School stress from heavy workload brings health concerns to students

By Maria Grund ’14 and Anna-Maria Thalassinos ’14


Senior Sabrina Davis arrives at school around 7:45 a.m. every day. Before the first bell rings, Davis reviews notes for a test in one of her many higher level courses. She then attends her three morning IB classes, studies the majority of her lunch period and then finishes off her school day with an additional three IB classes.

When the school bell rings at 3:05 p.m., Davis’ day is not over. She will then either continue with her homework for the majority of the evening or attend work until around 10 p.m. After finally eating her dinner, Davis will lastly complete the remainder of her homework in order to go to bed anywhere between midnight and 1 a.m.

The next day, she will wake up and repeat this process. Davis experiences frequent headaches and gets little sleep due to her large amount of extracurriculars. homework, and stress.

Recent research shows that these high levels of school-related stress have begun to adversely affect students and cause health concerns that were not as common several decades ago.

Past to Present

On average, current high school students complete three-to-four hours of homework a night if not more, according to The Huffington Post and The Smithsonian. This means that students are working roughly four-to-five hours a night compared to 1981 when students only had around two-and-a-half hours of homework a night.

Davis, who is working towards an International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma, thinks this increase in homework is related to the higher standards the current generation is held to.

“School is definitely harder now than when my parents went to school. They don’t always believe me when I tell them what I learn in class and the amount of homework I have,” Davis said. “I think this is because of the rise in standards for our generation and the ever increasing competition to be the best.”

IB coordinator Cynthia Ballheim said school has not become harder than in the past; however, students have less time for academic studies.

“I don’t think [school has] gotten more challenging but I think that students have been asked to do more outside of school, which takes away from the time that they would have been spending doing school things,” Ballheim said.

Junior Anna Grumman is currently enrolled in two AP courses, two honors courses and an optional honors science research class. On top of her school work she also plays on the tennis team. Grumman agrees with Ballheim that school has not become harder, just more competitive, putting additional pressure on students.

“I’m not sure how much harder school…is nowadays, but I do think that students these days have a lot more pressure on themselves to succeed and there’s more competition between students to do well,” Grumman said.

This pressure to succeed in school can be seen through Emily, an underclassman.*

“In elementary school and middle school I was a straight-A student and I was expecting to continue that in high school but it was a really big blow [when I wasn’t]; it hit me hard,” Emily said. “I used to be a really good student, school came first. But lately, I have a lack of motivation to do any of my work. It’s not only a lack of motivation, but it’s a constant, ‘I don’t want to do it.’ ‘What is the point to this all?’ ‘What am I going to do with myself in the future?’ I’m kind of just… average.”

Emily on average receives four hours of sleep each night and was recently diagnosed with depression.

“[Lack of sleep has] become a usual thing. So I don’t really notice it anymore,” Emily said. “It has also taken a toll on my mental health because all this stress, especially from society’s expectations of you to do well and excel, has probably been the cause of me breaking down and it’s… because of this constant stress and pressure to do well that made me… not well.”

Freshman Jesse Zhu is enrolled in only one AP course, but still completes four-five hours of homework every night. He agrees that there is too much stress on students.

“There is definitely too much school-based stress on students [currently],” Zhu said. “With all of the IB and AP courses that the majority of students are taking, how could [there] not be?”

Ballheim suggests organizing schedules early to spread challenging courses over multiple years to ensure that students do not attempt too many difficult classes during their junior and senior years. She suggests doing this by planning out desired courses freshman year instead of later on in high school.

“People come in[to] the high school and choose classes just because they can, and then when it comes down to grades 11 and 12, they’re stressed because they have graduation requirements that they haven’t gotten out of the way, and then [they have] the idea to take AP and IB and then everything starts crashing quickly,” Ballheim said.



In addition to homework and extracurricular activities, many seniors have the added stress of college applications.

