All teens experience some sort of stress, but many teens suffer with significant stress levels that rival that of adults. High school has changed significantly in the last few decades, and the pressure to do well and prepare for your future is on. As students ourselves, we see the toll that AP classes, testing, college applications, homework, and balancing school with other life activities can take on our relationships with others and our own emotions. We experience pressure to please teachers, parents, coaches, and ourselves. But where do we cross the line from regular stress, to where the weight of classes and grades begin to seriously affect our mental health?
Personally, I miss a great deal of school for sports, and after missing a week of school, I come back to a myriad of missing assignments. It always seems as though whenever I’m not in class, we learn the secret to life, all the answers to the AP tests, the most vital information on how to pass every class, and the teachers hand out crisp 20’s to every student present. It’s horribly stressful, to say the least. I know I experience a lot of late nights, cramming, lunches in the library, and the occasional mental breakdown. And I’m sure there are so many other students in the exact same situation.
According to data collected by the American Psychological Association for the Stress in America Survey, teen stress exceeds that of adults almost every time. Results of the survey show that not only do teens identify that their stress levels are not healthy, but they also underestimate the impact stress has on their mental and physical health. The relatable yet worrisome results are as followed: “the most commonly reported sources of stress are schools (83 percent), getting into a good college or deciding what to do after high school (69 percent), and financial concerns for their family (65 percent) … Many teens report lying awake at night (35 percent), overeating or eating unhealthy foods (26 percent), and skipping meals (23 percent) due to stress in the past month … [and] Forty percent of teens report feeling irritable or angry, 36 percent report feeling nervous or anxious, 36 percent report feeling fatigued or tired, and 31 percent report feeling overwhelmed due to stress in the past month”. And now that the results of the survey have risen your anxiety to a new level, you’re wondering to yourself if these outcomes apply to you, suddenly extremely self aware about your eating habits, the pile of homework waiting for you, and trying to remember the last time you got the required 9 ¼ hours of sleep that most studies suggest for teenagers, I come bearing remedies to alleviate some worries.
It might seem like the best option is to skip school and watch Netflix in your pajamas for the next couple of months, but just imagine the missing work anticipating your return when you decide to come back (not so fun looking anymore, huh?) Many psychologists have turned to a remedy that us high schoolers usually glance over, self-compassion. Most agree that it’s easier to beat yourself up when you have missing assignments, deadlines approaching, and 4 different adults telling you what path to take for your future, but the best thing to do is actually the opposite.
Self-compassion encourages mindfulness, or noticing your feelings without judgment; self-kindness, or talking to yourself in a soothing way; and common humanity, or thinking about how others might be suffering similarly. Many believe that “I’m the only one going through this,” which exacerbates feelings of isolation and shame.
Us teens are known for catastrophizing when facing a problem (“I’ll never get into that college, I’ll never find a major I like, “I’m never gonna pass this class”) But to find self-compassion and understanding of yourself is much more beneficial. The same research shows that self-compassion does not diminish the integrity or standards of accountability. Instead, it lets you own up to a tough moment without paying for it with your self-worth. This new logic teaches students that they don’t have to be perfect to be worthy. To quote Dr. Kristin Neff, a psychologist at Princeton University, “There’s almost no one whom we treat as badly as ourselves.” And when you really think about that, how does putting ourselves down help soothe stress and anxiety? The short answer is it doesn’t. Now, there’s no way to find a cure to your piles of homework, college search, or the massive amount of tests you may have this week, except to face it head on, with self-compassion as your weapon. Don’t beat yourself up about the work you have to do, but praise yourself for what you’ve done, and encourage yourself to keep going because under the stress and hecticness of high school, are some really amazing experiences.