How school causes stress in teens

Teenagers health is threatened in high school and university, due to lack of sleep, proper nutrition and mental wellness.

Have you ever sat in bed at six, seven maybe even eight in the morning and thought to yourself how much you regret staying up late the previous night? Doing homework? Working late? Out with friends? Watching your favorite TV show? It all doesn’t matter at this point because you need to get up for school, and you can’t be late. 

Every year, school students stress as their education can cause them to lack sleep,  develop eating disorders, become more prone to mental health complications. A survey of students at a Burnaby high school about their opinions on the timetable, the school work, diet and more shows how the school system can contribute to student struggles with physical and mental health. This characterization is based on interviews with 20 current students at a British Columbia high school.

To some, the school year may be the perfect opportunity to eat healthy breakfasts, lunches and dinners. But for most of the students interviewed by 8forty, this is not the case. As the day starts very early, it’s common for people to be rushing to leave the house. This can result in teens cutting breakfast so they gain time. “I barely ever eat breakfast in the morning. I usually just eat food during nutrition break then again at lunch, because I have no time in the morning,” says a grade 10 student. 

Unfortunately, skipping breakfast in the morning can lead to more problems, such as weight gain or resorting to unhealthy snacks later in the day. Studies have shown that eating breakfast every morning can in fact help you lose weight, not based on what you eat, it’s based on the fact that you ate at all. Feeding yourself in the morning makes you less likely to feel tired and then overeat as a result later in the day. 

Giving your body no sleep harms not only your sleep schedule, but also can weaken or damage mental wellness, slows growth, damages skin, puts you at risk for malnourishment, and causes the rest of their day to be rough. The 15-to-16-year-old students who spoke to 8forty for this article averaged 7 hours of sleep on school nights. Every student interviewed said they had stayed up past midnight to work on homework in the past three years. One student said they have been awake late on a school night, and decided to simply make it an all-nighter, staying up a few extra hours and then getting ready to go to school on nothing but an energy drink. 

Research shows that adults who get 7 hours or less of sleep are more likely to gain weight, whereas people who receive more than 7 hours of sleep have an easier time losing weight. Extreme sleep loss can link to deadly diseases such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Lower risks of sleep loss can consist of short temper, drowsiness and irritability. In the past, researchers assumed that depression caused insomnia. Recent studies have shown that it’s the other way around. When your body doesn’t get enough sleep at night, the amygdala and prefrontal cortex (which are the main emotion centers in your brain) have a difficult time managing information the way a fully awake brain would. If a person with mental health issues starts to have insomnia as well, then the restlessness in the brain affects your mental wellbeing. This is why many scientists say that mental health and sleep bounce off each other.

The mental state of any teenager in the modern day world is not the best. With extra curriculars, school drama, homework, and to top it all off wanting to get an excellent grade, it breaks down the mental being of young teens. “School stresses me out, all the assignments and homework, it’s too much” said one grade 11 student.

Some students pointed toward frustration with how grading works.  “If there’s nothing I can do to bump up my mark, I start to feel unmotivated” says Alissa Visser on her grades. 

“I just feel physically and mentally better in the summer,” says another grade 11 student. 

A highschool counselor explains how they notice the stress levels are heightened during the winter season, due to midterms, Christmas and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SADS). “Christmas can be a tough one when expectations are high for everyone to ‘be happy’ and the simple truth is that not everyone is happy all the time during Christmas,” he states. After this, when the spring and summer weather comes, it’s more common to see heightened moods. As the clocks will go back and it will start to get bright and warm, the school year comes to an end. 

A steady support system for anyone struggling is needed; however, there can be waiting lists, and sometimes it can take months before getting into a facility or clinic. 

One of the simplest solutions, according to the counselor, would be for the government to put more funding into mental health clinics and school programs, so that children and teens can get the help they need. 

The highschool counselor we were speaking to explains how a more proactive solution was to be putting funding into programs that focus on younger ages, such as an elementary or middle schools. This will help them build a strong strategy to cope that they can carry with them through their teenage and adult years. 

“This can look like have an elementary counselor in each school, increasing the availability of parenting programs to give parents the skills to help their kids when they do struggle,” he explains.

The teenage brain is in development, and with these obstacles it can become dangerous and stressful.

“The reality is we all struggle,” explains the counselor. “How are we able to cope is the bigger question.”

Important Hotlines & Crisis Lines:

National Eating Disorder Hotline: 1-800-931-2237

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

Suicide Hotline: 1-800-784-2433

The Trevor Project: 866-488-7386

Lesbian Gay Bi Trans Youth Line: 1-800-268-9688

Depression and Bipolar Support: 800-273-TALK (8255)

Kids Help Phone: 800-668-6868

Youth space Textline (across Canada): 778-783-0177 6pm to midnight daily

Cover Image: pixabay/bdabney

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