In recent years the competition to get into college has increased making acceptance rates significantly lower than a few decades ago, according to The Boston Globe. Davis agrees that being accepted to college has become more difficult.

“College is so much harder to get into now,” Davis said. “An increase in the amount of people applying has caused colleges to increase their standards.”

Senior Tanvi Kumar agrees that getting into college has become more difficult and adds that a college degree has declined in value.

“College is definitely harder to get into now because everyone wants to get into that top college and be the best they can be, but with the economy, jobs that would have required maybe just a masters [degree] now require a PhD, and it’s getting harder and harder to get a job with fewer qualifications or degrees behind your name,” Kumar said.

This increased challenge in finding a job has the potential to cause added stress for students applying to college.

“I think the bar for education has really gotten higher,” Emily said. “People, even educated people, these days don’t have jobs. So it’s kind of like you have to be the best or you don’t have a chance.”

College applications were especially difficult this year due to the Common Application glitches caused by widespread use of the site. College counselor Kathy Moore said that these technical difficulties put even more stress on students.

“Unfortunately, the glitches made an already stressful process even more stressful for students, colleges and college centers,” Moore said. “Many schools extended deadlines due to the glitches and will be very understanding of errors or issues that come up as a result of the Common Application.”

The glitches caused many colleges to push back admission deadlines, making the application process longer. Some students such as Davis, however, were not affected by the Common Application technical issues.

“I had already submitted my Common Applications about two weeks prior to the glitches becoming a major issue and I didn’t have to deal with it,” Davis said. “However, some of the colleges I applied to extended their application deadlines and that pushed back the dates [students receive] notifications on [their application] status so that’s really annoying.”

Due to the increased admission standards of many universities, Ballheim sees an increased need for students to take IB and AP courses.

“They’re definitely pressured to take rigorous classes because everyone wants to make sure the classes that they take have a high regard and are accountable. UA is a wonderful school, but if you tell somebody from a different state about UA, they won’t know what it is, but they will know what IB is,” Ballheim said. “It gives everyone a standard that they can use to measure students. [That] is what makes AP and IB attractive … Colleges and universities know exactly what you studied and how you studied it.”

In order to reduce stress, Moore recommends applying to a variety of schools, but she also acknowledges that stress is a natural part of the application process.

“The college process can be stressful and overwhelming. I think just realizing that and understanding that it’s OK to feel that way will be helpful. Talk about it with family, friends, teachers, counselors, etc. … It’s helpful to talk about the process, especially with others who are going through it or have been through it,” Moore said. “Building a list that you love and including safe schools will [also] help reduce the stress.”


Negative Effects

In recent years, students have had an increased amount of school-related illnesses such as stomach aches, headaches, nausea and even depression, according the The Huffington Post. Kumar has experienced several of these symptoms, and has sought professional help in order to relieve them.

“I had a condition in 10th grade that was caused by the high levels of stress and lack of sleep. It caused my pain receptors to randomly go off, so I was in a lot of pain for most of the year and had to endure a lot of physical therapy and doctor visits to calm the pain,” Kumar said. “I’ve also developed stress fractures and other diseases in my shin, knees, back and wrists from not sleeping and eating enough due to the sheer amounts of work and stress from not having enough time.”

Kumar is not alone in her stress-related illnesses. Davis’ symptoms have become so frequent that they have become a part of her daily routine.

“I’d say I’m physically affected all the time. I get on average about five or six hours of sleep a night and have minor headaches almost daily to the point where I just ignore them now,” Davis said.

Emily was diagnosed with depression last school year and has been showing symptoms since middle school. Currently, Emily sees a therapist and has been prescribed antidepressants because of school-related stress.

“My anxiety and depression build off of school. It was probably the stress from all the [school] work. My parents especially counted on me because I’m the youngest. ‘You have to do well, you have to do well, you have to do better than both of your older siblings.’ It kind of got to me where I broke down and I haven’t been able to hold myself up because part of my brain tells me ‘you’re not good enough, you can’t do it,’” Emily said.

