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Bet Menen (10) working on homework in the Atrium.

The inevitability of high school stress

The overwhelming weight of sports, relationships and academics on students

Days off, mental breakdowns and indulging in comfort food contribute to the many ways in which high school students deal with overwhelming amounts of stress.  What’s the cause? Pressure from coaches, desires to perform, typical high school drama, tremendous expectations and excessive homework.

Today, high school students are constantly struggling under the weight of anxiety and stress accompanying the unpredictableness of school sports, a social life and academic pressures.  According to an article published by the National Education Association, a Pew survey found that 70 percent of teens say that anxiety is a “major problem.”  Also, when it comes to the pressures students face, academic stress tops the list.

The same survey, concluded by Pew Research Center, reported that 61 percent of teens say that they feel a lot of pressure to get good grades, about 28 percent struggle to fit in socially and around 21 percent feel similarly pressured to excel at extracurriculars and to be good at sports.

Throughout the short, yet seemingly long, four years of high school, students attempt to juggle many demanding responsibilities and their countless extracurricular activities.  These stressors, and more, add to the immense anxiety teenagers experience during their high school educations.

Athletic Stress

Sports can be the highlight of many students’ high school experiences.  They introduce new relationships, time-management skills and improved physical health.  

With all of these benefits and more, high school athletics can also give way to negative aspects, such as stress.  Many student-athletes spend more than 30 hours per week on their sport, according to the NCAA, with extensive in-season travel and before and after school practices that limit sleep.  Managing both athletic and academic demands results in elevated stress, inadequate sleep and an inability to participate in other extracurricular activities.

Student-athletes are committed to late night practices, weeknight games and constant pressures from coaches and parents to perform well.  Alongside the immense time commitment, sports distract athletes from academic responsibilities.

For junior Savanah Cunneen, exhaustion is a frequent distraction during soccer season.  

“The most stressful thing is just balancing all of my school work and also being tired from practices,” Cunneen said.  “I usually have to stay up late completing assignments and then falling into a terrible cycle where I’m just constantly exhausted.”

According to the National Sleep Foundation, teens need about eight to ten hours of sleep each night to function best and, one study found, only 15 percent reported sleeping 8.5 hours on school nights.  These bad habits affect teens’ biological clocks and can hurt the quality of their sleep, which ultimately affects their schoolwork and athletic performance.

With classes ending after 4 p.m., athletes are often practicing after the sun sets and are then having to complete homework and study for upcoming exams late into the night.  Because of this, student-athletes tend to run on very little sleep for entire athletic seasons, which can last up to 4 months, and cause even more stress.

For teenage night owls, this sleep deprivation is cumulative.  Based off of an article published in USA Football, a teenager who gets 7 hours of sleep per school night, which is two or three hours less than the recommendation, will attain at least a 10-hour sleep debt by the end of each week.  Accordingly, teenage athletes cannot expect to succeed athletically or academically when they are sleep deprived.

Also, multiple sports and rigorous course loads can contribute to stress.  

“Last year was probably the worst for me because I also played basketball — which goes from August to October for preseason and then is from October to February — and soccer,” Cunneen said. “I’m also taking difficult courses, including AP and Honors classes, because I think it will be the best use of my time to prepare for college.  However, the physical and mental exhaustion on top of the heavy workload is a lot to do all year around.”

Another difficult aspect of high school athletics is constantly missing class.  Junior Memphis Cutchlow finds this extremely stressful and often takes breaks, even skipping a year of soccer to focus on schoolwork and prioritizing her schedule.

“When I’m not in class I’m not keeping up with the work as well as I would be if I was physically at school,” Cutchlow said.  “So, just being in soccer means there’s a lot of time dedicated to leaving and playing and I just have to make sure that I’m well scheduled and that I have friends take notes for me or send me their notes from classes that I missed.”

Luckily, for RBHS students, teachers are relatively flexible and open to the hectic schedules of their student-athletes.  The Success Center allows students to interact with teachers from all subject matters in an open environment. Likewise, the math tutor room offers extra help in all mathematics courses and provides a space to make up missed tests or quizzes during free periods.

“I think, personally, that Rock Bridge does a good job with helping with the stress,” Cunneen said.  “Because teachers are willing to meet you before school or to work something else out, as long as you are putting in an effort to get your stuff done in a proper and timely fashion.”

Not only do student-athletes apply excessive amounts of pressure on themselves, but coaches and parents can also contribute to a stressful environment where sports can become the priority.  An infographic published by Ohio University states that 30% of those who quit a school sport attributed it to the negative actions of coaches and parents, such as yelling, swearing and name calling.

“Sometimes coaches who value your sport more than they value your schoolwork will make sure that you never miss a practice just so you’re always there,” Cutchlow said.  “But, at the same time, it jeopardizes your schoolwork and contributes to the stress and pressure to do well.”

