Students and faculty respond to the causes of stress and anxiety at UAHS.

By Hallie Underwood, ’20 and Maya Mattan, ’20

“Can you hear the sounds of your head exploding from all the stress?” sophomore Sara Kahvecioglu said. “It’s like a chain of dominoes, or a card tower. If any of these factors aren’t fulfilled to your expectations … if a domino is nudged or a card blown on, it’s a chain reaction. Everything falls apart in your brain, and you’re left reeling with a lot of baggage pressing down on the big red button called ‘panic’.”

Students at UAHS are reporting an increased amount of academic stress, aligned with the statistics regarding stress and anxiety for teenagers in the United States. Community members hope to find a solution to this problem by looking at a variety of possible factors as the district announces a plan for a well-being initiative levy.

According to a report published by the American Psychological Association, neurotypical teenagers in 2000 reported more anxiety than psychiatric patients in the 1950s. Since the troubling statistic was published, stress has further increased. The Pew Research Center reports that 70 percent of teens say that anxiety and depression are a major problem among their peers. Academics were reported as the largest problem teenagers face, with 61 percent of students feeling “a lot of pressure to get good grades.” High school students who plan to attend a four-year college after graduation felt more pressure to get good grades. 

A voluntary Arlingtonian survey of 278 students shows that nationwide statistics hold true for students at UAHS. 99 percent of the students reported they have experienced stress due to school. 18 out of 22 teachers surveyed reported that stress is a major problem among students at UAHS. Additionally, guidance counselor Heather Peebles said that counselors did a survey a few years ago and asked students, staff and families what concerned them, and stress was above 90 percent. 

Social studies teacher Joe Endres said that guidance counselors, administrators and staff members were told there is an epidemic of stress and anxiety among teenagers in the United States, and this generation at UAHS is experiencing more stress and anxiety. He also mentioned faculty is now expected to be more conscientious, talking more with students to aid well-being in the classroom. 

 

ACADEMIC ADVERSITY

Endres identified in his class discussions with approximately 80 students that a culture of academic pressure can be a factor in student stress. 

“Everybody being concerned about college for example, and it seems like college readiness is something that is forced upon you starting in middle school, and there’s a sense that ‘I don’t want to go to Columbus State, I want to go to Duke, Stanford, you know something big, at least Ohio State,’ and there’s a sense that ‘I got to go someplace good,’” Endres said. 

Whether through college, competitiveness, the need for perfection academically or otherwise, Kahvecioglu said she feels there are academic expectations at school that cause stress. 

“There’s the basic expectation that you ought to do well in your classes. There’s the fact that you want to fit in with your peers, or at least be someone to hold regular conversation with,” Kahvecioglu said. “There’s also the thing about your future depending on a couple point’s difference in your letter grade, which impacts your GPA, which makes the difference whether you make the requirement of a university entrance process, whether you actually make it out of the hundreds of other applicants with applications just as good as yours.”

According to research done at the Department of Teaching, Learning, and Culture at Texas A&M University, high school juniors and seniors in a study that regularly interacted with academic stress during early adolescence negatively affected grades during high school. When 1,034 high school students were interviewed and results underwent multiple regression analyses, school-related stress caused a decline in academic performance in high school. The abstract of the study stated that “these results suggest that for students in high stress school environments, an increase in academic expectations may serve to increase their school-related stress and impede their academic performance.”

Kahvecioglu said middle school heavily influences her opinions towards her well-being. 

“Actually, in middle school, I had a much more negative view on the effects of stress and anxiety. I thought I was a wuss if I felt any of these things. I still do, sort of. Ingrained thoughts aren’t easy to break off the rails,” Kahvecioglu said. “Then I made different friends in high school, who are pretty much pros at weathering stress and anxiety just to get through the day. Seeing them, and being taught about how asking for help is not a weakness, listening to the different effects stress has on resilience, really changed my perspective on how stress affects me. I’m still stuck in the same mental ruts that I’ve had since forever.”

In addition to academics, Endres sees that extracurricular activities play a role in students’ time. 

“Clubs, sports, and work really eat away at your time. So you get done [with school] at 3:05, but you’ve got lacrosse practice until 6, or something like that,” Endres said. “Sometimes kids don’t get home until 7 o’clock, and then they get to eat and relax, but how much time do you have to relax if you have three hours of homework waiting for you. So you might not get to sleep until 1 a.m., and then before you know, you’re up again.”

In Arlingtonian’s student survey, 83 percent reported they were a part of a club, group or organization at UAHS. Senior Audrey Strickling has been a part of various extracurricular activities throughout her four years of high school.

 “The time and energy that I put into robotics, Mock Trial, and Idea Day cause me to feel anxious about when I will complete assignments and also get enough sleep and hang out with friends,” Strickling said. “I feel as if my peers and I have difficulty balancing everything and being able to say no to things because we are all very passionate about different things. And many of us have dreams of going to colleges that look for dedication to various extracurriculars and activities, and leadership positions in them. We really feel the weight of extracurriculars and school at the same time.”

