novato High School guidance counselor.
“Pressure is coming from all angles,” said McMahon. “Our social climate, political situation, combined with grades and pressures from parents makes it really tough. If you don't know how to process the stress and you don't know how to handle it, it can turn into anxiety. Getting into college is also really tough. Our own UC system is a great example. We can’t even get into our own schools. Kids have to try really hard and do really well just to be considered. They are pretty much only accepting students who have over a 4.0.”
There is still hope for us anxious teens. Some helpful ways of handling stress while navigating through high school are to get outside, exercise, meditate, and possibly talk to a professional. In addition to taking action to help yourself, it is important to remember that outside sources like school counselors are available to assist students with stress management.