Social Stress

Many demanding circumstances contribute to the social anxieties that high school students face and are forced to overcome as a result of their relationships and social environment.  Social anxieties, including exclusion from social events, breakups, friend drama, and offensive stereotypes, can add to the stresses of high school.

A survey conducted by a high school student at Prosper High School, studying social and emotional stress, collected a wide variety of opinions about the stresses of relationships formed as a student.  92% of the student body believed that they experienced social stress on a daily basis, emphasizing the vastness of this issue.

An emphasis on popularity can contribute to some of this stress and the priority that kids put on this desire increases as students grow up.  According to Psychology Today, less than 10 percent of children in grades one through four consider popularity more important than friendship.  However, over 25 percent of fifth through eighth graders and over 30 percent of ninth through twelfth graders did. For sophomore Alex Sanderson, one aspect of the social anxiety she experiences is finding that fitting in is difficult and deriving her worth in this popularity can have its downfalls.

“I am new and fitting into friend groups at lunch is honestly super hard,” Sanderson said.  “It’s very overwhelming with all of the people. In class, I can easily find people [to talk to], but at lunch there are so many people and so many options.”

Additionally, Sanderson feels a strong desire to be liked, a common concern and anxiety amongst students.  Many suffering people-pleasers are tortured under peer pressure and the need to be liked in order to be happy.

Teens, as a way to solve all of their high school problems, are constantly trying to be popular or “cool” when, in reality, this longing is the root of all of their stress.

“Social stress is a growing problem in our world,” Genevieve Cunningham said in an article published in The Joint Chiropractic.  “It’s seen the most often in teenagers and young adults. The constant pressure to fit in, an overwhelming sense of anxiety, and continually being accessible [through social media] is turning us into overly stressed and unhealthy human beings.”

Another characteristic of social stress is found in the way students are told to experience high school, either through academics or social activities.  Sophomore William Yoo believes his stress is perceived through the “double standard” of high school life.

“On one hand, there are adults telling us that high school is a time for exploration in the name of self-interest,” Yoo said.  “However, we are also told that having good grades and some idea of the path to our futures figured out is necessary toward the end of our high school careers.”

Yoo finds that he is constantly reminded of the stresses that coincide with a future, which for him, as well as many high school students, is the pursuit of a higher education.  From trying to fit as many extracurriculars into already busy schedules to impress universities, to debilitating debt built up from the expenses of college, high schoolers are no strangers to how stressful managing a sustainable future is.

“As curious young people, the chance to explore our interests is a warm welcome,” Yoo said.  “However, we are pestered by the perpetuating thought of how we are to successfully work towards our futures.”

Finding out where one belongs, whether it be in music, theater or athletics, is a common goal for many high school students.  This can be a difficult task of discovering newfound interests and even fitting in to new friend groups. Although stressful, exploring what makes a student happy in high school is what pays off.

Additionally, an important aspect of solving social stress is using communication to heal healthy relationships and even rid oneself of toxic ones.  Some harmful relationships, whether it be a friendship, boyfriend or girlfriend, deteriorate a teen’s mental state and cause unnecessary strain on their emotional health.

“The constant changing of statuses, critical comments, nonstop comparisons, and gloom and doom media reports are wreaking havoc on our emotional and mental well-being,” Cunningham said, of The Joint Chiropractic. “If you’re feeling overwhelmed in this area [socially], it’s probably a good idea to take a timeout.  This helps to calm our minds and reduce anxiety.”

Academic Stress: Junior Year

Junior year is often considered the most stressful year of high school.  Grades become increasingly more important as GPA’s are sent to universities, standardized testing, such as the ACT and the SAT, fill the months with constant studying, and college applications loom in the near future.

In the junior year of high school, students will make critical decisions that have have the potential to impact the next five years of their lives as lists of colleges and career paths clutter the long nine months.  

In comparison to her previous years of high school, junior Gigi Bouchard constantly stresses over her heavy workload and intensified expectations.

“I feel more overwhelmed because my classes give a lot of homework and class work, which turns into homework if not finished in class,” Bouchard said.  “This has lead to a lot of late nights at Panera and several unfinished assignments due to my lack of sleep.”

Having increased her amount of difficult courses, Bouchard believes junior year has been the toughest because of the numerous college and advanced level classes, such as Anatomy and Physiology and Advanced Placement United States History.  Also, Bouchard balances homework and a job, a commitment she made at the beginning of the school year.

“Junior year is definitely more difficult than my other high school years,” Bouchard said.  “Because I am now having to plan for college as well as this being my first year taking more than one AP [Advanced Placement] class.”

For many juniors, college is always on their minds, whether it be meeting with counselors to discuss future plans or filling out senior year schedules that will meet the requirements of their top college choices.

