I N T R O D U C T I O N
As a high school senior, I have experienced far more stress in my life than I think anyone ever intended. I hear several conversations among peers every day that are solely about their stress. Probably about a third of the conversations I hear are about being too busy, too tired, or both. It seems like every day in high school is a Monday, and I want to do something about that.
It’s no secret that young people are reporting higher levels of depression and anxiety than ever before, but why is that? Many professionals think it’s due to the increased pressure on students to succeed. It’s all about competition; if you don’t end up at a top university, you have failed. That’s why so much of the stress falls on high school seniors, who are trying to balance good grades and schoolwork while also visiting and applying to colleges at the same time.
While I don’t know if there’s much I alone can do to change that, the thing I can try to do is alleviate some of that pressure.
S O M U C H S T R E S S !
More competition and pressure to go to good colleges causes stress levels to be exceedingly high in high school. In 2015, a famous study conducted by New York researchers surveyed students and teachers at two private schools in the northeastern United States. 49% of students reported that on a daily basis, they felt “a great deal of stress.” Another 31% reported feeling “somewhat stressed” every day. Over 60% said that getting into college was a source of this stress.
Yet there are definitive methods that students seek out to cope with stress. When asked what helped reduce their stress, 70% of the student body said their friends did, and 51% said their family. By maintaining these positive relationships, young people can actually help themselves.
I S I T E V E R Y W H E R E ?
I wanted to find out how relevant these issues were at my school, which is also a private school in the northeastern US. In a survey of my senior class, I found that the vast majority felt stressed during the college process.
Of that majority, 51% said that they felt “very stressed” on a daily basis, and 31% said they felt “somewhat stressed.” Afterwards, during interviews with my peers, many said that the main thing they did to alleviate stress was hang out with their friends and do something to take their mind off college applications.
E M P A T H Y
I wanted to find out what about these close relationships was helping students cope with stress. In my research, I came across the concept of empathy. What is empathy? The dictionary defines it as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Ask a psychologist, and they’ll tell you it is an essential component of a healthy relationship. Expressing empathy shortens the distance between two people and helps both parties. Science actually shows that when we express empathy, pleasure centers in the brain become active, and the same is true when a person feels that empathy is being directed towards them. It also promotes social closeness and subjective wellbeing. As American psychologist Carl Rogers so eloquently put it when asked about empathy, “When someone really hears you without passing judgement on you, without trying to take responsibility for you, without trying to mold you, it feels damn good!”
Maybe the reason more high schoolers turn to their peers for stress relief than their family is because people their age understand what they’re going through…
S O . . . W H A T D O W E D O A B O U T I T ?
As seniors who have already gone through the college process, we know what a stressful time it is for most people. We know what helped and what made things worse, and what it took to get through it. Yet all that useful knowledge was going to waste when each twelfth grade class graduated without ever getting to share their experiences. In order to help future senior classes, I decided to tap into my peers’ close understanding of the college process. I asked each of the current seniors to write down one piece of advice they have, which I then printed up and cut into individual slips of paper. These are now sitting in a bowl in my school’s college counseling office for any student to take when they come in for a meeting!
H O W Y O U C A N H E L P T O O
Given how widespread the issue of college stress is, everyone should be helping their peers mitigate some of their pressure. I would like to invite you to print and cut out this file of some of the same advice I gave to the kids at my school. Put it in a bowl or a box in a place where students can see what it is and easily grab a piece of wisdom as they walk by!
S H A R E Y O U R E X P E R I E N C E S :
Tell me about a time when someone in your life expressed empathy to you and it made you feel better. Also feel free to “like” others’ posts!
B I B L I O G R A P Y
“Benefits of Empathy.” Building a Culture of Empathy – Benefits of Empathy, Center for Building a Culture of Empathy
“Culture of Empathy Builder: Sylvia Morelli.” Building a Culture of Empathy, Center for Building a Culture of Empathy
“Five Benefits of Healthy Relationships | Why Healthy Relationships Are So Important.” Northwestern Medicine, 9 Oct. 2015
Groen, Danielle. “The Surprising Science Behind Friendship.” Reader’s Digest
Leonard, et al. “A Multi-Method Exploratory Study of Stress, Coping, and Substance Use among High School Youth in Private Schools.” Frontiers in Psychology, 6 July 2015
Olson, Samantha. “High School Students Are Stressed Out About College Admissions; The Reality Of Burning Out Before College.” Medical Daily, 12 Aug. 2015
Simon, Adam. “How Friendship Affects Your Health: Stress, Sharing & Good Habits.” Push Doctor, 18 Dec. 1970