Grumman and Zhu both recommend finding an activity to distract students from stress brought on by academics as well as using effective studying methods.

“I would recommend maybe taking intervals of rest in between intervals of studying time, as it will maybe assist you in relaxing a bit. In addition, maybe taking a break by listening to music or reading a book may [also] help,” Zhu said.

Davis recommends sleep and a study group to effectively utilize study time.

“Sleep can always make someone feel better the next day when they were previously stressed. Another great idea is to have regular study dates with friends,” Davis said. “As long as everyone stays on task it can be a great way to get things done. That way, you don’t feel like you’re the only one that has tons of work to do and you’re not sacrificing a social life for homework.”

Kumar has an alternative way for relieving stress. She feels that homework should be limited and teachers should be more understanding about deadlines.

“My…suggestion would be for teachers to stop checking homework. Sometimes we get behind on our work because it might have been a busy day, but walking into class the next day without homework and losing precious points over that is [a] prime way to increase our stress levels,” Kumar said.

Emily recommends socializing and spending plenty of time with friends along with keeping busy in order to relieve stress.

“I kind of keep myself busy to not think about it. So I guess that’s another reason why I take on so many extracurricular activities,” Emily said. “For a moment I don’t have to worry about ‘oh, I have so much stuff to do, this deadline is in a week, this test is this week.’”

Despite, the pressure to take multiple AP and IB courses, Kumar said that students need to focus on the quality not the quantity of courses taken.

“In order to be successful in college, it’s not about how well you did in high school, but how much of the information from all of those AP classes you retained.”

*Denotes source who requested anonymity

Success Without Stress

By Ella Koscher ’15

Reprieve passes, open campus, Capstone release days, limited homework, no class rank and music in the halls. All of these aspects of UAHS aim to reduce stress among students.

According to an extensive survey conducted by the Associated Press and MTV, school ranks the highest stressor for teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17.

During the term of former principal Kip Greenhill, the administration made changes to its policies in order to reduce school stress while keeping students well-prepared for college.

One of these changes included limited homework. During his time as principal, Greenhill stressed with the faculty that two and a half hours of homework per class each week should be the maximum.

Greenhill made this decision after analyzing two studies–one from Duke University and one from Stanford University. The studies revealed that high school students should have no more than one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half hours of homework per night. Homework that exceeds this time limit can actually harm the learning process.

“That’s educational malpractice,” Greenhill said. “…We can’t be involved in that, and that was pretty hard to argue with when I had the research right there to show [the faculty.]”

“Less actually ends up being more,” Greenhill added.

In addition to limiting homework, the Greenhill administration also chose to eliminate class rank in 2006. The goal was to reduce the pressure on students and to focus less on their GPA and more in areas of study that interests them (electives).

“We’re supposed to be developing students and [with class rank] we [were] discouraging their development,” Greenhill said. “It hasn’t hurt college admissions at all and they [are] still getting them into the best schools.”

UAHS’ view of homework and class rank is just two ways the school tries to respect students and reduce school pressure. In comparison, UAHS is a progressive high school when paralleled with other schools in central Ohio.

“Even today, nobody does reprieve passes or open campus for seniors, musics in the hallways, study days for AP and IB exams [and more,]” Greenhill said. “We are so far ahead that people still are not doing [these things.]”

Though Greenhill is no longer principal, he hopes future administrations will uphold the same level of respect for students.

“I don’t think that stress is healthy,” Greenhill said. “I do think sometimes it leaves students to self-medicate because of the pressure [and use] drugs and alcohol.”

Though Greenhill stresses that school is no excuse for the use of drugs, he does believe some schools have the tendency to become “toxic” to high schoolers. By reducing the amount of pressure put on students, students may be less likely to resort to unhealthy outlets.

To Greenhill, high school is meant to be fun as well as good preparation for college. With elements such as reprieve passes and AP/IB study days, UAHS still aims for a challenging environment with limited stress.