Press "Enter" to skip to content

The Effects of Unhealthy Stress Taking a Toll on the Success of Students

As education develops and strengthens towards young students, so does the expectation to achieve greatness even through enduring high levels of unhealthy stress. Throughout a student’s day, a teenager has to balance their school, social, family life, and everything in between. It can be difficult for a growing mind to juggle the stress that life brings to the table. Planning for the future on top of trying to create memories with the little time they have left in high school can intensify teen stress. Every teenager processes stress differently and goes through different situations depending on how they were raised, how social they are in school, expectations on grades through family, their plans for the future, and so much more. Regardless, most teenagers go through stress daily at different levels. With increased stress, mentality can decrease which can lead to unhealthy habits and negative emotions. Without a good mindset and working habits, it can be incredibly difficult to maintain good grades, extracurriculars, college prep, social life, quality family time and so many other necessities a student must uphold. A student can easily lose the drive to excel; causing work to pile up and bad habits to be set early on in a student’s life. With this increased stress, some serious health issues can occur. A student that strives to excel in school is put at risk higher than ever before due to added workload expectations. 

At higher-ranked schools; both private and public, the expectations are set so high for students that it is almost unachievable to maintain a social life, extracurricular activities, and high academic standards all at once while still living a healthy lifestyle. Even activities that had previously been used to help relieve a student’s stress  have instead grown to do the exact opposite, as the expectation a student has for greatness has recently grown from more than just academics to hobbies as well as talents. “Even activities that once were stress-reducers, like playing a musical instrument or a sport, have become a means to an end, that end being a spot at one of the country’s most competitive colleges and then on to a prestigious, high-paying career.” (Jennifer Breheny Wallace from the Washington post.)  Schools seek those students who not only have good grades, Sat scores, and GPA but students who are involved with different clubs, sports, and community service. This adds to a student’s agenda to achieve higher goals for themselves getting into college. A student cannot simply rely on their academic ability in today’s world but have to show they are present in their school, community, and hobbies. Harvard will not just accept a child due to their stellar math grade but more because they are actively engaging with various sports, clubs, and community service hours. “Facing record-low acceptance rates at top colleges, many students feel tremendous pressure to achieve and résumé-build in all aspects of their young lives.” (Jennifer Breheny Wallace from the Washington post.)  There are only 24 hours in a day and what is being asked of these students is an overestimation of what a child can complete healthily. 

Many students whose goals are based on their academic ability have developed the mindset that without good grades they lose self-worth. Students are dependent on success, without receiving the conditioning of taking failure as a learning curve and not a complete loss to their agenda. The expectations of greatness presented to these individuals through parents as well as teachers create an intensified fear of failure as they are very commonly only appreciated through their successes, instead of who they are as a person. With this stress comes other mental health issues like depression and anxiety that can end up pushing students to lose motivation, develop a bad work ethic, procrastinate, and motivate them to act out through substances and other destructive behaviors. “When a child’s sense of self-worth is dependent on what they achieve, it can lead to anxiety and depression. Anxiety can come from worrying about keeping up with or outshining peers, while depression can be caused by a failure to achieve.” (Jennifer Breheny Wallace from the Washington Post.) Students need to realize that getting into an Ivy League school is a very difficult goal to achieve and should be appointed with a safe backup plan. If denied, a student should not focus on or take the denial as a failure but as an opportunity to grow and explore a different plan. Yet, the denial of such a big goal that students had been focused on achieving for years is taken extremely to heart due to the pressure they have endured to meet the expectations of those around them. They take their dream school as their only way of ultimate success and a relief from the expectations that have been pushed on them to succeed. 

Higher-ranking schools are so focused on the success of their students that they do not realize the intense pressure they are putting on students is doing more bad than good for their mental health. “Luthar’s studies have found that adolescents in high-achieving schools can suffer significantly higher rates of anxiety, depression, substance abuse and delinquent behaviors, at least two to three times the national average.”(As cited by, Jennifer Breheny Wallace from the Washington post.)  Every student is different in their mindsets and motivation to achieve success. A well-organized high-achieving student is so focused on meeting standards that they forget to take care of themselves and prioritize their well-being. Schools should be dedicated to their students’ mindsets and motivation as well as their academic growth. “In a recent national survey of 43,000 students from high-performing schools by Challenge Success, a research-based organization affiliated with Stanford University, three-quarters of high school students and half of middle school students reported “often or always feeling stressed” by their schoolwork.”(As cited by Jennifer Breheny Wallace from the Washington Post.) Instead of simply inflicting pressure of doing better in classes to their students, schools can instead focus on their students’ mental health and direct them on a steady path to success. Schools can do this by only presenting homework on weekdays and allowing students to decompress over the weekends and vacations, giving optional extra credit assignments to allow students to improve their grades, and even meeting with students before and after school for extra help to make sure students who are struggling can retain information and not fall behind. These are just a couple of examples of how schools can be better and work for their students. The list of things schools can do to help with student’s stress levels and to assist in managing stress goes on. By simply working to understand students and their capabilities, schools can improve their education to be more open and beneficial to a student’s mental health. 

