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School-related stress is getting out of control

Updated: Dec 7, 2022

Art by Ivy Klein

17 overdue assignments on Schoology. 39 upcoming. 4 tests to study for in the same week. Extracurriculars that should be fun but are now just draining study time. It all piles up and soon you’re drowning in it. Over the past couple of months, I’ve been struggling with stress over all my assignments and tests. And although at first I thought I was the only one, I started talking to my friends about it and found that they, too, were being equally drained by all their classes.

My friends and I have had several conversations about wanting to be able to hang out, but almost all of these conversations have ended with “but I have to study for [blank],” or “I have a bunch of [blank] homework.”

I thought maybe it was poor time management skills, on my part and on that of my friends, but even my most productive friends seemed to be in a constant panicked haze. It just didn't add up – so I sent out a survey asking students at ERHS about their levels of stress in terms of academics.

Although, of course, at this juncture in our lives our education should be one of the most important things we have to deal with, this feels like too much. It’s obviously implied that our education should be our main focus in life (or at least one of them) – we’re already spending the majority of every weekday at school. Sure, spending a couple hours on homework after school is reasonable, but the majority of people being forced to spend 70% of their personal time on homework, schoolwork, etc. is overkill. Even with the lowest response at 40%, that’s almost half of a student’s home time.

We know that we need to prioritize schoolwork. But when prioritizing schoolwork becomes detrimental to our mental health, it’s gone way too far. Even if you’re happily typing away at your English essay, or having a jolly good time writing nuclear equations, you should never be held hostage by all the due dates on Schoology.

Again, the numbers are alarming. Although it’s good to see that some people are on the lower range, the majority of responses still landed at 8 and 9. Of course, it’s inevitable that some of us procrastinate, and get stressed because of our own poor time management. But speaking from experience (and these numbers), it’s clear that this is not just a procrastination issue.

Once again, the numbers are in the higher range. If school is meant to help us through this stage of our lives, why is it that most students are very stressed most of the time? Being stressed on occasion about a final or a big art project is reasonable. But being stressed 90% of the time? Maybe I’m making this up, but that doesn’t really feel right.

I asked some fellow students to talk about their personal experiences with stress. One student mentioned the stress of a new school, specifically 7th grade. “After 6 years of breezing through elementary school, I was thrown headfirst into real academic workload,” they wrote. Furthering the shocking change between elementary years and junior high, they talked about the workload that had suddenly made their life miserable. “I felt like a failure; not only was I letting down everyone that believed in me, but I was letting down the little elementary school girl who truly believed that she could have the best middle school experience while making her parents proud.” This experience brings to light the lack of resources that elementary schoolers shifting to middle school are given. The amount of homework we suddenly had to deal with as well as the vast campus that felt like a whole city in comparison to what we had been previously used to were insanely scary, an immersion no 12-year-old is prepared for.

Another student that responded to this survey spoke about a situation in which they experienced social stress, something we all have to deal with at school along with the heavy academic workload we’re often given. This student didn’t know anyone in the situation, and felt aggression directed towards them, which affected them even after, making it so that “I had trouble getting sentences out, could feel my heart pounding, and couldn’t steady my breathing.” Social stress can be just as detrimental as academic stress, and often one might affect the other. Healthy relationships become more difficult to maintain when we spend all of our time on homework, and people being aggressive or rude can affect one’s ability to do their work, worsening stress altogether.

“Stress makes it really hard to function sometimes; when I’m really stressed I tend to forget to eat and sleep and I can’t stop moving around,” says one student. “Stress is such a huge component for my anxiety and causes a big negative effect on my mental health, especially academically-caused stress,” says another. Based on all the responses I’ve received, stress is a large component in a lot of students’ lives. Even though these students talked about being able to find breaks in their workloads and patterns of stress, it should still not be a norm for students to automatically stress about school.

One student highlighted the lack of information we receive on how to study. “Teachers literally just tell you to study for tests, they don’t tell you what the most efficient way is [or] how to remember everything you learn.” I hadn’t thought about it before, but it’s true. Tests and quizzes have a lot to do with passing a class, and we’re hardly ever told how to prepare for them.

The most scary thing about stress is that although it can seem like it goes away with the click of a submit button or the final stroke of a paintbrush, there are lasting effects. According to an article for Youth Today, too much stress during one’s developmental years “can affect developing brain circuits so that the stress response system becomes either overly reactive or slow to shut down.” And, along with interfering with an adolescent’s skills in decision-making and planning, too much stress can even cause changes in neutral facial expressions so that they might look mad or disgruntled.

Furthermore, according to the American Psychological Association, long-term or chronic stress can lead to “high blood pressure, weaken the immune system, and contribute to diseases such as obesity and heart disease.”

Overall, although it’s common knowledge that school-related stress is a shared privilege we all get to enjoy, the intensity of stress coupled with the average time it takes up in our lives is not something that should be considered acceptable. And stressing over schoolwork may feel like something unworthy of a good vent or a good cry but in reality it’s really hard because we have to face the uncomfortable truth that it will indeed affect our future. It’s an unspoken pressure that bad things will definitely happen if we don’t do our homework. Grades are emphasized as the most important things in our lives. But in truth it is a completely valid reason to be upset. Venting to someone about how much homework you have is not at all a bad thing, and might even help you.

And, of course, I’m not trying to undermine the importance of education, nor am I trying to illustrate it as some great inconvenience, because we are so lucky to be able to go to school. I am so grateful to be at ERHS. I’m just trying to bring to light that we should not be forced to shut out our family and friends in order to keep our grades up.

So, if you’re feeling stressed about schoolwork – or anything, for that matter – you are not alone. Try to have a group study session with some friends who all have a class in common, talk to a school counselor, email a teacher asking for an extension. Although there’s no permanent solution to all the homework and tests you may have to juggle every week, try to breathe and stay in the moment. Take everything one step at a time and do your best not to worry about assignments until you’re actually doing them.

So, finally, three closing remarks:

  1. Don’t forget to take breaks

  2. You’re doing great

  3. You got this!

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1 Comment

Reda Rountree
Reda Rountree
Dec 05, 2022

Really grateful to you for writing this article — I’m seeing this a lot with students and also families in general as this semester winds down. I also think the stress of the pandemic and concerns about student safety (lockdowns, shooting incident) have really worn everyone out and have stress levels at an all-time high. I can’t emphasize enough your last paragraph and closing remarks! ❤️

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