Can students manage stress in high school?

“I’d have to say high school has definitely been stressful over the past few years… I’m always trying to find the perfect balance between school work and time for myself as a person—not a student. However, it can get kind of difficult sometimes when you reach a point where you sacrifice some of your sleep or health to get the best possible grades.”

These are the words of Clarissa Gutierrez, a high school senior attending Whitney High School in Cerritos, California.  

While this may seem shocking or come across as an exaggeration to many, the reality is that it is all too common for high school students to suffer from high-stress levels and have poor mental health due to the pressures put on them by the current high school experience.

Today’s high school experience is much different than what it used to be in the past. As high schools move into a new era of teaching, they also place more of an emphasis on the competitive college admissions process. Now, more than ever before, students’ mental health is suffering—and high stress is the cause. Everything from choosing what to wear to prom, to choosing what colleges to apply to adds unwanted stress to students.

This applies to both Clarissa and her peers as she explains that everyone’s health has been affected by school. By stating, “I’ve noticed that many of my peers tend to display lethargy or even anxiety. Signs of depression surface among high expectations in some cases, and I’ve seen some students get caught up in the pressure of striving for the perfect academic record,” she is describing typical students at a top-performing high school such as Whitney.  

What was revealed after interviewing Clarissa and others at Whitney, was that while everyone had their own way of dealing with stress, most need extra help with it. With that said, a question arises. How should students get help to handle their high stress levels and to try and maintain strong mental health?  Many feel like they are without a solution and don’t know how to get help, but it is because a lot of people still do not take advantage of all the resources offered from a high school.

Most high schools have recognized the fact that they must offer support for students to maintain mental health, so most school offer wellness coordinators on campus which are there to ensure that all kids have the available help they need to go through their high school years. They serve as guidance counselors who can help many, deal with their high stress levels and anxiety.

Esmeralda Barragan is the current wellness coordinator at Whitney High School. She started working at the school and describes her job as, “… offering extra support, or working on issues that may be affecting students.”  She also reports that, “The main reason why students are referred, is stress,” and that as the school year has gone on, there have been more and more students who have been referred to her by teachers.

Last year, there was instability when it came to the wellness coordinator position at Whitney. There were two wellness coordinators who left the school and the instability in the position led to many students not being able to be helped.  In the past, the wellness coordinators could only meet with a certain amount of students, but this year, Esmeralda has made an effort to reach everyone that she can and her efforts have proven to be effective like never before. “When I first arrived at Whitney, I would spend lunch times walking around campus so that students would start to recognize me and know that I was here for them.  That way they could get used to me.”

Clarissa’s way of handling stress is, “… knowing when it’s time to take a break. Although I always have a lot of work to do, I remember that hard work truly does pay off, but I also make some time to read a book for fun, watch a light movie, or take a walk to get my mind off of things for a moment.” Esmeralda agrees with Clarissa’s method, but also recommends the, “… skill of being mindful. Mindfulness is important and is often overlooked by students when they are undergoing high levels of stress. That is a piece of advice I believe is very important.”

They both placed an emphasis on having good relationships with teachers on campus. Clarissa pointed out that, “I have talked to them about stress and being able to reach out to them for support has helped me to do well in class despite any problems I’ve been experiencing.” She also added that, “It’s nice to know that you can count on your teachers to understand and genuinely care about their students.”

Clarissa speaks for many of her peers when she says that the school’s faculty should be, “…acknowledging the stress and talking about it [since] is necessary to avoid the build-up of overwhelming worries.”

At the end of it all, high school students are undergoing a lot of stress. It is not only their job, but also the school’s to acknowledge the problem and continue to place an emphasis on mental health.

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