Student Stress and Overload: How to Know When Students Are Stressed

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Rigorous academic coursework is essential for student success in higher education, particularly in competitive and highly specialized fields. A challenging high school environment can encourage students to grow, develop coping skills, and learn how best to handle themselves in any situation. Yet, student stress remains on the rise at every level of education, driven by overload and leading to decreased academic performance.  

4 Signs of Student Stress and Overload

Like adults, teenagers may display stress in a variety of ways. Look for these four signs that a student has too much to do and not enough time to take care of him or herself. 

1. Poor Sleeping Habits or Appearing to Have Under Slept

A major Brown University study shows that teenagers display a biological disposition toward later bedtimes and rising times. [1] This is hypothesized to arise from shifts in the circadian rhythm which may occur as a result of puberty, a lack of access to sunlight, or even psychosocial factors that force students to remain awake later. 

According to an NIH study “Smartphone use in teens is another possible contributing factor in teens getting less sleep. Cellular phone use is emerging as an important factor that interferes with both sleep quality and quantity, particularly as smartphones become more widely available to teens.” (Adams, Daly, Willford)

Regardless, sleep deprivation among high school students is very real. Stress creates sleep disturbances including conditions such as insomnia. Likewise, many teenagers already do not receive adequate sleep because of the early morning classes so prevalent throughout American public schools. A heavy homework load or particularly stressful test can be all that is needed to throw the precarious sleep cycle completely out of balance. 

2. Physical Health Problems

A significant body of research shows that stress and overworking has negative impacts on physical health. Chronic stress especially is associated with obesity and a variety of other health conditions in teenagers. [2] 

Physical health problems may also become exacerbated by poor health habits such as diets or a lack of exercise. Like adults, high school students may succumb to easy, convenient meals, excessive caffeine intake or even tobacco use. For example, it is estimated that 25.3 percent of high schoolers use tobacco. [3] 

3. A Lack of Balance

School itself presents unique challenges that adults often forget about. It’s not a stretch to view teachers in similar ways to how adults view a boss or manager. Imaging having between six and eight bosses which you see every day or every other day,  each with a different set of guidelines and levels of expectations you need to meet and each assigning you projects and scheduling meetings with no regard for the deadlines and work load being assigned by your other bosses. This is the reality of high school students, but instead of meetings and projects, they have homework and tests. When students are pushed to do hours of homework each night, it means less time to focus on other important aspects of health such as self-care, or time spent with friends and family. [4]

There are other signs to look for to identify students that are struggling to find a balance between their school and social lives. Look for students who seem to always study during their lunch breaks, who comment that they do not “have the time to do” something, or who seem to lack social connections or have any identity outside of constantly studying. 

4. Mental Health Challenges

Adolescence is marked by many neuroendocrine changes that manifest in the form of fluctuating hormones and many of the mystifying, if not annoying, behaviors associated with teenagers. According to research by the National Institutes of Health, the sensitivity of the maturing brain in addition to the fluctuating hormones mean that adolescents are prone to stress-related mental health challenges such as anxiety and depression. [5] 

Take complaints about mental health seriously, and make a strong, concerted effort to engage with students and get to know them. Not all signs of stress will be easily evident but getting to know students will open up avenues for adults to see if they’re struggling or acting out of their normal behavior. Stress can have important short and long-term consequences for an individual’s mental health during adolescence, and detecting stress levels rising early in the process can be vital to solving its causes. 

Stress and Success in School

Many students thrive in the challenging, complex environment which a school can provide. However, it is also important to watch for signs of student stress and overload to help support students in their quest for academic excellence. When left unsupported, students suffering from chronic stress may experience performance issues that lead to academic decline, social and emotional troubles, and substance use and abuse. However, with the right support and resources, students can learn to manage their stress, develop healthy coping mechanisms, and thrive. 

If you’re wondering where your students stand, Pride Surveys can help. We’ve surveyed students, faculty, and parents for more than 30 years to help schools and community partnerships understand their students. Contact us today to discuss your challenges and the insights which a survey from us can provide. 


[1] “Adolescent Sleep Patterns, Circadian Timing, and Sleepiness at a Transition to Early School Days” Retrieved 6 October 2019 at

[2] “Contributing Factors of Obesity Among Stressed Adolescents” Retrieved 6 October 2019 at

[3] “Tobacco Use Among Children and Teens” Retrieved 6 October 2019 at

[4] “Is Too Much Homework Bad for Kids’ Health?” Retrieved 6 October 2019 at

[5] “The Teenage Brain: The Stress Response and the Adolescent Brain” Retrieved 6 October 2019 at



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