Trapped in a cult of stress

You may have seen this Internet meme online: “Good grades. Social life. Sleep. Pick two.”

Maybe you laughed, made a joke about whichever two you do most, and showed someone else the picture before forgetting it entirely. Or, if you’re a junior, you sighed sadly and went back to your history reading.

Junior year is infamously described as the hardest year of high school. With standardized testing, increased focus on grades, more intense athletic competition and college applications looming in the near future, junior year is challenging both academically and mentally.

I never thought it was going to be easy. Last year, I saw enough empty Starbucks cups and 3 a.m. Facebook posts from the class of 2013 to realize that the upcoming school year would be challenging. But, as I look at second semester, this seems a little ridiculous.

I can’t do anything about the amount of work that I have and I’m not asking why I’m assigned so much (although I’m not entirely sure all of it is necessary). I can neither change the college admissions process nor reduce its requirements and competition.

When I think about it, I inevitably come to the conclusion that there’s nothing I can do, that’s just how things are. It’s my acceptance of the state of things, the unswerving assumption that this is how it must be, that perplexes me the most.

Why is it commonly accepted that this is just how your junior year is?

I’m not the only one questioning the status quo.

Duke University recently analyzed numerous homework studies and found a point of diminishing returns – for high school students, more than 2.5 hours of homework per night is not effective in retention of material or test performance.

A fall 2012 study in the High School Journal by Indiana University and University of Virginia researchers showed that homework has little to no significant effect on students’ grades in any subject.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, teens need 8.5-9.25 hours of sleep per night, but the national average for teenagers hovers around 7.3 hours.

A November Chronicle poll found that 74 percent of upper school students sleep for six hours or less every night.

While we pull all-nighters to finish papers on the causes of the Civil War, studies from the University of Minnesota and the University of Arkansas have proven that the one dependable factor in GPA increase was the number of hours a student slept per night.

This is where you should start questioning things. Why pour hours of effort into homework and skimp on those nine hours a night when sleeping more is a scientifically proven way of getting closer to a 4.0?

We’re sucked into a culture, or, maybe more accurately, a cult of stress. Our uniform is heavy backpacks and under-eye circles, our rituals include all-nighters and panic attacks and, to an outsider, our beliefs and practices would definitely seem bizarre.

Once you’re in, it’s incredibly difficult to break free from the beliefs of the group.

We’re brainwashed into thinking this is the only possible way of life, and that not sleeping and piles of homework and constant stress are just normal. That’s what junior year is.

It shouldn’t be like this. I want to change things – but I can’t not do my work or pretend that my life is stress-free. I want to leave the cult, but I’m in too deep.

Get ready, sophomores. Initiation’s in September.

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