The “time of our lives”: How do rising stress levels in high school students affect their mental and physical health?

Stress is something that we have all felt at some if not many points in our lives; it’s a natural response to changes in our environment and plans. Are you worried about an interview for a job you really want or a test that you feel like you “have to” do well on? Do you feel pressure from your personal life, work, or another source? Are you uncertain of what may happen in the future? There are all things that can cause stress in a person’s life, and it can affect a wide age range from children to the elderly. 

To a certain extent, stress can be good for you. Whether it motivates you to succeed at a task or improves your productivity and concentration, the chemical changes in your brain when you experience stress can lead to positive outcomes in the future. But what happens when your stress levels get too high? And what if you feel those levels for an extended period of time? There has been a lot of research done and there is a general understanding that too much stress is bad for you, and it’s no surprise that high school students experience a lot of stress during their four years. 

School is stressful, especially high school, and it doesn’t help that there are so many things to juggle. Grades, sports, friendships, college, and extra-curricular isn’t a complete list of things 14 to 18 year-olds have to think about on a daily basis. Going to a private school at rigorous and mine naturally intensifies the stress that the students experience, and when statistics show that high school students experience more stress than adults, it’s time to set things aside and take a deeper look into the issue.





What You Need to Know

What is stress?

There are many ideas that pop into our heads when we try to think of a definition for stress. Personally, I  define it as a mental and physical reaction resulting from change or pressure. A student at my school describes it as “when things get a little too overwhelming to handle, causing amplified worry and frustration.” The American Institute of Stress states that stress “is such a highly subjective phenomenon that it defies definition.” Regardless, there is a lot of evidence and research that has been done around stress and its role in our lives.

Causes of high school stress

  • Heavy workload
  • Lack of organization
  • Busy schedule
  • Too little down time
  • Poor sleep schedule
  • Social pressures
  • Others’ expectations
  • Worries about the future
  • Fear of failure
  • Concerns about college

My school’s experience with stress 

With the rigor and challenges that my school has to offer, it’s no doubt that it’s a stressful environment. Mary Alvord, a clinical psychologist in Maryland, states that “a little stress is a good thing. It can motivate students to be organized. But too much stress can backfire.” One a scale from 1 to 10, the students said the median stress levels for a high school student is a 5, but the number is a 7 for our school which is expected because of the nature of it. Adding on, although more that three-fourths of students surveyed stated that they felt moderately to very comfortable sharing about their stress levels, only about 30% of students have talked to our school counselors about it. An environment where students feel high levels of stress but aren’t talking to a professional about it creates a space where many students internalize their feelings without realizing that they have a whole community they can share with. 

My Response: What Can We Do?

With all the things that cause stress in high school students, there are also many things that can decrease the stress levels being experienced. One of the first things to do is realize that you’re not the only one experiencing these things. If you are a student in high school and are surrounded by other students, I can guarantee that they are feeling some level of stress. There are many activities and actions you can do to help decrease your stress levels, and a few of these are things that the students at my school already do:

  • Engage in your hobbies
    • Drawing, knitting, music, etc.
  • Go on a walk
  • Take a break
  • Read
  • Talk to friends
  • Sleep
  • Take deep breaths
  • Spend time with family
  • Bake
  • Play video games
  • Clean your room


Although these are personal things that you can do to decrease your levels, it can also be helpful to think about the things at your school that cause you stress. Are they things that usually cause stress like a lit of homework or worries about college, or are they things that are unique to your school and have the ability to be changed? If the answer is the latter, then think about doing some in-school research and bringing the issue as well as an alternative plan to your administration? Who knows: you could be the change your school has been looking for!

Some observations I was able to make after collecting data from my school’s students:

  • The sophomores are the most stressed grade this year
  • There was a sharp spike in the stress levels during the senior class’ junior year
  • The stressors each student experiences get repeated for each grade (a certain project, time of year, class, etc.)

How Will You Get Involved?

I’ve done a lot of teaching and presenting to you guys, and now it’s time to revese the roles and for me to hear from you! In the comments down below, answer the following questions:

  • What is your favorite way to decrease your stress level?
  • If you could change one thing about the American high school systm to reduce stress in students, what would it be and why?
  • What effects do you think teen stress will have on students as they grow older into adults? 

If you have anything else you’d like to share that isn’t related to the question above, feel free to leave them down below also!

Works Cited

Bethune, Sophie. “Teen stress rivals that of adults.” American Psychological Association, Apr. 2014, Accessed 21 Apr. 2020.
“Common Causes of School Stress in High School.” Oxford Learning, 28 May 2018, Accessed 21 Apr. 2020.
Neighmond, Patti. “School Stress Takes A Toll On Health, Teens And Parents Say.” National Public Radio, 2 Dec. 2013, Accessed 21 Apr. 2020.
Ossola, Alexandra. “High-Stress High School.” The Atlantic, 9 Oct. 2015, Accessed 21 Apr. 2020.
“Stress in America, charted.” Advisory Board, 13 Nov. 2018, Accessed 21 Apr. 2020.
Terada, Youki. “The Science Behind Student Stress.” Edutopia, 24 Aug. 2018, Accessed 21 Apr. 2020.
“What is Stress?” The American Institute of Stress, Accessed 21 Apr. 2020.

