The Realities of High School Stress
Insights from students

High schoolers’ take on stress

Walk into any high school classroom, and you are guaranteed to find at least one student cramming for a test in the next period. Walk into a certain AP Calculus classroom of one of the many competitive high schools in your district, and all day—every day—you will hear cries of “Can I just get at least 1 out of 5 on this quiz?” and “I should have taken AB.” 

High school student stress statistics

For teenagers, how stress impacts our daily lives is rather evident through the academic competition deliberately fostered by our community. According to The American Institute of Stress, Americans aged 15-29 years old at 64% have the second highest stress levels among age demographics; sources for such stress include school demands and frustrations, negative self-perception, and too high expectations.  A copious amount of stress may result in anxiety, withdrawal, or poor coping skills, such as substance abuse. 

When facing our dear friend stress, we either fight, flight, or freeze, depending on the situation at hand. However, while stress poses a clear detriment to teenagers’ lives, this, at times, gut-wrenching feeling proves to be vital in moderation. 

Stress factors

Stress levels can depend on people’s environment and ability to manage stress. As people come from different households and thus have had different values instilled in them, how they approach stress may vary. 

Stress can arise from various factors, including academics, social pressure, family issues, trauma, and big life changes. Academics, especially in high school, is a rather significant source of stress, as students are often worried about academic performance and future college prospects.

Q: What would you consider to be the most stressful aspect of your life? 

A: All students replied, “school.

To elaborate, Student A admitted that she “basically failed every chemistry test last semester” through her habits of “cram-studying at the last minute.” However, she took accountability by recognizing that she was “making herself nervous and freak out” by not “studying in advance.” Student A thus highlights the reality of many high school students; procrastination is a habit that students should fix, but it is often hard to do.

In fact, Students A and C (both AP Chemistry students) address how busy work from other classes result in their inability to prepare for their other tests. All three students take AP English Language and Composition, and collectively, they all agree that the class entails “busy work,” “pointless weekly surveys,” and “way too many annotations.” 

For high schoolers like these interviewees, with many rigorous courses to keep up with, school is thus the central focus of their lives.

Student C perfectly encapsulates this dreadful feeling in her interview: “Every test is hard, I’m totally failing because, again, every test is hard and even the concepts are so hard, and the teacher and everything is just hard.” 

High school students often experience high levels of stress due to the fear of academic failure. The pressure to succeed academically can come from many different sources, including parents, teachers, peers, and even self-imposed expectations. The constant worry about grades, test scores, and college admissions can lead to feelings of anxiety and can cause students to push themselves beyond their limits. The fear of academic failure can also be compounded by the fear of disappointing those with high expectations, leading to a sense of self-doubt and inadequacy.

Q: How has societal pressure impacted your stress levels? 

A: Answers varied based on the student. 

Societal pressure impact on teens

Student A reflects on how her current feeling of pressure are all internalized; before, “my parents would care about my report cards, but eventually, they either gave up or stopped caring.” For Student A, her mother has stated that “the ideal would be to first attend community college, then transfer to a UC system.” Additionally, Student A notes that although she has an older brother (who attends UCLA), he has “no influence, really” on her life. 

Similarly, Student C shares the same sentiment of how her stress is all mostly self-induced, but the fact that “everyone is so smart and everything” leads to feelings of pressure. As an only child, Student C considers that she would likely feel that she has to compete with her sibling if they were older and smarter, and especially if the more talented sibling is younger, then “that would be just kind of embarrassing for me in the future.” 

Student C brings up a critical point about stress—seeing others be competitive and succeed may result in feelings of inadequacy and the subsequent feelings of needing to do better. However, not all students have this same perspective, as Student B answers that she “does not really care about how other people do, just myself.” 

Overall, the common theme between all three students is the idea of self-induced stress. However, it is essential to recognize how this stress has been molded and shaped throughout their academic careers. Thus, there is a presence of self-inflicted pressure even without a parent constantly nagging them with “Did you get an A” or “Where did that last point go” (or other similar questions).


Q: Would you choose to switch to a school with better opportunities?  

A: All students replied, “no.”


This question was asked due to the fact that extracurriculars have become increasingly important for college applications, but schools evidently do not provide the same opportunities.

Student B’s answer sums up all three interviewees' negative perspectives on this question: “Do I want to voluntarily be a part of a toxic culture? Uh, no.” Student B highlights how she still wants some form of competitiveness, but not to the extent of attending a “school with students that act as if everyone else is too good for them.” 

Student A admits that she would “totally transfer to a school with fewer opportunities” to stand out on college applications. Moreover, Student B answers that it probably will be good for her, but “realistically, I would have zero friends" and that it would be too hard.

The importance of stress management for high schoolers

Students A, B, and C have provided their perspectives on stress in their lives and how that has affected their mindset. Evidently, like every other entity in life, the feeling of stress varies from person to person. 

Perhaps you are more like Student A or more like Student B or C. However, the key takeaway is that managing your stress is crucial. While competitiveness and a passion for success are essential, stress can impact people’s lives to the point of devastating harm.

Managing stress is a crucial skill for high school students that can positively impact their overall well-being, academic success, and future prospects. Unmanaged stress can lead to several issues, such as anxiety, depression, and sleep problems, which can harm their academic performance. Furthermore, long-term stress can lead to serious mental and physical health problems.

With stress being a common and inevitable part of life, high school students who learn to manage stress are equipped with a powerful tool that can help them navigate obstacles that comes their way. Not only does this lead to better academic performance, but it also paves the way for improved mental and physical well-being. With proper stress management, high school students can confidently take on the future and all the opportunities it holds.

Angelina 10 April, 2023
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