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How Does School Affect Anxiety?

As a teen, being a student is hard. The pressure to do well on tests, in AP or honors classes, or in extracurricular activities is enormous, and sometimes you feel like you will collapse under the weight of stress. In high school, you are expected to choose a college and a career that will determine the rest of your life. You are demanded to constantly do your best, and compete with other students to be the best.

Because of all the emphasis on doing well, it is not at all surprising that 1 in 4 teens suffer from some kind if anxiety disorder. Teens are raised to believe that they can do anything if they try hard enough, but most try so hard that they put school before mental health, emotional needs (like social interaction), or physical needs (like relaxation and sleep). The American education system forces nearly 5 hours of homework a night, and expects students to get up at dawn to get to school. In fact, studies show that students get around 7 hours of sleep a night, when they really need 9 hours.

So, how does this contribute to anxiety disorders? Well, to start, information is shoved into our brains at incredible rates. To keep up in school, a student must be on top of all their homework, do well on tests, and learn new material everyday. This excess of information leads a student to feel overwhelmed and afraid of failure. This, combined with sleep deprivation makes them feel even worse, when they are so tired they are tempted to fall asleep in class, and consequently miss new things. So, it turns into a vicious cycle of stress, which becomes anxiety.

The problem is school. Parents and older adults are used to a less demanding school environment, when there were no big populations to compete against, and student debts to pay off. The rise in anxiety over the last century is staggering, and parents and ironically, the people who make decisions on education don’t understand why.

So we know about anxiety, but how do we make it better? Finland is a prime example of a well-functioning education system with good results from students, and no anxiety. They barely get any homework, don’t take standardized tests (except one when they are 16 years old), and get more one-on-one time with teachers to better suit their educational needs. Additionally, 93% of students graduate from high school, which is 17.5% higher than the U.S. All these benefits lift the stress off students, and give them better educations at the same time. Seriously America, get it together. We should not be living in a world where a wonderful thing like learning is mass produced and causes mental illnesses. Protest, write to congressmen/women, or do anything to help yourself or friends suffering from anxiety get a better education.

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