Seventy three percent of teachers consider school and teen life far more stressful for students compared to the previous decade, and 89 percent believe that excessive classroom assignments and testing are the main cause for high teen anxiety according to a poll of 804 teachers conducted by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers in the United Kingdom. During the teen years, adolescents experience newfound responsibility, which can be a lot to handle. Many teens load up on difficult classes and extracurricular activities in order to be competitive for college.
“I’m more lethargic, it’s hard for my brain to process things and I start forgetting things because I have so much on my mind that things just slip from it,” senior Madeline Yentsch said. “It affects me emotionally too because I get more sad and upset about things because I think that I’m not working as hard as I could. I’m trying to do my best, but I feel like everything I do is not my best, and I could do better than that.”
Many teens react similarly to stress. According to a study by the American Psychological Association, 40 percent of teens report feeling irritable or angry, 36 percent report feeling nervous or anxious and around 30 percent report feeling overwhelmed, depressed or sad as a result of stress.
“I don’t sleep, I’m tired all the time and I’m never hungry,” senior Alex Bortey said. “I can’t think straight and I can’t concentrate. There is also a small level of paranoia that my grades are always going to be bad and that I’m never going to get anything done on time. It’s a little scary.”
Having a high level of stress can affect how one goes about one’s day-to-day life.
“[High school students] are under con- stant pressure to do well in school and still stay [involved] in everything,” senior Jacob Fowler said.
This overload of responsibility can become especially prevalent during senior year, when students start the process of submitting college applications and preparing for life after high school.
“Since I’m a senior, [I’m stressed out about] college applications and teachers giving a lot of school work,” Yentsch said. “I have auditions coming up [for] dance programs at colleges, so I’m working on that. Trying to balance school work, extracurricular activities and college applications gets really stressful.”
Other seniors blamed school and the activities surrounding it for their stress as well.
“[The pressure to get into a good college] has made me work harder, and made me get more stressed. I guess those things coincide,” senior John Atwater said. “The harder you work, the less sleep you’ll get and the more stressed you’ll be.”
Sometimes, students feel obligated to take classes just to be competitive for college, not necessarily because they really care about that certain subject.
“It’s really competitive in high school, and colleges really look at the letter grade and your course rigor, so if you take harder classes and you do very well in them, then colleges see that and they really expect that, and they think it’s really cool,” Atwater said. “That’s why I take really hard classes even if I’m not interested in that subject.”
Because admissions are becoming more competitive, many students find it necessary to take as many difficult classes as possible.
“When I was in school, UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State didn’t have such hard admission requirements where they wanted to see students taking that many AP courses, so I think it was a lot of stress for students, but not nearly as stressful as it is for students now,” guidance counselor Ciera Dixon said.
The pressures to get into college have changed over the last 20 years, and the percentage of students applying to college has grown tremendously. According to The New York Times, since 1994, the percent of Americans accepted into Harvard has dropped 27 percent, and many colleges nationwide have started accepting more international students.
“Because collegiate entrance is more competitive than it used to be, I think that a lot of folks are putting a lot more stress on themselves to get what they think they need to get into a college,” science teacher Victoria Raymond said.
This pressure to do well in classes and get into college can put a strain on students that can affect their minds and bodies.
“I’ll stay up late trying to finish homework, and then I’ll sleep during school because I stayed up late, and it’s just a vicious cycle,” freshman Connor Lewis said.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, teens need about nine and a quarter hours of sleep to function at their best, but one study reported that only 15 percent of teens sleep even eight and a half hours per night. This lack of sleep can take a major toll.
“It makes the days go by [slower], and it makes the week seem like a month because there is so much going on and I’m so busy,” Yentsch said. Although stress has become customary in the lives of most teens, many have found ways to control and minimize it.
“Last year I was really stressed out, but I got a tutor who helped me get all my schoolwork in line and do my homework and understand the study guides before tests,” senior Ellie Frost said. “I keep a planner and I write everything out so I know when everything is going to be due. I study for things and I make flash cards.”
Frost had another word of advice for students dealing with the stress of school work, and encourages people to remember that grades aren’t everything.
“I know grades are really important to people, and it seems like it’s a really big deal, but you just have to be patient and work hard,” Frost said. “Even if you get a super bad grade and it brings your grade down, you have time in the semester to bring it back up. One bad grade isn’t going to ruin you for the year.”
– By Becca Heilman and Lilli Hoffman