Share this project
  1. April 24, 2020 by Cam

    [* Shield plugin marked this comment as “Pending Moderation”. Reason: Whoops. Google reCAPTCHA was not submitted. *]
    Hi Iman! I really liked your project and thought it was really informative! In response to your questions above, I think my favorite way to decrease stress is by reading because it takes me to another reality. One thing I would change about the American School System would be the amount of homework high school students receive each night – I would make the load significantly less. I believe it is due to homework that our stress levels are so high because students have no time to relax, be with their family, sleep, and are in a constant game of catchup in order to finish all of their assignments on time. I think that a result of stress as teenagers will lead to having efficient workers in the future but will also lead to quite a few burnouts, for there is only so long people can hold themselves together while under immense pressure.

    • April 27, 2020 by Iman

      Hi Cam,

      Thanks for spending the time to look over my project! I agree that homework is one of the main stressors for me and students in general, and restrictions on the amount teachers could assign would decrease stress levels significantly. Burnout not only drains you but can put you behind in other areas of your life.


  2. April 25, 2020 by Sophia

    Hey Iman! I really like your presentation, and I think you are addressing something really important. We rarely discuss the impact stress has on our physical health so I’m really glad you included that in your presentation, that taught me a lot of new things I hadn’t known before. To answer your questions, my favorite way to destress is probably to play the piano or sing. Music has always been one of my favorite ways of distracting myself from how stressed I am, or as a way to give myself a break from all of the work I have to do. If I could change on thing about American school systems to lessen the amount of stress among students, I would absolutely want less assignments. I also think receiving support from teachers and faculty could have a big influence on students. We are most often just given assignments by teachers, but rarely do they remind us that they are there to support us and want us to succeed. I think the amount of stress we have as teens will affect our adult lives, by making us more anxious and panicked whenever we are given a responsibility. Most students experience so much stress due to the amount of responsibilities we are given at once, that I think it will almost haunt us as adults. Again, great job on your presentation! The questions you asked are really important ones and hopefully more solutions to decreasing the amount of stress among students will start to become more popular.

    • April 27, 2020 by Iman

      Hi Sophia,

      Thanks for spending time looking through my project! I agree that music can be a really great way to decrease stress levels. Playing an instrument or listening to music can really calm some people down (including me), and it’s also something you can multitask with so you can feel productive while doing so.


  3. April 25, 2020 by Julia

    Hello Iman! I thought your project was very interesting because we always hear about how stress affects us mentally but not very often about how it affects us physically. I didn’t realize there were so many ways it could affect us physically. To answer your questions above, my favorite way to decrease stress is to cook or bake. I can’t speak for how I would change the American School system because I live in Canada and I believe school environments vary greatly depending on the school. I’m not really sure what teen stress will have on students when they are older. I really liked your presentation and thought it was well put together.

    • April 27, 2020 by Iman

      Hi Julia,

      Thanks for taking the time to look through my project! It’d be really interesting to compare the different school systems across countries. There are benefits and drawbacks in every system, and seeing how different countries approach education could lead to some insights for others.


  4. April 26, 2020 by Peyton

    I think that this is a very interesting and relevant project as I know me and many of my peers feel a great amount of stress. I didn’t know that stress can cause so many different negative impacts in the long term that are definitely important to think about and this helped me to better understand the importance of down time.

    • April 27, 2020 by Iman

      Hi Peyton,

      I appreciate the time you took to look through my project! Stress is something that I believe more people experience than people think, and the negative effects can heighten if people keep it to themselves and don’t talk about it with others.


  5. April 26, 2020 by George

    Hi Iman! I think your project is very insightful, stress is a huge issue today among teens and young adults. I for one have felt an incredible amount of stress throughout high school. I used to play video games to destress, but now I mostly work out and listen to music. I can’t speak for the American public school system, because I go to a private high school, but I would definitely decrease the amount of homework our school gives us every night, its ridiculous. I’m not sure exactly what toll stress has taken on my body, but I sure hope it isn’t anything to serious. Great work!

    • April 27, 2020 by Iman

      Hi George,

      Thanks for looking through my project! As someone who has been in both public and private schools, I can say that decreasing the amount of homework given to students is a universal thing. It’s definitely a bigger problem (personally) in private schools, but it’s something that everyone can benefit from.


  6. April 26, 2020 by SIDES BELL

    Hi! I absolutely love this project! Going to a very stressful high school, I have experienced many of these problems first hand. I think your project is amazing in describing what we go through and how to help. Great work and I will definitely be taking your advice!

    • April 27, 2020 by Iman

      Thank you so much!

  7. April 26, 2020 by sam

    Hi Iman! I commend you for choosing this project because stress is something that I’m sure we have all struggled with, especially when talking about school. Stress has always been something that weighs me down and holds me back from different opportunities during school. Although, there are times where I overload myself and choose to not take care of my stress the way that I should. So, to combat that am more than willing to try the stress relievers that you have listed in your project. Thank you!

    • April 27, 2020 by Iman

      Hi Sam,

      Thanks for taking the time to look over my project! I’m glad that you are going to try some of the stress relievers. Not all of them are for everyone, but I hope you can find a couple that work for you!


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