When Senior Afton Apodaca is stressed, she doesn’t want to eat anything. Or, if she hasn’t slept because she was working on yearbook or homework, she’s hungrier than usual. Many times, because of yearbook, Apodaca has three or four days where she’s working on one to two hours of sleep.
“Once you get used to it, you get into the rhythm,” Apodaca said. “First night, first day, you’re fine. Second day, you’re usually fine. Third day is the hard day; you have to push through it. Fourth day, you’re out of it, but you feel good because you’re kind of like drugged up on no sleep.”
Apodaca isn’t alone in having health issues that come from school-related stress. According to school social worker Becky Wiseman, the high amounts of stress that high schoolers are under today aren’t healthy. The results from a survey of 123 East students display that school-related stress can lead to losing sleep, depression and procrastination. Students responded that school-related stress is negatively affecting their physical and mental health.
“Unchecked stress can have lasting impact,” Denise Pope, senior lecturer at Stanford University and cofounder of research foundation Challenge Success said in an email statement. “It can lead to sleep deprivation which can lead to depression. We see kids with ulcers and severe stomach problems, migraines and long-term impact on their bodies.”
Eighty-three percent of students in the survey believed their classes and homework stressed them out regularly.
“I think I live in a constant state of stress,” Apodaca said. “Whether it’s about school or the yearbook or scheduling everything to fit, all my different meetings and having enough time to do my homework and my long term projects.”
For some students, long periods of stress, combined with lack of sleep, can actually result in getting sick. For Apodaca, this also includes flu-like symptoms and headaches.
“I don’t usually get sick, but in the last six months I’ve been sick like two or three times,” Apodaca said. “I think it’s from lack of sleep and just stress. I think especially like when I’m achy or have a headache, I think that’s stress.”
One of the largest problems that stress causes in high schoolers is the destruction of sleep patterns. Eighty percent of students in the survey believed school-related stress reduced the amount of sleep they got.
Sophomore Laura Fredrick remembers last semester, when her homework, combined with procrastination, resulted in very late nights. She is proud that she has managed to start getting an average of seven hours of sleep per night this semester.
“Last semester it was probably about four [hours],” Fredrick said.
Negative effects of lack of sleep include exhaustion, headaches, difficulty falling asleep and even depression.
“The day after (an all-nighter) I always take excedrin,” Apodaca said. “First of all I’m tired, and I also get sleep-deprivation headaches. It’s just tylenol with caffeine in it.”
One of the most prevalent effects of stress is the mental breakdowns it causes in students. 59 percent of students believed they had an emotional breakdown because of school-related stress. The overwhelming amount of homework — 51 percent of East students have two to four hours a night — the extracurriculars and the lack of sleep all lead to breakdowns, freak-outs or panic attacks.
The night before an Honors Chemistry 1 and European History AP (EHAP) test, sophomore Monty Lyddon was overwhelmed and broke down, or freaked out, as he described it.
“When I freak out, I don’t eat, don’t sleep, can’t focus, I don’t relax,” Lyddon said. “I didn’t go to sleep until 2 [a.m.] the day before the EHAP test, because I was just trying to study as much as I could.”
Fredrick can also relate to late-night breakdowns. Last semester, she was so overwhelmed with her homework load that she got into the habit of setting an alarm for 2 a.m. to wake up to do homework, after getting some sleep.
“I did this several times like last semester,” Fredrick said. “My alarm didn’t go off and I woke up around 6:30 and I started freaking out and I missed first hour to do homework.”
The sheer load of classwork and extracurriculars can lead to never having any free time, which is essential to staying emotionally healthy.
“Our bodies have got to have time decompress and be within the moment,” Wiseman said.
Apodaca has struggled with the lack of free time. It has even affected her anxiety and depression, making it worse.
“I feel like if I had more time to myself, it would improve my general mental health,” Apodaca said. “But because I don’t, it’s frustrating because I feel like I don’t have time to take care of myself sometimes.”
She has to schedule a couple hour blocks to herself on weekends where she can hang out with friends or read, just to have time to relax.
Ninety-three percent of students in the survey said they felt overwhelmed by school-related stress. Students are so inundated with homework and extracurricular activities that they put homework before sleep, and school before their mental health.
“There is an expectation to produce more so than in the past,” Wiseman said. “In the past, it was kind of like, ‘allow yourself to be a kid.’ And now I think we look at teens and preteens to produce something and be on the cutting edge all the time and to try everything out and be this voice.”