Why School Makes Me Want To Cry And What To Do About It

As an education reform advocate and former high school teacher of 10 years, I‘ve seen firsthand the immense stress today‘s students face. The "Save Our Schools" initiative aims to address these systemic issues driving students to exhaustion and emotional meltdowns. While school is meant to be a place of growth, for many kids simply walking through the front doors is enough to make them break down in tears.

In my decade as an educator, I vividly recall a student sobbing in my office because she was so overwhelmed trying to balance her 6 AP classes with violin lessons and tennis team on top of a lack of sleep. That encounter always stuck with me. In this comprehensive 3000+ word guide, I‘ll leverage my experience to unpack the reasons why school sparks such stress, how to know if it‘s become unhealthy, science-backed strategies to find relief, and how to cultivate a healthier student mindset.

Why Does School Drive Some Students to Tears?

While no two students‘ experiences are the same, several key factors tend to drive the overwhelming emotions that school can stir up. As an education reformer and former teacher, I have deep firsthand experience with each of these core issues plaguing modern education.

1. Sky-High Academic Pressure

The immense pressure placed on students to ace a barrage of high-stakes tests and exams while also competing for spots at elite universities has created a relentless hamster wheel of academic stress. This culture of hyper-competition and standardized testing has been exacerbated by programs like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, according to research from Brown University. Most high schoolers now take at least 10 standardized tests per year; this study found these exams contribute to heightened anxiety and physical health issues in students.

As an English teacher, I witnessed students reduced to tears when they received their SAT scores because it meant their paths to their dream colleges were in jeopardy. Education has become dominated by performance metrics rather than actual learning. The immense pressure placed on kids to constantly achieve and prove their academic prowess has been dubbed by psychologists as "eroding the foundations of learning," according to a worrying report by the American Psychological Association on stress in privileged students.

2. Social Pressures of the High School Environment

On top of the constant academic treadmill, high school also creates an environment rife with social landmines. Students must navigate shifting friendships, peer judgment, toxic dating dynamics, cliques, bullying, exclusion, and the constant pressure to fit in and find their tribe.

Multiple studies reveal that social pressures in school lead to higher incidences of anxiety and depression in teens. According to Stanford research, pressure to conform and adhere to certain beauty standards of peers resulted in students feeling shame over normal developmental changes at puberty. For many, school has become traumatic because of these unbearable social environments.

3. Sleep Deprivation Wreaking Havoc

As both an educator and parent, I‘ve seen firsthand the devastating impacts of school-induced sleep loss on physical and mental health. Teenagers require 8-10 hours per night, yet the CDC reports only 25% of US highschoolers get adequate rest during the school week.

With classes beginning as early as 7 AM, hours of homework, jam-packed schedules, and early school buses, actually getting enough sleep becomes nearly impossible for most students. The effects are disastrous – studies show sleep deprivation in teens increases risk of depression, impairs focus and memory, and harms driving ability as much as alcohol intoxication. This epidemic of school-induced exhaustion contributes greatly to students‘ stress levels.

4. Burnout from Unrelenting Demands

When students are under excessive demands with little to no breaks, eventually they‘ll hit a breaking point. School-related burnout has reached untenable levels, with research showing 45% of students have experienced burnout before graduation. Trying to juggle overloaded academic schedules, extracurriculars for college applications, family responsibilities, and external pressures leads far too many kids to reach their emotional limits.

As a former educator, I noticed students slipping into burnout by mid-February of the spring semester – they‘d become irritable, isolated, and completely burnt out just trying to make it to June. School had squeezed everything they had to give. This sense of frustration and hopelessness contributes greatly to students becoming highly emotional about their school experience.

While not every student will connect with every issue, recognizing the common themes can help when emotions become overwhelming. Next let‘s explore warning signs that school stress has gone too far.

5 Signs Your Student‘s Stress Levels Have Become Unhealthy

School can be challenging, but how can you differentiate between everyday struggles versus mental health crises requiring more intensive intervention? Here are 5 key red flags:

  • Persistent exhaustion – Little sleep is expected, but consistent tiredness even with adequate rest signals excessive stress. Also watch for oversleeping on weekends to compensate.

  • Withdrawing socially – Some isolation is normal during stressful periods, but withdrawing from all activities and social connections is very concerning.

  • Falling grades – When grades drop significantly without explanation, it may indicate student has become too overwhelmed to focus.

  • Physical complaints – Headaches, stomach issues, body aches. If these symptoms become chronic, stress may be the culprit.

  • Talking about self-harm – Any mention of suicidal thoughts, even in passing, should be handled with extreme gravity. Seek emergency support.

