Feeling More Stressed This School Year? You’re Not Alone.

Let’s talk about stress.

Did every student’s blood pressure just spike? Did teachers’ heartbeats quicken? (We would say, “SAME,” but we’re preeeetty sure our fight-or-flight responses kicked in during April of 2020 and never turned off…)

The start of the school year usually triggers stress in teachers and students alike. But this year, the return to school felt especially taxing. We keep hoping for some sort of a return to “normalcy,” yet the pandemic drags on.

Look—you already know all of this. So why are we making you confront your stress on such an acute level??? Because we want you to understand: If you’re feeling more stressed out about school this year, you’re not imagining it, you’re certainly not alone—and there are ways to get help.

Pie chart showing that 37% of students say their state of mind during class is more negative than it was before the pandemic.

A look at the numbers

According to research conducted by the EdWeek Research Center, both teachers and students are still reporting that they’re feeling more stressed than they did before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

Despite the strides that schools have taken to try to normalize our new way of learning, COVID-19 is still causing disruptions to our daily lives.

In one 2021 report, 37% of high school students said that their state of mind during class is generally more negative than it was before the start of the pandemic, and over 70% of students said they’re experiencing more problems in school than they did in January 2020.

Another EdWeek study on teachers’ mental health found that 84% of teachers say teaching is more stressful than it was before coronavirus closures.

Overall, we’re all feeling more stressed—but within the EdWeek research, we saw one particularly glaring stat: 93 percent of teachers said their students were experiencing more problems in school than they did in January 2020 — but only 72 percent of students agreed. Teachers can see that their students are stressed and slipping, but students have started to normalize the issue!

Why? With rigorous schedules and regular tests and quizzes, students are almost programmed to expect a good amount of stress. Plus, you may not have much experience in high school or college—especially after a year of remote school—so this level of stress may seem normal. Or, you may be writing off your stress in about a million different ways:

“It’s just college app season—I’ll get over it once I send everything in.”

“This will all get to be more manageable once coronavirus goes away.”

“Oh, I’m not special — everyone in school feels this way!”

All of those things could be true. But you can’t let that kind of noise keep you from identifying the sources of your stress, and finding the help you need to deal with it.

So how will you know if you’re actually more stressed, or if this is just a passing phase? Try keeping a journal, or some sort of short record of how you’re feeling every day. Use consistent terms like, “happy,” “relaxed,” “stressed,” and “overwhelmed” to describe your mood.

If you’re seeing consistent negativity—or if the urge to write “stressed” day after day gets you feeling…even more stressed!—it’s probably time to drop the brave face, and focus on finding stress relief techniques.

Stress relief for students

The good news is—yes, there is good news!—schools and administrators know this year is rough. And while unfortunately, they can’t pause time and let us catch up on homework, papers, college apps, social lives, etc., they are trying to help.

Graphic illustrating that 86% of high school principals say their schools offer mental health programs or services.

More schools are now offering mental health resources to students and staff — in fact, 86% of high school principals reported that their school offered mental health programs or services.

But! Only 75% of high school students believed that their schools offered these types of services. That means, there may be resources available at your school that you’re not even aware of!

So if you feel stressed or overwhelmed, reach out to a teacher or counselor, ASAP. They may be able to point you in the right direction, and connect you with these kinds of school resources—which are often provided for free.

If you’re feeling more stressed, but your level of stress still feels manageable, you can also try decompressing through one of the many free meditation apps available, like Headspace or Serenity. (Just try to limit your screen time otherwise—doomscrolling is almost certain to spike your stress levels!)

Stress relief for educators

Oftentimes, when educators see their students stressed or slipping, they feel somewhat responsible. That’s why we’re here to remind all teachers: It’s not you—everyone’s feeling this way! If you’re seeing a lack of energy or an increase in stress in your students, don’t let it weigh you down. You’re doing your best in a bad situation!

Our advice for you is the same as our advice for students—if you start feeling overwhelmed by work, reach out to your school. It can be tough to talk to administrators or higher-ups about stress, because it feels like we’re admitting that we can’t handle our jobs. But when you’re put into circumstances that are above and beyond what you signed up for, administrators need to hear how you’re feeling—and voicing your concerns could help other teachers who don’t feel comfortable speaking up.

If you’re not sure where to start, EdWeek has put together a special report on how districts can best support teachers right now. You can look to the study for steps and solutions to bring to the table, starting a two-way conversation between you and your administration.

If that sounds intimidating, reach out to your peers and form a support group. And go explore our Teachers Community Hub for candid stories and lessons from other teachers who’re going through the same things as you.

While sharing stories and experiences can’t replace professional help, studies have shown that sharing emotions and stories with someone in a similar situation can actually decrease your body’s cortisol response — a hormone that gets released when we’re stressed. So even something as small as talking to, or watching videos of your fellow teachers sharing their experiences could help you get through a particularly stressful day!

Give each other grace

What should you take away from these studies and stats?

First, don’t ignore when your mind and body are telling you it’s time to rest and recharge. From what the numbers tell us about discrepancies between how we view our stress, and how others see our stress, it’s totally possible that you’re more stressed than you realize. In fact, your body might’ve been sending you SOS signals for months…but you’ve been ignoring them because they’ve become so common! Take this as a sign that it’s time to slow down and really check in with yourself and your health.

Beyond that, find ways to keep prioritizing your mental health, even when school gets tough. Whether that’s through a daily practice, like journaling or meditating, or just doing a weekly check-in with yourself.

And if you start to feel overwhelmed, don’t put off getting the support you need, because it’s out there—and potentially even available for free, right at your school!

Most importantly, even though school is feeling more stressful this year, try not to get frustrated with, or place the blame on your teachers, students, or peers. Give everyone— and yourself! — some serious grace this school year. Because we’re all going through this together.

Roadtrip Nation is an educational nonprofit that wants to help everyone define their own roads in life.

Our latest project is the Teachers Community Hub, a site full of inspiring video interviews with teachers from across America, plus resources and tools for tackling this new era in teaching: https://roadtripnation.com/community/teachers

For more research on how stress is affecting our teachers and students, you can read the full EdWeek study here: https://www.edweek.org/research-center/student-mental-health-during-the-pandemic-educator-and-teen-perspectives

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