Letter to Students: Address Levels of Stress

Dominic Briske, Guest Writer

Dear NHS Students:

With a serious lack of sleep, decreased self esteem, and a strong sense of anxiety, students in America are not suffering from some sort of mental illness, but are being crushed under the stifling stress of schooling. Jacquie Lee, an author at NPR, tells the story of a freshman at Marblehead High School in Massachusetts; Gaby, who has been consumed by school stress with all of the activities she participates in daily, struggles with stress on a recurring basis. In addition to all of her required courses that she is enrolled in, she is running for class president, is part of the women’s right awareness group, runs a government club called Junior State of America, and helps out at the school’s rotary club. This abundance of activities has led Gaby to be diagnosed with chronic stomach pain, which her doctor has linked to excessive stress. In the past years, high school stress has been spreading like an epidemic among students because of school/parental pressure to get into a reputable college, the difficulty of balancing work and school, and examination/deadline pressures.

The first reason students are more stressed than usual in high school is because school teachers and parents are pressuring them to do exceptional in school so they can get into a prestigious college and improve their portfolio for when they go into their field as a college graduate. In a study conducted by the National Center for Educational Statistics including about 740 total schools in the United states finds that, “Over the last 19 years, average credits earned by graduates increased by more than three credits, from 23.6 credits in 1990 to 27.2 in 2009 … 2009 graduates received over 400 hours more of instructional time” But this upturn in grit comes at a price in the form of stress; juggling more credits comes with more homework and more expectations to retain a sound student record. In an article published by Jaime Budzienski discussing parental/academic pressure on students states that College acceptance has become a big source of student fear and anxiety. With colleges restricting their acceptance criteria, parents are pushing their children harder to hopefully meet these extra expectations. While parents may feel that they are helping their child to succeed more by making them challenge themselves, they may be doing more harm than good in that they are overextending their child’s  effort and schedule flexibility. It is important to remember that stress, in moderation, can be extremely helpful to a student’s overall productivity and performance, but when students are pressured by parents or teachers to do better, it can lead to an excessive, unhealthy amount of stress.

Some may argue that school stress works as a strong motivator for students to do better in school; after all, if you had no stress in failing a class, then where does the motivation to do good come from? This claim can be compared to the economic law of diminishing returns, in which after a certain point investments stop bringing profit and adding more will not help any further. Though stress in moderation can motivate a student, after a certain point it will no longer prove beneficial. To reference the previously mentioned story of Gaby, although she was highly motivated to do well by her stress, she was also physically harmed by it, thieving from the benefits of her academic success.

Correspondingly, students are also stressed by the task of balancing a part-time job and schoolwork. Evidence taken from newsok.com, presenting a statistic from the most recent US census states, “More than 1 in 4 high school students age 16 and older work. That’s more than 3 million workers nationwide” Having to come home and immediately go to work leaves little to no time at all to complete homework which leads to falling grades and more stress. Again from newsok.com discussing student work within their family covers how many students work for what they want rather than what they need, while others have to work in order to support their families; this means paying bills and purchasing essentials to live. When students are told that they need to work to keep their family afloat, it can bring light upon a looming fear of homelessness and poverty that can darken their lives; always having to consider if you will have a home in a week, or if you will be able to eat is a significant source of stress. The burden of school and work can be a battle between attention within a student’s mind and lead to a great amount of stress; dual responsibilities can often lead to a dual source of stress, both inside and outside of school.

Coupled with parental/instructional pressure and a balance with school and work, students are also being stressed by exams and pressure from deadlines. In reference to an article discussing the psychology of procrastination published by Pamela Wiegartz PhD., an author and psychologist, “While the reasons for procrastination may vary, the results are often the same-a seemingly endless cycle of anxiety, avoidance, and shame. Nothing gets done, and you can’t enjoy anything with that guilt hanging over your head … You can never really relax because there is always something else you should be doing. Procrastination doesn’t work because avoidance doesn’t erase anxiety-it just delays it” It is a very prominent property of the human psyche that a student may really want to complete an assignment and get it out of the way, but no matter how hard they try, cannot bring themselves to do it. As a consequence of this, we like to make up excuses for why we cannot get to something at the moment and then we justify them in our head and cement that we will do it later. According to an article discussing teen test anxiety edited by adolescent psychologist and author D’Arcy Lyness PhD, test anxiety and other comparable anxiety disorders are similar in that they both have potential to lead to a cycle which causes paranoia, self esteem issues, and distracting thoughts. This will almost certainly cause the student to do worse on exams. If a student performs poorly on a test and receives a less than satisfactory grade, that creates another source of stress in the form of parental disappointment or punishment. Both test anxiety and chronic procrastination are results of the human nature of predicting or questioning what will happen next and the natural avoidance of bad feelings; this can often be one of the main contributors to assignment related stress.

As a result of instructional and parental pressure to do well in school, the juggling act of holding up a job while also participating in school, and the constant pressures of procrastination and upcoming deadlines, stress among students has spread like a blazing wildfire in high schools across the nation. With a considerable influx of credits taken by high students, teens working to support themselves or even their families, and fear of encroaching deadlines and exams, there is absolutely no wonder why students in America are overly stressed. So please, whether it is simple undertakings such as creating a schedule to help with time management, trying to develop new and better sleeping habits, or changing personal standards to be more appropriate for what is realistic, try to break bad habits, try to break the monotony, try to break for change.


Dominic Briske, freshman