It’s not a surprise when I say that school can be stressful. With midterms coming to an end, or still in progress for some, a lot of us have experienced or are experiencing some sort of stress. Studying for these exams is of course very important; but while doing so, people tend to neglect both their mental and physical well-being. Prioritizing these exams over everything else may seem like the key to good grades; however, this strategy is not as beneficial as some people may think.

A study conducted by Michaela Pascoe, a researcher with Victoria University, Melbourne, found that a high percentage of students experience academic stress. Out of the 540,000 students surveyed, 55% experience anxiety over upcoming tests with 37% feeling stressed and tense while studying. Experiencing built-up levels of stress can eventually lead to the degradation of our mental health by leading to issues such as poor sleep and substance abuse or possibly even triggering anxiety and depression.

Stress plays a role in the impairment of sleep for many adolescents. Dr. Annise Wilson, assistant professor at the BaylorCollege of Medicine, states how high stress levels can affect how long it takes for one to fall asleep and how often they are able to remain asleep. This is due to continuous thoughts that prevent our brain from getting to the relaxed state needed to fall asleep. Getting a good night’s rest is also linked to many important brain functions that allow us to get through our daily lives. Not getting enough sleep can affect our cognitive skills, such as our ability to stay focused and retain information and can even cause changes to our moods and behaviors. 

Stress can also increase the use of substances as well as the risk of addiction. In a survey of 11th grade high school students from the U.S., a high percentage of students who reported feeling academic stress also reported drug and alcohol use as a way to manage that stress. The feelings of stress and anxiety caused by the desire for high academic achievement and success caused many to turn to substances as a coping mechanism. Although dangerous levels of usage were not reported, repeated and frequent use can lessen our ability to control our intake and increase our cravings for more, which as a result causes addiction and damage, not only to our mental health but also our physical health.

High levels of academic stress can also trigger more serious mental health concerns such as anxiety and depression. Anxiety can be triggered due to stress heightening our sensitivity to bodily sensations and focus toward negative or uncertain outcomes. In addition, a positive association was found between anxiety sensitivity and depressive symptoms. This means that the fear of the behaviors and emotions that come with anxiety can lead one to experience symptoms of depression.

The best thing you can do for your mental health is to address the issue and make time for yourself. Picking up a hobby, participating in an activity or joining a club that interests you is a great way to take your mind off of school while also having fun. It is also just as effective to seek help. Seeking help from health care professionals is always advisable if you are having a hard time dealing with any aspect of life. Thankfully, there are many resources on campus that you can take advantage of when in need of professional help.

UC Santa Barbara’s Counseling & Psychological Services (C.A.P.S.) provides a variety of services that are available to everyone. Short-term, long-term and group counseling sessions are available as well as a 75-minute single session therapy. All of these programs are tailored to you and your needs, and they can help to address any personal concern you may have in or outside of school. C.A.P.S. also offers the Mental Health Peer Program, a support program managed by fellow UCSB students with the goal of spreading mental health awareness and providing guidance and support to struggling students.

Getting support can also be done in the comfort of your own home. C.A.P.S. and UC Los Angeles Health offer meditation recordings that are free to listen to. The goal of these podcasts are to free your body of tension and promote mindfulness and relief. These recordings can be listened to at any hour of the day; however, UCLA Health also offers weekly drop-in sessions that you can join and listen to in real time.

Whatever emotions you may be feeling are completely normal and valid. Everyone deals with some sort of distress, not only from school but from life in general. It is important to remember that there are people that care and are willing to help.