Parents are also a source of unhealthy stress for teens. “Adolescents today perceive parents to be more expectant about academic achievement than past generations. They’re shouldering a more rigorous course load, according to transcript studies from the National Center for Education Statistics. “(Gail Cornwall from NH PBS) With the high expectations parents create for their children, children become dependent on academic validation. When a child does poorly in an assignment or extracurricular activity their parents show high disappointment causing the child to feel as if they are not enough in the eyes of their parents. This causes children to experience an increased amount of stress as they push themselves for success in their grades and goals. One failing assignment causes a student to worry more about what kind of trouble they will be faced with when they arrive home instead of what they can do better next time to improve their grade. Parents need to understand that their child is going to make mistakes, and instead of punishing their kid, they should instead try their best to get extra help for their child and increase their understanding of failing material. “Middle-class parents who see their kids swimming against a financial current think they must sprint like Michael Phelps in the butterfly race just to stay in the middle class. “(Gail Cornwall from NH PBS)  Every parent wants the best for their child’s future. It is the way a parent motivates their child to achieve excellence that can either make or break a teen’s academic abilities. In today’s world, it is much harder to get into pristine colleges and succeed in certain work fields. Parents need to understand the expectations they have for their children are not as obtainable as they were when they were teenagers. A failure should be taken as a chance to improve instead of a disappointment in a household. “Children are so saturated with messages about achievement in many schools and communities that parents need to be really conscious about fighting against those messages at home,” says psychologist Richard Weissbourd, the faculty director of Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Making Caring Common project.” (As cited, by Jennifer Breheny Wallace from the Washington post.)  Making sure a child comes home to a supportive environment decreases the amount of daily school stress they go through. A parent should never treat their child differently because of how they performed on a test or class activity. “The best way to protect a child, Luthar claims, is to keep the lines of communication open, to set limits and to follow through with them. “ (As cited by, Jennifer Breheny Wallace from the Washington post.)  Being able to have judge-free conversations where a child doesn’t feel as if they are in trouble, allows not only a parent-child relationship to strengthen but also a kid’s academic support system to feel safe and comforting. Through this, a child’s stress levels will decrease, allowing them to foster a healthy mentality. A student with less stress will see their goals as more clear and achievable, allowing them to benefit more from a calm and open environment, as opposed to one of immense stress and high expectations. A parent’s overall goal should be to support their child, no matter what obstacle they may be facing in school, as it not only benefits their child’s school stress, but overall mentality. 

A student can also make an effort to better their academic stress levels through various techniques. A student can help manage their stress by taking the time to create a schedule. Scheduling helps a student’s brain to process what and when they need to accomplish different tasks. A useful tool for scheduling is a paper planner. Physically writing out what you need to accomplish helps your brain to memorize the needed information. “Research even suggests that writing things down by hand helps you retain information better, which is a useful perk if you really don’t want to forget that important work deadline.” Says Kristin Wong from the New York Times.  Physically writing down tasks will overall benefit you as a learner, better your memorization, and push you to strive for your absolute best. Scheduling out your time helps maintain an organized life. Another technique a child can benefit from is the setting of goals. Long-term goals as well as short-term goals help students strive for success. SMART goals especially help a student to plan according to tasks they desire to accomplish. SMART is an acronym for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Through a SMART goal, a student can identify all of the key components of creating a solid and appropriate goal. “SMART goals are great because they break down your goals — which often can seem so massive and unachievable — into bite-size pieces.“(Nushrat Rahman from New York Times) The use of SMART goals overall strengthens a student’s goal setting capabilities by motivating them to achieve their goals healthily. Journalism is also a perfect example of a stress-reducing activity for teens. The jotting of all of your thoughts; good and bad, helps reduce stress and layout possible key stressors onto paper. “research published in The Permanente Journal in 2021 found that journaling helps reduce stress, and a 2019 study published in JMIR Mental Health discovered that journaling is linked to reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression.”(As cited by, Celia Shatzman from National Eczema Society) There are thousands of ways a child can cope with stress. Using these healthy coping mechanisms will prove to be beneficial to a student’s well-being and creates a way to channel anxious energy into something productive. 

The teenage years are some of the hardest years of a child’s life. Factors impacting students’ well-being and stress levels often come from multiple directions. A student deals with the challenges of maintaining grades, extracurricular activities, and community service with the unrealistic expectation of never falling behind. For high-achieving scholars whose goal is to get into a prestigious Ivy League college, expectations from parents and teachers grow, enhancing a student’s stress and desperation. Competitive high schools need to focus less on pushing the pressure of success onto their students and instead create a community that is meant to help students succeed and learn. Parents need to cease on the unrealistic expectations they push on their children and instead create a relationship with their children that is built on communication and healthy motivation. Students can explore various activities that can help reduce their stress and strengthen their work ethic. In today’s world, it is so easy for a student to end up burnt out and unmotivated. Stress doesn’t have to be as high as it is for these students. There needs to be changes. These changes can start now, with the simple desire to put students first. 


Works Cited

Cornwall, Gail. “How Today’s High School Students Face High Pressure in a Grind Culture.” PBS, 27 April 2022, Accessed 18 October 2023.

Rahman, Nushrat. “New Year, New You? How to Set Resolutions That You Can Actually Achieve (Published 2018).” The New York Times, 27 December 2018, Accessed 18 October 2023.

Shatzman, Celia. “Why Journaling Can Help Reduce Stress — and How to Get Started.” National Eczema Association, 22 August 2023, Accessed 18 October 2023.

Wallace, Jennifer Breheny. “Perspective | Students in high-achieving schools are now named an ‘at-risk’ group, study says.” Washington Post, 26 September 2019, Accessed 18 October 2023.

Wong, Kristin. “The Case for Using a Paper Planner.” The New York Times, 4 January 2018, Accessed 19 October 2023.