Today's students may be more stressed than ever before. In fact, the 2015 American College Health Association National College Health Assessment found that 85.6 percent of students had felt overwhelmed in the past year.1 The pressures of getting top grades, balancing extracurricular activities with studying, and spending time with family all add up. In addition, students manage another identity in the digital world. Social media platforms are one more thing to keep up with and are often rife with stress-inducing comparisons, gossip and bullying.
Significant life changes—such as a death in a family, moving to an unfamiliar location or a divorce—are likely to cause high spikes in stress. A 2016 study published in the International Journal of Clinical and Health Psychology shows daily stressors play just as significant a role in affecting overall mental health.2
Belief in oneself is vital to minimizing the negative impact from stress. As outlined here, administrators and educators can provide counseling centers, online resources and other services to help students cope with stress. Students who can better manage their stress are more engaged in class, more likely to absorb what they're learning, and more likely to excel beyond the classroom.
Here are three significant ways excess stress can negatively affect students:
Stress Decreases Sleep Quality
There is a link between stress levels and poor sleep. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 70 percent of those who report persistent stress have trouble sleeping.3
The National Sleep Foundation reports teens need at least eight hours of sleep to function at peak performance, yet only about 15 percent of teens get an adequate amount.4 Poor sleep makes stress management more difficult, while also negatively impacting concentration, learning, listening, memory and problem-solving.
Stress Makes Students Angrier
Stress may be the culprit of students who are prone to bullying others. The Mayo Clinic reports stress increases feelings of irritability and anger, which increases the likelihood for angry outbursts and social withdrawal.5
Besides directing anger at other students, students who are stressed may be resistant to following school guidelines and respectfully engaging with instructors. They may also exhibit disrespectful behavior online. Their focus on anger may cause overall work to suffer.
Stress Worsens Grades
When a student is stressed and preoccupied, it takes over their ability to focus during lectures or studying. Stress may even cause students to drop out of school or drop classes. The 2010 American College Health Association National College Health Assessment reported more than 25 percent of students say that stress lowered their grades or ability to finish a course.6
For students experiencing stress at home, attending to schoolwork may not be a top priority. As research shows, stress exhibited by instructors directly increases the stress levels of students while in the classroom. Stressors may pop up at any moment to disrupt learning and concentration.7
It's vital for educators to recognize the significant impact stress has on teens and young adults, and work to create a supportive and calm educational environment. School administrators who want their students to succeed academically should conduct regular check-ins with students and direct students to counselors and mental health programs when necessary and educate families about the negative impact of stress on students.
Learn how your school can help students overcome stress: Zap Student Stress with These Tools & ResourcesResources: Photo credit. (1) American College Health Association (2) Science Direct (3) Anxiety and Depression Association of America (4) National Sleep Foundation (5) Mayo Clinic (6) American College Health Association (7) University of Maryland–College Park study