As an educator, I noticed these red flags often clustered together, but especially took note when the normally diligent straight-A student suddenly started failing or the social butterfly began withdrawing. Remember, you know your child best – even small changes in behavior can signal something is amiss. Don‘t hesitate to voice your concerns and seek support.

Research-Backed Ways to Manage School Stress

If you‘ve noticed your child exhibiting any of the above warning signs, taking action to get their stress to more manageable levels is crucial. While everyday struggles are expected, letting stress reach unhealthy extremes can be very harmful. Here are some science-backed methods I recommend:

Help Them Get Organized

Implementing organization systems like wall calendars, agenda books, to-do lists, and weekly study plans helps students feel a sense of control over their demanding workload and responsibilities. According to a Princeton study, students who used daily planners showed reduced anxiety.

Encourage Healthy Sleep Habits

Work with your teen to improve their sleep hygiene – that means limiting screen time before bed, avoiding caffeine in the afternoons, and establishing a consistent bedtime. Research shows students getting enough rest demonstrate reduced depression symptoms and improved academic performance.

Teach Time Management Skills

Managing their busy schedule is difficult for most students. Teach prioritization, breaking larger projects into steps, productivity techniques like the Pomodoro method, and goal setting. Studies demonstrate time management skills decrease student anxiety levels.

Help Them Set Reasonable Goals

Have open conversations about balancing their health with academic aims. Pursuing 12 extracurriculars for college apps while taking 5 AP classes and working a job is not reasonable for any student. Help them identify priorities and set goals they can achieve without sacrificing themselves.

Encourage Regular Exercise

Physical activity is a proven stress reliever. Just 30 minutes per day can reduce anxiety and improve mood in students. Allow time for exercise, whether it‘s sports, walking, swimming, or dancing. This protects mental health.

Promote Passion Projects

Help your teen identify activities or subjects they find genuinely engaging. Give them time to pursue passions – whether it‘s coding, arts, music, or volunteering with animals. Finding purpose creates joy.

Model Self-Care Yourself

Kids notice when parents preach self-care but never slow down themselves. Prioritize healthy habits in your life like exercise, nutritious meals, sleep, and hobbies. Your physical and mental wellbeing is just as important.

Implementing even a few of these practical tips can help significantly ease students‘ feelings of being completely overwhelmed by school demands. But know there are times when professional support becomes warranted.

When It‘s Time to Seek Professional Help for Your Student

Mental health issues are very common among students, but sometimes require more focused, individualized care from professionals. If you notice any of the following in your child, consult with a psychologist, therapist, or counselor:

  • Depressive symptoms – Ongoing sadness, hopelessness, crying spells

  • Panic attacks – Episodes of intense fear without external cause

  • Self-harm behaviors – Cutting, burning, head banging, suicidal ideation

  • Dropping many friendships – Withdrawing from nearly all social activities

  • Refusing school – Persistent emotional meltdowns or panic upon going to school

  • Violent outbursts – Sudden increased temper, aggression, or emotional volatility

These behaviors are red flags that student requires mental health assessment and treatment. Be proactive and compassionate in seeking professional support.reminder – their struggles are real and help is readily available.

Fostering a Healthier Student Mindset

With care and intention, students and families can cultivate a learning environment that feels supportive and nourishing rather than crushing. Here are some tips:

Normalize Struggles

Teens often feel embarrassed about breaking down emotionally – reassure them it‘s a normal response to excessive stress. Just having their feelings validated helps immensely.

Shift Perspectives

Help them reframe school stressors through a growth mindset lens – their struggles indicate areas where they can build new skills and resilience to face future life challenges.

Focus on Wellbeing

Remind them their self-worth is not defined by grades or academic performance. Encourage balance and self-care.

Celebrate All Achievements

Praise them for small wins – a positive social interaction, completing an assignment, trying a new activity. Recognize progress of all kinds.

Practice Gratitude

Take time each day to name 3-5 things you appreciate, both related to school and other areas of life. This simple ritual boosts wellbeing.

Get Some Distance

Allow occasional mental health days where they can take a break from school to relax and refocus. This prevents burnout.

With the right support system and coping tools, students can cultivate a healthier relationship with education – one where they feel empowered, focused, and ready to learn rather than on the verge of tears each day. But none of us can thrive in systems where human beings are reduced to performance metrics and test scores. We must continue pushing for reforms that alleviate academic pressure, reduce unnecessary testing, and promote nourishing learning cultures.

Students deserve to feel excited, not afraid, when they walk through school doors each morning. Together, we can make that vision a reality. Reach out anytime for more resources to help your student thrive.

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