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Student Stress: Overworking for glory

By Suvia Li and Kevin Zhang Sept. 29, 2021

As a result of rising expectations in both academic and extracurricular activities, current high schoolers are facing more stress than ever before, which is repeatedly glamorized among students despite its negative effects. This can be a result of the increasingly popular phenomenon called “hustle culture,” which emphasizes the idea that constantly working is the only way to have value and be successful. It is especially prevalent in school and in the workplace, where many people strive to work at their maximum capacity without any rest.

The competitive nature of high schools may be caused by a desire to seem better than others. As reported by College Board Advanced Placement (AP) Program Results, 27.1 percent of high school graduates took at least one AP exam in 2010, while an increased 38.3 percent did in 2020. With over an 11 percent difference over the past 10 years, high schoolers taking difficult classes and exams have become less noteworthy.

“Stress seems normal because of the competitiveness in high school, especially in the Bay Area, where it is often bragged about. In reality, the pressure is very concerning. Instead, seeking help to combat stress should be normalized amongst students,” Jude Tantawy Art Sophomore Elaine Ju said.

The Messenger states that many high school students feel dissatisfied with their results because they compare them to others. This discontent facilitates more competition between students—to avoid feeling disappointed, they are peer pressured to continuously increase effort levels even beyond what they can handle. By forming toxic comparisons between themselves and peers, students become more stressed, leading to overwork.

In 2014, Professor John Pencavel of Stanford University conducted a study on the correlation between overwork and productivity. Through observation, Pencavel found that the amount of work done by workers during their first 50 hours of the week was mostly constant. However, employees got significantly less work once they exceeded 50 hours. Similarly, high school students who overwork themselves actually end up being less productive.

Overwork can lead to burnout, a state of exhaustion due to extended periods of stress.

Psychoanalyst Josh Cohen says that burnout is frequently mistakenly seen as a mask for laziness, or as regular tiredness despite its severity.

In addition to decreased productivity, overwork and stress can negatively affect students’ mental health. Research from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health found that prolonged periods of stress increase the risk of both anxiety and depression. The cycle of over-stress and mental health issues can become chronic due to students being constantly exposed to the promotion of hustle culture.

Amidst the adverse impacts of stress, research has shown that there is a silver lining. In a study investigating the effect of stress on the brain at the University of California, Berkeley, researchers Daniella Kaufer and Elizabeth Kirby found that acute stress—very short periods of elevated stress levels—was beneficial to a rat’s memory. The researchers discovered that similar patterns can be found in humans as well: acute stress can benefit student performance before assessments, since it boosts cognitive functions. However, the study also revealed that extended periods of stress leads to negative effects such as memory impairment.

In order to combat overstress, there are a variety of methods that students can employ to keep their stress under control. The Mayo Clinic suggests that taking up a relaxing hobby or allocating time for controlled breaks may help prevent burnout. Also, according to The New York Times, students can reduce their urge to overwork by talking about their problems with others.

“It is incredibly important to find trustworthy people to share your burdens with, whether it is a group of people or an individual. Vocalizing your issues can help you understand what is actually wrong, and consulting a trusted person gives you reassurance that your issues are respected,” Priya Garcia, English Department, said.

At the school, faculty members have been placing higher importance on mental wellbeing. For example, the academic counselors are initiating a presentation series on mental health during tutorial for all students. These presentations will be happening for eight weeks in the first semester and will return for another eight weeks during the second semester.

“Especially because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the emphasis on mental health is more important than ever. We are giving the presentations to help students address and resolve their increased levels of stress,” Brenda Stone, Academic Counseling Department, said.

The current toxic work culture has caused an abundance of stress, especially among students. Peer pressure, high expectations, and a desire to be successful all contribute to this culture, causing stress to be romanticized and overlooked rather than properly addressed. Students who are feeling stressed can use healthy methods, including exercise, time management and utilizing resources from the school, to keep themselves from being negatively impacted by the over-glamorized work culture.


About the Contributors

Suvia Li

Staff Writer

Suvia Li is a sophomore at Leland High school. She is a staff writer and artist for The Charger Account. During her free time, she enjoys cooking, eating, and listening to music.

Kevin Zhang

Staff Writer

Kevin Zhang is a junior at Leland High School. He is indeed clinically sane, although his actions might occasionally suggest otherwise. In his free time, he enjoys playing video games, blood rituals, reading, and watching the sunset.

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