How Academic Stress Affects Young Individuals


Teens reported that their stress levels during the school year far exceeded what they believe to be healthy, and topped adults’ average reported stress levels. Many students who take their academics very seriously find themselves consumed by stress as they try to juggle school and home life. School administrators and teachers often don’t provide reassurance to these students, requiring them to make tight deadlines while hitting them with tests and quizzes every week. It’s vital to examine what contributes to student stress levels in order to combat and reduce them, allowing teens to lift the pressures of life that weigh them down.

In recent surveys, more than 75% of teenagers say school is a major source of stress. Pressure can come from parents, feedback from teachers and mentors, large amounts of standardized tests, a desire to get into a good university, or a highly competitive culture in general. Whatever the source, teenagers worry a lot about their GPA, and chronic stress can negatively impact their mental and physical health. If we look at college students, we notice that their stress is more complexly composed. They have to worry about grades, money, food and finding a job after college. It’s rather alarming that many high school students go through similar stress patterns as college students considering that they are in different academic stages in their life. A student at Shaker High School, Aditri Gupta, shared her experience as a very involved student. “I probably felt the most stress around college app time. Senior year is when we take the most APs and I feel like teachers weren’t understanding when it came to test difficulty and deadlines. When I was submitting my college apps I did not get good nights of sleep. I was so exhausted all the time.” Many teens are young active individuals committed to countless activities because they care for their future. You can argue, “well don’t commit to so many things if you’re overwhelmed.”The reality is that most of these teens actually love what they do and take part in these extracurriculars because they want to pursue a future doing similar things. They do this at the cost of their mental and physical health. 

“I definitely was able to manage my time better in college because I took less classes. Yes, I was stressed, yes, I was overwhelmed at times, but I definitely had way more time in college to get organized. I was for sure more happy in college than high school”, says Iman Ahmed, a college student at RPI. If we compare both levels of schooling, it’s more probable for high schoolers to develop stress than college students. The College Board has eliminated the SAT subject tests, putting more academic pressure on students to get high grades. But it’s truly not just the presence of rigorous schooling that makes young people stressed. It is the other things that they have to deal with at the same time. If we consider the pandemic, many teens were forced to stay in homes where they may have been facing abuse of any kind. A study from US news stated, “A pediatrician who was not involved in the new research suspects COVID-19 and pandemic-related stresses created a “perfect storm” for abuse.” Those who already hated their life at home were now forced to stay there most hours with no escape. This added to increased academic pressure can really take a toll on young individuals. Our life outside of school truly affects us. “Some kids were definitely more stressed than me in high school. I had friends who worked everyday because their parents couldn’t afford college tuition. It’s sad what so many people have to go through.” says Iman.

Although we are considered adults at age 18, our brains are proven to fully mature at age 25. From a study at Touro University, “Stress can kill brain cells and even reduce the size of the brain.” When teens are experiencing high levels of stress at such a young age, our brains can actually be affected greatly. The study also states “While stress can shrink the prefrontal cortex, it can increase the size of the amygdala, which can make the brain more receptive to stress.” If our brain is affected before it is even developed fully, long term stress and negative effects on mental health will be probable. “If I had to rank my stress levels throughout school, medical school would be first, then high school, then college”, says Valeid Sheikh, a medical school student at NYIT. The fact that for many, high school has caused more stress for students than in college displays the lack of awareness many high schools have about the environments they provide for teens. “I think the problem is that a lot of kids get a lot of work in high school but at the same time, aren’t taught how to manage their time. Teachers give huge projects that are to be turned in months knowing that their students won’t start them a couple days before. They should split up these projects and make the deadlines shorter with less work due.” Teens are often lost in high school with all their responsibilities and commitments and are not receiving much help from teachers causing them copious amounts of stress.

It’s important for counselors and teachers to first notice the signs of any type of stress in their students. Whether it’s a change in behavior, a sudden decline in grades, or just acting out of the ordinary, administrators should take the liberty of going to their students and providing them with support. Schools should also be enforcing the importance of sleep, exercise and healthy eating habits so that teenage brains can grow to their full potential. While high school is when we academically and socially flourish, it’s also when we grow, and teens deserve a healthy place for that.

With academic standards always shifting, teens are the first affected. There’s this false narrative that most teens only care about superficial things like social media, popularity, and relationships. But, many want to grow into someone doing what they love. If we continue dismissing the stress level of students we will halt those who have goals and want to pursue their dreams.