Stress for success


Claire Wever

Tom Gaither Ganim, guidance counselor, said he sees anxiety as a problem at KHS, identifying the workload and pressure students face as a main cause. This workload hurts a majority of students, as 91.1% (298/327) of KHS students say they experience stress due to school. 74.6% (244/327) said they feel anxious due to school. Over a third of students have an anxiety or depression disorder, and 67.1% (114/170) of these students say school worsens their symptoms.

Abby Christensen, News editor

Diana Tang began to cry while sitting alone in her car. Her breathing picked up. She tried to steady her breath, but the more she tried, the more it spiraled out of control. Her fingers clenched. She couldn’t move them. Her legs went numb and her body shook.

This was Tang’s first of two panic attacks last year. Both were brought on by school-related stress.

Tang, junior, said her anxiety began toward the end of her sophomore year, when she signed up for next year’s classes. Tang said she was under the most stress she had ever experienced, trying to figure out school for the upcoming year, while also thinking about her final exams. Tang said her main issue was the pressure she felt to get into college. She described herself feeling lost with the college application process; she had no idea what colleges wanted of her, so she has to maintain the best image possible.

“I feel like the pressure’s on,” Tang said. “I have to get good grades. My GPA has to be good. I have to be perfect.”

Tang feels the main source of this pressure is the KHS environment. Because Tang feels excess pressure to perform as well as her classmates, she takes three Advanced Placement classes, honors classes and plays in the orchestra. She admits to struggling more this year than ever before. This year, not only does she have work, but her grades have dropped from her typical straight A standard. For someone who feels like getting a B is failing, imperfect grades take a heavy toll on Tang.

“[Getting a bad grade] is crushing,” Tang said. “You feel like it’s the end of the world, and that you’re worthless, and that there’s no point to be here. If you can’t be that good, why are you here? What’s your point?”

Abby Peterson, college counselor, thinks class rank is one of the main causes of academic pressures because it makes above-average students feel behind. Students with a 3.5 grade point average or above are sometimes not in the top 10 or 20 percent of their class. She regards the class rank as an outdated numeric value on the transcript.

“It just doesn’t make sense to rank [students] when it is so close, so there’s anxiety right there,” Peterson said. “That’s why it needs to go, because it’s creating anxiety for you guys when maybe six out of 10 total times a [college] is not going to care about that.”

Peterson also thinks the amount of activities students think they need to participate in has become excessive. She believes it is a myth that students must do large amounts of activities, and it is more important to be a productive member of just one or two. Peterson encourages students to meet with a college counselor to discuss college plans. She said this will help the students’ levels of anxiety decrease because they will not face as much uncertainty as they apply for college.

[Getting a bad grade] is crushing. You feel like it’s the end of the world, and that you’re worthless, and that there’s no point to be here. If you can’t be that good, why are you here? What’s your point?”

— Diana Tang

Daniel Frank, counselor at Foundations Counseling in Kirkwood, meets with teens with anxiety daily. Frank said many times parents increase pressures on students without realizing it. While trying to be supportive, they often push their children too far, which increases anxiety.

Frank also thinks these pressures could decrease by a different approach from the school. He said if schools networked more with outside therapists and counselors, the problem could improve.

Although Tang is unaware of these changes occurring at KHS she has begun to overcome her anxiety on her own. She spent the first three weeks of school crying every night and breaking down from the pressure and stress, but she now she feels she is past her lowest point and can now begin to recover.

“I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve realized that it’s not all about the grades, and it is not just about that image,” Tang said. “It’s more about what you get out of it and what you actually learn. I don’t have to be perfect at every single little thing and I should just work on the things that I enjoy the most.”