For junior Clayton Morgan, the idea of an uncertain future, related to college choices, is a constant anxiety.  According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, uncertainty about a possible future threat disrupts the human ability to avoid it or reduce its potential negative impact, and thus results in anxiety.

“College to me is the ultimate goal of my education,” Morgan said.  “Once I get that, I can join the workforce forreal. As of right now, I don’t know where I want to go, and it’s a source of stress in my life.”

Morgan is also taking more difficult courses in his third year of high school, including Advanced Placement United States History and Honors Chemistry.  Alongwith the workloads that accompany these intense classes, Morgan also balances extracurricular activities and a job at HyVee.

Deborah McDonough, the Advanced Placement Language and Composition and Advanced Placement Literature teacher, understands the stress her junior students are under and their post-high school uncertainties, as well.

“There are a lot of different steps that they [juniors] have to go through in order to get prepared to go through the process of applying for college,” McDonough said.  “You have to think about letters of recommendation, seeing what college requirements are, ACT or SAT scores, and, if you’re taking any AP classes, that those scores also are going to go on your transcript.”

As a teacher, McDonough believes the faculty provides many benefits to ease the stress of students undergoing their junior year of high school, such as constant availability for students looking for answers.

“What I’ve found is that kids who get the most stressed out,” McDonough said, “are the kids who’ve waited until the last minute to get all of their letters of recommendation and complete all of the steps toward applying for college.  And so, they have to understand that teachers are available at any time to help them with ‘what do you think I need, can you write me a letter, are there any other things that I should be considering?’ and utilizing the guidance counselors.”

Not only do college applications increase stress for juniors, but so do ACT preparations, as well as studying for other required standardized tests.

“The ACT has definitely added stress because, on top of all of my challenging courses, I also have to think about preparing enough to get a good score on the ACT,” Bouchard said.  “However, because of my time-consuming course load, I haven’t had time to prepare for the last two ACTs which makes me stress even more.”

With her experience with ACT preparation, McDonough believes long-term study plans provide the best results for juniors

“Students have to be diligent enough to spend time at home preparing for it on their own,” McDonough said.  “You can’t wait until the week before the ACT test and expect to do well. I think kids are less stressed if they’re preparing for the test rather than if they don’t.”

Although junior year may be difficult, it is possible to survive it unscathed and full of valuable lessons to apply to later years of schooling.  Study habits, relaxing techniques and time-management skills are just some of the rewards of a long, stressful junior year of high school.

“When I’m stressed with homework and tests, I do my best to take a deep breath and plan out how I’m going to tackle the schoolwork that I have,” Morgan said.  “I’ve found the best way to deal with my stress is to just try and meet the problem head on, go try and deal with it as quickly as possible.”

Also, it’s important to understand what works best for the student.  Looking forward to junior year, planning course loads is critical to surviving the “most difficult year of high school.”

“I recommend planning your junior year schedule by knowing your boundaries and not trying to over-challenge yourself,” Bouchard said.  “It is better to sacrifice taking a challenging class than to sacrifice your overall grades and mental health.”

Preparation is key but, no matter what, survival is certain as long as underclassmen and aspiring juniors know what they’re getting themselves into and experiment with how to remain sane and relaxed.  The only way to get through it, is to study and keep future plans in mind but not as a constant pressure.

“The best way to get through junior year,” Morgan said, “is to figure out what works for you very early on so you’ll be prepared for the difficult material.”

By: Maddie Orr

The path to relieving mental health effects

Mental illness, like depression and anxiety, have increased dramatically since 2013. A report from Blue Cross and Blue Shield says that 2.6 percent of youths ages 12 to 17 were diagnosed with major depression in 2016, a 63 percent increase from the 1.6 percent in 2013. Among young adults aged 18 to 34, 4.4 percent had major depression in 2016, compared to the three percent in 2013.

What has caused these drastic changes in mental health throughout the years? Things like stress from school, work, those around us, and substance usage according to an article published by the National Education Association. Fortunately, there are ways to get through tough times.

During tough times people face different emotions and sometimes they don’t know how to handle them. Different people have different ways on how to handle them, but the general term for self-care is taking time to take care of the mind and body when knowing it has been overworked.

For example, sophomore Genney Zheng tells her routine on how she practices self care and how it helps her physically and mentally. First, she uses a cleanser in the morning and at night to get the dirt and excess oil out of her face. Next, she uses a brightening/balancing toner to even out her skin tone. Lastly, she puts on SPF 30 moisturizer for the morning and hydrating moisturizer for the night.

“My skincare has helped me because my skin has been very clear and healthy,” Zheng said. “ When I feel good about my skin, I am more confident in myself and how I look. For me, taking care of myself is being happy and confident in myself no matter what. Also, looking my best everyday for ME!”

