Anxiety, Stress, & Pressure: Three Deadly Components to High School Performance

By Anna Shaw

According to Robert Leahy, a doctor in charge of the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy, high school students today have the same average anxiety levels as a psychiatric patient in the 1950s.  Additionally, the National Institute for Mental Health states that about 8% of teenagers from ages 12-18 have a diagnosed anxiety disorder, but only 18% receive treatment.   

“Everything matters.  Everyone acts like once you do something wrong, your entire life is going to be ruined and there’s no changing it,” said sophomore Francine Gutleber. “It would be nice to feel like, ‘Okay, if I mess up, there is some way I can gain redemption for it.’”  According to Psychology Today, experts believe that when parents don’t allow their teenagers the chance to cope with failure, they’re heightening their anxiety levels.

One of the worst contributors to stress and anxiety is the fact that many students have between three and four hours of homework a night.  “[Teachers] work us to a point where we forget that maybe our mental health is just as important as our physical health,” said junior Amira Campbell. “People can’t handle it well.  I think that [students] try to push themselves and try to compose themselves to make it look like they’re handling well until they crash.”

Out of 92 students surveyed, 73% said that they spend more than an hour on homework a night, and 15% spend more than four. Gutleber says that “everyone takes all these difficult classes so they can get a certain GPA to get into a certain college, [even though] the classes are too much for them to handle.”

The US Department of Education says that the average high school GPA in 1990 was a 2.68 and a 3.0 in 2009; GPAs have only gone up since.  In order to get into the colleges they want to go to, students need a higher GPA than ever before.  To get into Virginia Polytechnic University or, as it’s more commonly known, Virginia Tech, students need an average of a 4.1 GPA.  That’s the equivalent of all A’s, including grade bumps from AP, honors, and dual enrollment classes.

Many students tend to not get as much sleep as they should, and that’s a factor which also affects their stress levels. According to the National Sleep Foundation, only 15% of high school students said that they regularly get at least 8½ hours of sleep a night. “[Students] don’t make sleep enough of a priority.  They think, ‘Oh, I can do this instead, I don’t need sleep that much,’ when in reality, it’s a vital part of our health,” said Gutleber.

Overall, the stress and pressure on students today is decidedly more than it used to be.  Instead of being able to glide through high school and get a 3.0 GPA, go to college, and have a good job, students now need to spend hours slaving behind book reports or history flash cards if they want to want to get into even a mediocre college.  On top of doing all this work, they don’t even have the proper fuel to do it, given their common sleep habits. Students are becoming more stressed and anxious, and while they’re performing higher, is the toll it takes on their mental health worth it?