 

DIGITAL DISTRACTIONS

The same survey indicated that 49 percent of students believe that technology is a factor that causes stress, and 77 percent of students believe that technology is a factor that causes lack of sleep. 

After consideration, Endres believes technology and social media play a significant role in stress and anxiety among students. It might be but it’s developing gradually, and what we see as a spike since 2012 in anxiety and stress levels. Endres surveyed 44 of his AP European history students in regards to their screen time and found they spent an average of 4 hours and 43 minutes per day on their cellular device.

“I think these things contribute to your stress in a variety of ways. There is social media, constantly getting input from social media. That has a lot to do with the constant pressure of wanting to be like ‘this’,” Endres said. “There’s no escape. You are constantly trapped by the information that is coming at you.”

Kahvecioglu does not have a social media presence, but sees the influence technology has on herself and her peers.

“We’re smack dab in the midst of an information age,” said Kahvecioglu. “Anything funny, anecdotal, ridiculous, ridiculously cute–it goes straight onto social media, for the whole world to see. And you can’t take that stuff back. Once that post of whatever social faux-pas is on Twitter, it’s there forever. Just imagining that gives me proverbial grey hairs. Plus, surfing the Internet is a great procrastination method. So yes, technology plays a huge part in stress,”

Sophomore Alekzander Mazzaferro does believe that social media plays a role in stress for many, however, does not believe that social media directly influences his stress levels due to his awareness of how much time he spends online. 

“I see in a lot of my peers that social media and technology can play a big part in their stress. It’s a big stressor for some, because they are constantly caring about how many likes they get or how many followers they have” Mazzaferro said. “Some people don’t believe that their stress exists and some are too sensitive to talk about the negative aspects of social media.”

Strickling believes that the media on her phone also influences her perception of academic success. 

“I have the Powerschool app on my phone, and it is both a blessing and a curse,” Strickling said. “I always get notifications when teachers put in assignments, and therefore I could be anywhere and seeing a bad grade can affect my mood and stress levels. It helps me to know when to seek help academically, and I feel my grades are better because of it, but it wasn’t until senior year that I realized how much stress it caused me to always be able to pull up my grades. It’s sad because I think some of my classmates see going to school as a game, and their Powerschool as a game rather than learning from failures and following their curiosities.”  

Endres is thankful that he was more distanced from his grades when he was attending high school in the late 80s and early 90s. “When I was in high school, we got our grades four times a year on a grade card, and that was it. And so I wasn’t constantly being notified about what my grade was.,” Endres said.

 

MOVING FORWARD

50 percent of students believe the school district is conscious of stress and anxiety among students. Moving forward, the district has introduced a wellness plan to enhance the experience for the UA community that includes diversity, equity and inclusion, social-emotional learning, grading practices and the use of time initiatives.

Mazzaferro believes that in the future there should be more openness regarding this issue in the community. 

“I hope that in the future mental health issues are accepted and that the district helps to teach how to cope with it and reduce it,” Mazzaferro said. “The school could interview students to understand students. Interaction with students and faculty could be made more mandatory for the district, so it’s easier to understand the problems, and they could encourage more of a group involvement to solve these issues.” 

Superintendent Paul Imhoff said the well-being initiative for students and faculty to be implemented into the UA school district this year. The goal is part of the district’s new strategic plan.

“The November 2020 ballot issue is part of the regular school funding process for districts like ours here in Ohio. Basically our revenue remains flat as inflation increases the costs of operating,” Imhoff said. “We need to come back to the voters every three to four years to ask for more money to keep up with the costs of doing business.”

Imhoff has expressed the urgent need for a focus on well-being in schools across the country moving forward. 

“When I talk to colleagues from nearby schools or from other states, they all echo this same idea.  Students are experiencing high levels of stress, and schools are seeing an increase in mental health and support needs,” Imhoff said. 

Endres said he is writing an essay based on the responses to his discussions with students that outlines the factors at UAHS that could influence stress and anxiety levels. 

“I actually told my students that since they write essays for me, I’m going to write an essay for them. So I’ll provide … a summary of what I learned from them, letting them critique it.” Endres said. 

For Kahvecioglu, the roots of this epidemic remain complex, and many of the factors influence each other. She emphasizes that individuals pay attention to their mental health just as much as their physical health to avoid succumbing to the negative aspects of stress culture at UAHS. She believes that with technology and other factors not disappearing anytime soon, asking for help should be accepted and enforced at UAHS.

While appointments can be made to speak with a student’s guidance counselor at the Counseling Center or at the UA Schools website, walk-ins are always welcome and there will always be someone there to assist you.

 “I’m still stuck in the same mental ruts that I’ve had since forever, but now I know that’s it’s okay to ask for help,” Kahvecioglu said. “If trying to get myself out of a situation hasn’t helped, then maybe someone can help get me out of the hole I’ve dug myself into. It’s cheesy, but just because it is, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.”