Putting on a face mask can be something enjoyable, especially if you haven’t had time to simply relax. “Skin care is proven to be very calming and the physical act of a facial massage can help lower your heart rate,” says Amy Wechser, M.D, a New York physician who is double-board-certified in dermatology and psychiatry. When someone is depressed or anxious, a routine provides a sense that they have control over their skin, their body, and consequently part of their life. It also delivers solace because by creating a daily ritual, it makes you feel so grounded.

Sometimes not everyone wants to talk about what they’re going through because it may be too personal. There are different ways to release one’s thoughts, for example, journaling can be the person to talk to even if it is just paper. For junior Elena Bonaparte, she keeps a journal where she can just brain dump her thoughts.   

“I have some conditions that make my brain very busy, and writing things helps it quite down.” It could be a doodle to an actual diary entry. “ I think it could help everyone because by writing things down you could see the whole issue in a new light. It gives you time to think about it.”

Journaling helps prioritize problems, fears, and concerns. It also provides an opportunity for positive self-talk and identifying negative thoughts and behaviors.

A study in the journal Psychophysiology had (who were identified as) chronically anxious college students at Michigan State University complete a computer-based task that measured their response accuracy and reaction times. Before the test, about half of the participants wrote about their deepest thought and feelings about an upcoming task for eight minutes while the other half wrote about what they did the day before.

The expressive-writing group performed the task more efficiently. An electroencephalography, or EEG, showed they used fewer brain resources while performing the task. “We thought that if you wrote about your worries, you would offload your worries from your head to the keyboard, reducing the load of worry you are carrying,” lead author Hans Schroder said. By writing every thought out, it leaves the brain only one thing to think about – the task at hand.

Napping can also be helpful for mental health. It can be a way to recharge the mind and body. Body temperature drops, muscles relax, and heart rate and breathing slow. Studies using different methods and populations estimate that sixty-five percent to ninety percent of adult patients with major depression, and about ninety percent of children with this disorder, experience some kind of sleep problem.  There are many benefits from napping, for example, your mood elevates by eleven percent, your mental abilities enhance by nine percent, and physical health is increased by six percent.

Approximately this time last year, Junior Aryana Fotoohighiam explains how she felt the lack of motivation cascade over her. While pulling an all-nighter to study for a final, she took a nap which sent a surge of hope that kept her from crossing insanity. Ever since then, she learned to prioritize self care over her academic career.

“The last few months of school are not mentally strenuous, but also physically tiring,” Fotoohighiam said, “as the drive to complete classwork on time, preparing for finals, along with staying active in extracurricular activities takes a lot of energy and effort. “

Fotoohighiam explains how napping helps her realize that there are more important things than studying.

“In my opinion,” Fotoohighiam said, “self care consists of you doing what you enjoy. It doesn’t necessarily mean new diet or new skin care routine. It means feeling comfortable and happy within yourself.”

As Fotoohighiam said, self care isn’t all face masks and bubble baths. It all depends on the person and what they consider to be relaxing.

For example, exercise can not only improve physical health, but mental health as well. Senior Arden Beard explains that by going outside and taking walks it clears her head. Even the littlest of things can mean something big to others.

“I used to actually run when I got angry because that let all my anger out and it was also beneficial for my health Beard said. I used to be really depressed and suicidal and with these they helped me a lot to remember that I need to be good to myself and love myself. “

Exercise relieves tension and stress, boosts physical and mental energy, and enhances well-being through the release of endorphins. Anything that gets the body moving will help, and it’s a bigger benefit if the mind is focused on what is happening instead of zoning out. Noticing the things around, for example, how feet hit the ground or the rhythm of the breathing, or the feeling of the wind on the skin can interrupt the flow of constant worries running through the head.

Self-care doesn’t always mean spending time alone, it can also mean hanging out with people that brings joy. Senior Otone Sasaki says that by spending time with her family it cheers her up because they listen to her when she has some problems. Self-care to her means realizing who she is and who she wants to be.  

“They give me ideas, then I get to know what are my bad points. I can make sure what my goals are,” Sasaki said, “I can see what my good points are that I can use daily and I can know what my bad points are that I can fix. “

A survey, cited by Forbes, from the American Psychological Association estimated that thirty percent  of Americans increase their social interaction to deal with stress. Just by spending quality time with family, can prevent these stress related health issues and helps avoid unhealthy stress coping mechanisms such as binge eating. By simply spending time with loved ones, mood can increase rapidly.

Self care is super beneficial because it’s a way to recharge and a form of preparation for the upcoming days. It’s also a way to check in and to see what can be changed to become better. “The meaning of taking care of yourself is very subjective and it is only something an individual can define for themselves.” Zheng said.

By: Lupita Arias

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