Stress isn’t a competition

As expectations for teenagers get more and more overwhelming, so does the amount that we talk about being overwhelmed.


by Rachel Robinson, Facebook Editor

It was May of freshman year, a week before finals. All of STA was buzzing with the anticipation of summer, nostalgia about the year ending, and above all else, stress. It was impossible to walk ten feet without overhearing someone tell their friends about how nervous they were and how they were totally going to fail the Geometry final, followed by a chorus of “same.” I heard it so often, I began to wonder if everyone who said it actually meant it, or if they were just saying they were stressed because everyone else was stressed.

I, for one, wasn’t really that nervous. Just writing that makes me feel like a snob, so saying it out loud to my friends was out of the question. I found myself agreeing when other people talked about how stressed they were just to avoid seeming like I was bragging. Why risk looking arrogant when I could just say “me too” and move on?

In many American high schools, it’s an unwritten rule that if you have free time during the week, you’re not trying hard enough. According to the Chicago Tribune, this idea was started and perpetuated by colleges and parents, but students deserve a lot of the credit for blowing it out of proportion. According to an article published in Psychology Today, the main reason for this is that we enter high school with high expectations to meet, only to realize that everyone else has the same expectations. This leads to taking the hardest and most advanced classes possible in order to be the best. A study conducted by the college board shows that only 30% of college students that didn’t take AP classes graduate so the threat of not being prepared is very real. But as essential as these classes are for preparing for college, they’re also very high stress and if everyone who succeeds is taking them, being stressed starts to be synonymous with being successful. Bragging becomes a way to prove that you’re doing enough. I’ve done it, and so has nearly everyone I know, but it’s time we as a generation stop treating stress like something to be proud of.

One of the things that bothers me the most about “stress bragging” is the feeling that you have to earn the right to be anxious about school. If you’re not taking four advanced classes, playing a sport, working, and participating in three extracurriculars, why say anything at all? Someone in the room has it worse than you and they’ll probably tell you as much, so you may as well just keep quiet.

Just earlier this year, I would walk between my classes complaining about how I’m taking eight classes and I only have three frees a week, not even realizing how annoying I must sound until I saw other people doing it. In this school, the immediate response we have to someone telling us about their bad day is to start talking about how bad our own day was. It becomes a sort of toxic debate, arguing about whose life is the most terrible. The irony is, it’s almost universally frustrating to kids and teenagers is when adults write off their feelings as “teenage drama,” but we do it to each other all the time.

According to The Atlantic, normalizing extreme stress can also make people feel like they should be overwhelmed by school and if they’re not, there’s something wrong. A study conducted by New York University shows that 49% of high school students experience extreme stress. However, a large portion of the stress experienced by college prep school students comes from their school culture, not directly from its academics. In other words, sometimes we’re only anxious because everyone is telling us that we should be anxious.

The fact that having a positive attitude about schoolwork is now seen as strange says a lot about the academic culture we’re living in. The truth is that the normalization of being overwhelmed started out as a coping mechanism to deal with the pressures of school. According to a college counseling site called Ivywise, college admission rates are lower than they’ve ever been, dropping to 4.65% for certain schools in 2017 and information gathered by CNBC shows that the price of a higher education is rising faster than the rate of inflation. But how can we talk about being stuck in an overwhelming system when we’re contributing to the system ourselves? The existence of stress culture isn’t our fault, but it’s our job to stop it from taking over our lives and make being stress-free cool again.