LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — As Defeating Stress week continues, Wednesday’s installment looks at the pressure students are under: standardized testing, choosing the right college.
All very stressful. And experts believe that stress has never been higher.
“I panic,” says 15-year-old Elizabeth Farr. “My head starts to hurt. I feel very overwhelmed.”
She isn’t alone.
“My friends and I vent and talk about college all the time and how scared we are. And where we will end up,” says Emma Grace, 16, of Glendale.
“I think we’re seeing a whole generation of kids that are under a huge amount of stress,” says Stephanie Marcy, a psychologist at Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles. She sees lots of patients with mysterious symptoms.
The patients have migraines, stomach issues, pain. They’re often referred to her when other doctors can’t diagnose what’s wrong.
“Kids are seen in a specialty clinic, and there’s absolutely no medical finding, so they’re sent to me because they’re told it’s in their head,” said Marcy.
But that doesn’t mean their problems aren’t real and also potentially dangerous.
“Your stress level could turn into physiological symptoms,” Marcy says.
Grace has upwards of six hours of homework each night. She wants to go to a top-tier college. She’s been working toward that goal since kindergarten, she says.
But the path to the top schools can be treacherous.
“It’s really hard to set yourself apart,” says Grace, “or be unique or special in some regard because there’s so much expected.”
She is up by 5 every morning. She’s also on the swim team. Grace also finds time for volunteering. She also maintains a near-4.0 average.
Still, she worries that might not be enough.
“There’s a lot of expectation to be the top,” she says, “And I am always sitting in class, thinking about the homework I’m going to have tonight, or about a big swim meet. I no longer know how to draw a blank in my mind.”
At 15, Farr also has doubts about school.
“Like I’m going to fail,” she says.
Marcy says these teens aren’t crazy for worrying. School work is a lot more demanding than it used to be
“The bar for ‘good enough’ has been raised significantly,” she says.
To cope with all the stress, Marcy urges teens to schedule a few minutes per day to check in with themselves.
For Elizabeth, that means sitting on the floor, closing her eyes and focusing on her breathing.
Emma, meanwhile, de-stresses by spinning old-school vinyl. She also sews pencil bags for classmates.
As for stress over grades?
“Even if it isn’t as well as we wish we would have done,” she says, “we’re still here and there will be tomorrow and I think that that gets forgotten a lot.”
For parents who want to help their kids, Marcy has some advice.
“Sit down and have a conversation,” she says. “I see a lot of parents who don’t know their children.”
She recommends talking to kids just before bedtime; turn off all the gadgets and listen to their concerns.