Student Achievement

How Much Stress Is Too Much?

By Katie Ash — March 18, 2008 1 min read

This past Sunday, I had dinner with a friend of mine I hadn’t seen in quite awhile. We used to hang out every couple of weeks or so, but lately it’s been more like every few months. The reason can be described in two words: law school. Luckily, he was able to squeeze me in right at the end of his spring break--which he spent writing papers and working on homework--because otherwise, I don’t think I would have seen him at all this semester. After all, finals are coming up... in May. “It’s time to start studying,” he told me. His classmates have been talking about it for a couple of weeks already, he said, much to my amazement. “Finals is a season, kind of like Christmas,” he said. “It starts way too early, and it’s extremely stressful.”

According to this AP story, he’s not alone in feeling that way. Four in ten college students say they “endure stress often,” says a survey conducted for AP and mtvU. Almost one in five say they “feel it all or most of the time.” Students report feeling lonely, depressed, anxious, and some express a desire to use alcohol or drugs to relax. Many feel guilty for any time not spent studying. The good news is the vast majority of students, even though they are stressed, feel pretty happy with their lives in general.

While this survey focused on students in higher education, I think its implications extend to students in the K-12 environment as well. Stress is definitely still a factor in lower grades, and it can have major effects on student motivation. On one hand, too much stress can completely paralyze and overwhelm students, resulting in feelings of frustration and depression, but a healthy amount of stress can also motivate students to work diligently and keep up with assignments. It’s a delicate balance I think few students are able to master.

What do you think? Are students able to handle stress effectively, or are they completely overwhelmed? How much stress is too much, and what kind of effect does that have on student motivation?

A version of this news article first appeared in the Motivation Matters blog.