Linda Lewis Griffith

How to reduce stress for the overachieving student

Mega students are those boys and girls who excel in nearly every aspect of their high school careers. They earn supercharged GPAs, edit school newspapers, play several varsity sports. They set their sights on elite universities. They’re the crème-de-la-academic-crème.

Some mega students make it look easy. But for others, high achievement exacts a heavy toll. Acute stress is a way of life.

A 2006 study conducted by Florida State University suggested that American teens feel pressured to set increasingly higher goals for themselves , even if those goals are unattainable. In the fourth annual “Teen Ethics Poll” released by JA Worldwide and Deloitte and Touche USA LLP, 44 percent of the respondents reported feeling either “a lot” or “overwhelming” pressure to succeed in school, no matter the cost.

High academic standards can be accompanied by lapses in morality. Rutgers’ Management Education Center polled 4,500 high school students in 2002 and found that 75 percent admitted to cheating.

Surprisingly, mega students often struggle with low self-esteem. Because other students in their classes are equally talented and driven, they view their own super achievements as minimal. And, if they fail to perform at the utmost level, for instance getting a B+ on a report card instead of an A, they berate themselves and vow to try harder in the future.

Symptoms may even signal an underlying mental disorder. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that 8 percent of all teens suffer from an anxiety disorder and that 1 in 8 battles depression. Excessive worries about the future, chronic feelings of emptiness and profound lack of enjoyment might be more than normal teenage moodiness.

Of course, all parents want their children to succeed in school. And some stress is inherent in the educational process. But success should never overshadow students’ mental and physical well-being. The cost is much too high.


How to minimize stress on overachieving students:

Have realistic expectations. Students needn’t attend Ivy League schools to be successful. Discuss a wide array of options that are well within your children’s grasp.

Help students set personal limits. Decide how much they can comfortably handle and how much puts them over the edge. For instance, you may determine that taking two AP classes each semester is enough.

Teach stress management techniques. Easy strategies such as deep breathing, thinking calming thoughts and tensing and relaxing muscles help keep stress to a minimum.

De-emphasize grades. Some kids need academic encouragement. Mega students need to be reined in. Avoid asking how they did on tests or whether they’ve studied enough. Instead, remind them to get enough rest or take a day off and have fun.

Express your love and acceptance. Tell them that they are wonderful human beings and that their success is only one facet of who they are.

Teens, here’s how to manage your own stress:

Get enough rest.

Eat regular, healthy meals.

Avoid excessive caffeine.

Decrease negative self-talk. It’s easy to get down on yourself. But those thoughts sap your mental resources. For example, replace “I’m so stressed. I’ll never understand this,” with “I need to ask for help. I can talk to the teacher after school.”

Let go of perfection. It sets you up for a lifetime of failure. Decide what needs to be done to complete a task, then set your sights accordingly. Few assignments need to be masterpieces.

Allow for down time. Your schedule may jam packed. Still, you need to chill out. Listen to music. Hang out with friends. Fun is an essential component of being a successful person.