Stress and the college process

Elise Mutty, Staff reporter

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As the college acceptance process gets more and more competitive and measurable success is more highly sought after, teenagers experience seemingly unmanageable stressful situations. High school students are under immense pressure to be involved in school-sponsored extracurricular activities and events, have an exciting and impressive social life, achieve high test scores, and contribute to their families’ and communities’ well-being. Though many sources of anxiety have been studied, such as “helicopter parents” and social media, the truth is that stress, depression, and anxiety disorders, which tend to come hand-in-hand, originate differently for each individual, and some parts of everyday life may be more stressful than others. In order from most to least stressful, teens in a 2008 study listed the following as major stressors: school and grades, financial status, social pressure to be in a relationship, parental expectations, and having a job.

The possibility of failure in any of these areas looms as a relentless presence, causing preoccupation, anxiety, and depression. In addition to mental roadblocks, stress can cause physical chaos, such as migraines, upset stomachs, or eating disorders. These distressing conflicts can have devastating effects, which are becoming more and more common; from 2007 to 2017, the number of patients hospitalized for suicide attempts doubled (Denizet-Lewis, 2017). Students who are stressed often begin to rack up absences from school; the resulting workload only generates more strife.

Anxiety appears in various forms; social anxiety produces feelings of peer judgment and over-criticizing oneself, while separation anxiety focuses on fears of being alone and “irrational” phobias hone in on a single specific stressor. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), although recently recategorized into a different sect of mental illnesses, display some of the same traits as common anxiety disorders.

Stress-related problems don’t disappear after overwrought students leave the busy high school environment. In 2016, 41% of incoming UCLA freshmen “felt overwhelmed” by the expectations and responsibilities of college, compared to 18% in 1985 (Denizet-Lewis, 2017). Often, high schools are unprepared to handle students facing these types of mental disorders, and kids enter college less monitored with greater personal responsibility and with more influential decisions to make with few, if any, coping skills. In underprivileged communities, those responsible for anxious and depressed youths do not have the resources to help alleviate stress. Even worse, schools in these communities cannot identify the problems initially, as kids who misbehave as an outlet for stress are written off as dangerous or aggressive, while those who internalize their pain are praised for their outward orderly manner. In school districts with more resources, the mistaken belief is perpetrated that privileged young people who “have it all” cannot possibly be struggling.

This said, the outlook is not completely bleak for stressed teenagers. Health professionals have examined the topic and diagnosed areas of significant risk. While some stress is natural for life and it is important to learn effective and healthy schedule management and coping skills, many teens inefficiently manage their busy lives, which results in breakdowns. Experts advise kids to keep some time in their routines for unhurried, ungraded recreation, which can help them relax and remain emotionally stable. Other important, oft-neglected factors in keeping stress manageable are sleep, exercise, and regular meals. All of the aforementioned keep young adults physically healthy and mentally prepared to deal with stressors. Young people can succeed in high school and embark on fulfilling lives having learned in their formative years the skills they need to survive stressful situations.




Sources: Adolescent stress through the eyes of high-risk teens by Judith W. Herman of the University of Delaware and another author

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