How to Deal with High School Stress

By Sage Mcbee

The Pigeon Press (Portland, Oregon)

It was late on a Thursday night. Anders Larson was wide awake, anxiously anticipating the SAT score that would soon appear on his computer screen. Sitting in his dark bedroom, he clicked refresh again and again, but to no avail. Larson could barely hide his anxiety. His fingers tapped, his face was clammy and the deep pit in his stomach seemed to grow wider and wider. Although he could feel his exhaustion increasing by the minute, getting a good night sleep was the last thing on his mind.

“This was the test that I believed would dictate the rest of my life,” Larson said. “Naturally, I was nervous beyond belief.”

Larson ended up getting about two hours of sleep that night, not falling asleep until about four in the morning. His SAT scores were never posted. It was not until that next day that he realized the scores were not being posted until that following night. Already exhausted, Larson could already feel his anxious feelings reforming; his stress was back yet again, with a vengeance.

High school is an extremely stressful time for all teenagers to go through, no matter what school they attend or what they enjoy studying. According to a survey done by the American Psychological Association, almost a third of teens report feeling varying degrees of depression due to their stress, while more than a third report feeling constantly fatigued and tired. In addition, the survey suggests that teen stress climbs even higher than that of adult during the summer.

High school stress is not surprising due to a constant stream of responsibilities and challenges such as homework, social lives, families and college, but it is concerning. According to another survey by USA Today, the “extreme stress” that more than a quarter of teens say they experience during the school year manifests in several ways: Some find it very difficult to balance out their activities and obligations, leading to neglected responsibilities; some teens experience short tempers with classmates and adults, becoming irritable and having a shorter attention span; and many teens report very irregular sleeping habits.

Emma Hirsch, a senior, decided on Monday to change the question the angle of her thesis topic, a paper due only three days later. To her, this sudden change felt like she was starting completely over from scratch and it caused her an extreme amount of anxiety.

“My heart was pounding, my head was spinning,” she said. “I am not someone who usually procrastinates, but I got so stressed thinking about the ton of work I had to do, I put it off. I felt like I had to.”

As in Hirsch’s situation, extreme stress can feel difficult, if not impossible, to overcome. Many other students at Northwest Academy report procrastinating on their school assignments simply because they do not want to think about them.

Malcolm Terry, a sophomore, says he finds the hardest part about doing big projects to convincing himself to start doing work in the first place.

“There are a lot of big steps involved that make it seem hard to begin,” he said. “Once I begin rolling it’s okay, but the real trick is convincing myself to start working. It just seems like such a daunting task.”

While it may seem like the easiest way out at the time, procrastination is never a permanent or beneficial solution. After putting off one piece of homework, it can be very easy to do the same thing again and again until a lot of work has piled up, at which point one’s stress level can go out of control.

This is where learning how to best manage one’s stress comes into play.

Caitlin Gibb, student counselor at Northwest Academy, says that if students are able to identify where their stress comes from, it can help them to figure out strategies to keep their anxiety from overwhelming them in the first place. Gibb is skilled at talking students through this process and encourages students to come see her if they need help.

“[My goal is to] help students understand and cope with the inevitable stress and anxiety that life brings in healthy ways,” Gibb said.

In addition, Gibb says, maintaining a healthy balance of varied activities can be a great stress prevention technique. If one is spending all of their time focusing on schoolwork, for example, the stresses that go along with that activity can begin to feel larger and scarier than they are in reality.

“School, play, social time, exercise, all these activities are equally important,” Gibb says.

However, sometimes stress simply is not preventable. In order to manage these anxious thoughts and feelings, Gibb implores students to find their “grounding activities,” enjoyable, relaxing things they can do induce a feeling of calm and make it easier to put things in perspective.

“Some common ones are drawing, reading, listening to music talking, to a good friend, stretching, getting outside and exercise,” she said.

After all, stress is not always a bad thing. If we never felt anxious, it’s likely being irresponsible and leaving work incomplete would feel much more acceptable. The important thing is to learn to harness that stress and not let it control us.

After thinking over her new thesis ideas for one day, Hirsch was able to do just that. The very next day she wrote up an outline for her thesis and made a plan of when to get each part done. She stuck to her schedule, she took breaks intermittently to keep from getting overwhelmed and she found some of her grounding activities: getting a drink of water, petting her two dogs and listening to her favorite music.

“I got everything I needed to done,” she said. “I took a step back and realized, ‘Yes, this is hard. But you know what? I’m completely capable.’”

Featured photo: trizoultro

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