In high school, students have plenty of reasons to be stressed. The pressure to receive good grades, maintain a social life, and deal with the upcoming future are just a few of the main stress points that students face daily. Many students turn to sports or other extracurricular activities to distract themselves from these worries––but is it possible that those activities achieve the opposite of their intention?
As a student who is involved in AP and Honors classes, student leadership, three extracurricular activities, and a varsity sport, I have firsthand experience of both the positives and negatives of extracurriculars. Though the activities do provide my brain with a slight break from all the stress from school, oftentimes I find myself too tired or with more work following my excess activities. My brain works all day at school, my body works at practice, and whatever energy is left is dedicated to my other extracurriculars—by the end of my usual school day I am near to complete exhaustion. Is there something students can do to cut down on these tiring activities without sacrificing their “break?”
Dr. Jennifer Caudle of Rowan University says that an abundance of extra activities do in fact increase stress in students, something parents are unaware of and do not tend to. Caudle explains that parents only want the best experiences for their children, but often they forget that the developing brains of teens aren’t able to handle the same amount of stress that adult brains do. Consequently, those extracurriculars are not a break—they are just more triggers for anxiety. Caudle recommends downtime for over-scheduled kids, to give their brains a break from all the action and stress stemming from their daily activities. Statistics from research.com also reveal that stress in students peaks while trying to balance a social life and school. Research.com collected input from high school students about where their excess stress comes from.
Seen in the graph, students stress the most over getting good grades––so the addition of extracurriculars to the general worries of school is not very beneficial. Despite all the research found on what students can do to reduce stress or what the main causes of stress are in students, I wanted to get the opinion of someone who experiences these overwhelmed students daily. So, I went to my English teacher of two years, Julia Parsons.
Mrs. Parsons is an Orange Lutheran Alumni, and has taught at Orange Lutheran since 2007. She’s seen many cycles of students––normal, honors, and advanced placement––and has witnessed the results of stress on students. Parsons is dedicated to recognizing and acknowledging the anxiety levels in her students, and works hard to give them little to no work outside of school. She believes that when students overwork themselves, both inside and outside the classroom, it is with their goal of a college acceptance letter in mind. She calls those acceptances a student’s “stamp of approval,” to themselves and to their parents. These “stamps of approval” are what can either cause a student to go above and beyond in their extracurriculars, or just focus on school and only school––neither of which are great options. She thinks that no matter their own personal desires, students use the lens of success through college education to dictate all of their decisions.
However, on the topic of “how much is too much” in regards to extracurriculars, Parsons feels that it really does change from person to person. She explains that she’s seen both ends of the spectrum––students taking a million tough courses and making it out alive, or students taking one difficult course and drowning academically by the end of the school year. When extracurriculars are factored into the equation, she thinks that extracurriculars are truly “the heart and soul of everything.” Parsons explains that students get the most real life experience from activities outside of school, and values that experience over a rigorous academic load. Her belief is that the goals of schools should be “mental health – being a functional adult,” meaning that students should seek out activities that are enjoyable and beneficial to them for the future. She recommends students be aware of their limits, and how much they can take on without being stressed. The concept of limiting yourself can be quite crazy to most students, but it’s an important part of both high school and the real-world. Parsons suggests that students should use their time in high school to determine how much they can do well, and build off of that later in life.
So, how much is too much? The answer: it depends. Students should test their limits while they still can, and learn what they can and can’t take. They also should pursue what makes them happy––not what gets them into the most prestigious college. You’ve got this!
Remember we have amazing counselors at Orange Lutheran, and their doors are always open.
A special thanks to Mrs. Parsons for giving her input for this piece!
Photo Credit: Keith Negley