Coping with Stress as a High School Student

High school can be an exciting yet stressful time. Along with social and personal pressures, the academic demands of high school put students under immense stress. Heavy workloads, college preparations, and pressure to succeed can quickly become overwhelming. Consequently, it is critical for high schoolers to develop healthy and effective strategies to manage stress.

Common Causes of Stress

High school stress stems from various sources:

  • Heavy course loads – Many students take multiple AP and honors classes to build their transcripts, resulting in large amounts of daily homework and studying.
  • Standardized testing – Key tests like the SAT and ACT cause stress and anxiety around scoring well for college applications.
  • Extracurriculars – Between academics, sports, clubs, and jobs, students often feel pulled in many directions with little free time.
  • Social pressures – Fitting in, building friendships, and maintaining a social life are top priorities for teenagers. Peer pressure around issues like partying or dating is also stressful.
  • College applications – There is immense pressure to get into a top university, requiring excellent grades, test scores, essays, and recommendations.
  • Mental health issues – Conditions like anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and insomnia often emerge in adolescence, exacerbating stress.

Signs of Stress

Excessive stress manifests in various ways:

  • Physical – Headaches, stomachaches, changes in appetite, insomnia
  • Emotional – Irritability, anger, sadness, crying, withdrawal
  • Behavioral – Reckless behavior, drug/alcohol abuse, truancy
  • Cognitive – Inability to concentrate, forgetfulness, lack of motivation

Healthy Coping Strategies

To manage high levels of stress, students should:

  • Prioritize sleep – Lack of sleep worsens stress. Aim for 8+ hours per night.
  • Exercise regularly – Physical activity reduces anxiety and boosts endorphins.
  • Practice relaxation techniques – Try yoga, meditation, deep breathing, or progressive muscle relaxation.
  • Maintain balance – Make time for hobbies and friends, not just schoolwork. Don’t overschedule activities.
  • Develop organizational systems – Use planners and schedules to stay focused. Prioritize and limit tasks.
  • Seek support – Discuss stresses openly with friends, family members, counselors, teachers, or mentors.
  • Take breaks – Make time every day to do something enjoyable like reading or listening to music.
  • Avoid unhealthy habits – Don’t rely on quick fixes like drugs, alcohol, or skipping meals as coping mechanisms.
  • Consider counseling – If stress becomes unmanageable, seek professional mental health services.

When to Get Help

While occasional stress is normal, excessive, persistent stress requires professional support. Contact a doctor or school counselor if stress causes:

  • Ongoing physical symptoms
  • Inability to carry out daily activities
  • Thoughts of self-harm
  • Severe anxiety or depression
  • Reliance on drugs or alcohol
  • Social isolation or lashing out at others

With the right coping strategies and support system, high schoolers can take control of their stress, thrive academically, and enjoy this exciting chapter of life.