It’s the worst week of my life!
I’ve been sick every finals week!
I stay up until 2 in the morning every night of finals week!
I am at the point of not caring anymore!
I’m not a good test taker!
I am so overwhelmed!
These comments capture the consensus among the students in my class as they begin the stress build-up to final exam week, but among high school students in general, finals are simply one of the many factors contributing to high levels of stress. In fact, stress among young adults today seems to be much more chronic than it was in the past. According to an NYU study, “Nearly half (49%) of all students reported feeling a great deal of stress on a daily basis, and 31 percent reported feeling somewhat stressed” (NYU Study Examines, 2015).
While an optimal level of stress can positively motivate us to do things in our best interest (like study for exams, visit the doctor regularly, exercise, and perform to the best of our ability), when stress levels exceed this optimum, they can become excessive and debilitating, leading to increased anxiety and depression. The National Education Association (NEA) has actually declared anxiety as an epidemic among students even as young as 4 and 5 years old. In particular, since the advent of high-stakes testing, students are really feeling the pressure. The focus on good grades, AP classes, and college admission all seem to root stress in “the idea of college being the finish line of life” (Walker 2016).
But the truth is that there is a whole lot of life beyond the tests, grades, and statistics outlined on a transcript.
So, as parents and educators, what do we do to help our young men and women? How do we mentor them in developing the necessary skills that will allow them to identify and manage stress and to avoid the often debilitating problems associated with anxiety and depression?
Flannery (2018) reports that experts have pinpointed two issues that seem to create high anxiety among young adults: testing anxiety and anxiety over social media.
While there are factors outside of a student’s control, studies show that there is a link between perceived control of our lives and health – the more perceived control, the better the coping skills to manage health.
And there are strategies within our control that can help manage test anxiety: exercise, deep breathing/meditation, studying techniques, and before/during test techniques. Stanford Professor McGonigal also indicates that “we can make stress our friend” (see TED Talk below). Please see the links below for details on these strategies:
The rise in anxiety and depression as a result of social media is now well-documented, and it is ultimately linked to a rise in suicide rates among teens (Tweng, J., Joiner, T., Rogers, M. , 2017). It is in this arena that we fight the hardest battle. Whether we want to recognize it or not, research is showing we are a nation of people who are addicted to our phones/social media. With the advent of platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, the temptation to socially isolate, something that leads to increased depression and anxiety, is strong, and these platforms also provide places where incredible meanness toward one another is on display. In addition, social media disrupts sleep, which is related to mental health.
So, again, what do we do? Ideally, a partnership between schools and parents would work toward a healthy balance of social media use. Schools can create policies around phone use during school hours and even incorporate responsible research and social media use within course content.
As parents and adult mentors, the responsibility really starts with us. While solutions to phone and social/media issues are complex, we can help our kids develop healthy habits by improving our own tech habits. For starters, recognizing the effect of our own FOMO (fear of missing out) is important in modeling good phone habits. See this link for 12 good tips: https://www.mother.ly/parenting/12-tips-to-help-you-put-your-phone-away-in-front-of-your-kid
The world in which we live is complicated and stressful, and unfortunately, we can’t protect our children and students from it completely, but if we, as parents and educators, can help them cope with test anxiety and responsibly manage social media, we will have made progress in the right direction.
Praying for our students in this busy, test-taking month!
Dean of Faculty
Linfield Christian School
More Links on the Subject:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uu8Ax7zyYS4– Dr. Denise Pope, Sr. Lecturer at Stanford and Co-founder Challenge Success