Pressured students seek serenity
Between two AP classes, standard test preparation, leading an on-campus club, and competing in fencing competitions on the weekends, junior Erika Wong is often stressed, just like many high school students with time-consuming commitments.
“I am preparing for the ACT, and that’s definitely added a little bit onto my workload,” Wong said. “I have tutoring and as practice I get homework for it. On top of all of the homework I have for school, it is a lot to do.”
Sending in college applications also causes stress for seniors, according to senior Georgia Ellis.
“College is a huge source of stress for me,” Ellis said. “Sending test scores to colleges and hitting submit buttons is really stressful because it is out of your hands and you have no more control over it.”
Extracurricular activities, like Wong’s fencing commitment, add to stress by limiting time available for school work.
“I definitely feel stressed during a week when there are a whole ton of tests piled on top of each other,” Wong said. “I have been having a lot of [fencing] competitions over the weekend, so I don’t have that much time.”
Every high school student has probably felt stressed at some point, although “stressed” may be the wrong word.
“There is a difference between being stressed and being busy,” counselor Annie Egan said. “The treatment for being busy is so different and often times that is what people are dealing with.”
Confusion between being stressed and being busy can make the symptoms difficult to treat, according to Egan.
“Stress is an easier word to use because it is so common,” Egan said. “It’s almost a self-fulfilling prophecy that you are supposed to be ‘stressed’ in high school.”
“There is a difference between being stressed and being busy.”
The term is associated with a lack of control over an issue — a difference from being busy, according to Egan.
“Waiting on a group project and waiting for your teammates to participate is stressful because you can’t control when they get their work in,” Egan said. “This is very different than having a list of eight things to do and feeling like ‘Oh my gosh, I am really busy.’”
Although few people enjoy feeling stressed, it can actually be useful for performing academically, according to Egan.
“There is a sweet spot of anxiety for testing,” Egan said. “You want a little bit of anxiety so you perform, but as soon as you get to the other side, you find yourself freezing.”
“Flooding,” freezing up or blanking on information, can occur during tests or stressful situations.
“When you are stressed, your amygdala is on high alert,” Egan said. “That is not your functioning brain — it is your fight or flight brain. That is where testing anxiety comes into play, people get flooded and what you need to do is turn off your amygdala is and get your frontal cortex working again.”
It is those small amounts of stress that has allowed humans to survive.
“The amygdala is what would allow you to see the danger in caveman times,” Egan said. “It is what would allow you to slam on your breaks when you are driving, you are not thinking, you automatically slam on the breaks.”
Common stressors in students, typically upperclassmen, are higher-level courses such as honors and Advanced Placement classes.
“Taking honors and AP courses is definitely a lot more stressful than regular courses,” Wong said. “The two AP classes that I am taking, AP Biology and AP Computers, are both topics that I am really interested in, so it’s not too difficult.”
Egan says making lists, keeping calendars and other methods of organization can alleviate stress.
“The fewer things you have to remember in your head, the easier it is to function,” Egan said. “That continual dialogue of ‘What is it that I am supposed to do tonight,’ is inherently stressful. If you simply wrote it down, you wouldn’t have to think about it anymore.”
Being able to see the bigger picture and knowing what to and what not to feel stressed over is also very important when trying to manage stress levels.
“Existential moments of the bigger picture take those things that feel like the end-all be-all of the world and just puts them into place,” Egan said.
Other activities, such as physical activity and getting outdoors, also prove to be very effective methods of calming nerves, according to Ellis.
“Going for a walk with my dog is really nice,” Ellis said. “Just doing things that get me out of my own head keep me active are really helpful.”
Personal interests such as crafting or playing an instrument can also be a good way to relax, Wong said.
“I like to crochet and I have found that really helps destress me and calm my nerves,” Wong said. “If I ever come home from a really stressful day and I can’t do anymore work, I will go for a run and that is also really relieving.”
High school academic decisions typically do not have as large of an impact on students’ later lives as they would think, according to Egan.
“It is helpful to remember that there is a bigger picture of the world,” Egan said. “Emotional choices and relationship choices are the things people look back on.”