Getting into and completing college has become a very stressful proposition. Kids from low-performing schools struggle to get the honors and Advanced Placement courses to demonstrate their academic abilities, while worrying about how they'll pay for college if they get there. But even the most fortunate students, those attending elite public and private high schools, are struggling under the pressure to perform academically, participate in extracurriculars and generally succeed at everything. Research is showing all that stress is taking a toll on young people.
In her Atlantic article, Alexandra Ossola writes about a Frontiers in Psychology study of students at two elite East Coast high schools where almost half the participants reported experiencing "a great deal of stress" on a daily basis. The study authors even note that chronic stress has become a form of "cultural currency" at elite schools, demonstrating the level of rigor.
"But too much stress has many effects on the body and mind, Alvord says. In the short term it can cause anxiety; over long periods of time, elevated levels of stress hormones can degrade the immune system, cause heart problems, exacerbate respiratory and gastrointestinal issues, and bring on chronic anxiety and depression. That’s bad for anyone, but it can be especially bad for high schoolers: 'Colleges are complaining that kids are disengaged, they’re dropping out, taking a long time to graduate. It’s not developmentally appropriate for them to work so hard,' says Gwadz, one of the authors of the recent study. And since everyone has a different psychological capacity for stress, it’s hard to know when a student is pushed to the point of degrading his or her health."