Student + Dying = Studying. Why is education stressing us out so much?

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Madeleine Buchner

Since when did studying become known as a compound of “student” and “dying”? Why has stress and education become something that just seems to fit together?

When I was studying my undergraduate degree and someone asked me how my study was going, the majority of the time I replied “a bit overwhelmed, very stressed”. Funny thing was, they didn’t seem to be surprised, rather that was the answer people expected. Say that you’re doing fine and on top of all your work 5 weeks into semester and people will think something is wrong. But really, studying – whether you’re at school or university – is not meant to be stressful and overwhelming, rather it is meant to be something you enjoy and something you work hard at because you want to, not because you feel you need to.

In 2015, BBC reported that there have been warnings of rising numbers of students struggling to cope with University life [1]. This has been further supported by a study from The University of Reading which reports that there has been an increase in “anxiety culture” with more students feeling under the pressure to perform to a high standard [1]. Closer to home, ABC also reported in 2016 that the higher pressures on children to achieve were overtaking the joys of education. ABC journalist Hayley Gleeson has suggested that this increased pressure has come from a “narrow definition of success – standardised testing, ranking, comparison and competition” resulting in a massive increase in the number of students facing anxiety and depression [2].

While this stressed out state that students find themselves in these days is becoming the norm, that does not mean it is good for you. Being in a prolonged state of high stress can put your physical and mental health at risk. Muscles tense, migraines increase and hyperventilation or panic attacks can increase for some people. When acute stress is present (short term e.g. running late to meet deadlines etc.) an increase in heart rate and adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol in the system can put the body in a fight or flight state with possible high blood pressure and other health issues. Chronic stress can result in long-term problems for the body’s blood vessels and heart. And finally, you may find that your body experiences more bloating, acid reflux, heartburn, nausea and even your immune system can be compromised. All of these things can put further stress on the body because like me, you may be wondering why your body is doing all these weird things and getting further stressed that something else might be wrong. It’s not – it’s just your body responding to the overly stressed state it has been put in [3].

So what can we do about this? Well first things first – talk to someone about getting so stressed. Teachers, wellbeing coordinators and year level coordinators at high school; tutors, course leaders and student wellbeing departments at University. These people are there to make your education journey something that is fun, that helps to nurture your aspirations and make achieving your dreams possible.

Next, try and sit back and work out which part of your studying is making you the most stressed. When I did this a brainstorm with a giant piece of paper and textas really helped. Is it the assignment deadline, the readings in between class, keeping on top of lecture notes, preparing for exams? If it is possible to pinpoint which part is stressing you out the most, and skills can be developed for managing this.

Finally, remember where you want to go and talk to someone about how to get you there if you’re feeling lost or overwhelmed. Maybe making an inspiration board and hanging it near where you study might help? What about ticking all the days off on a calendar until that big event you’ve been looking forward to? The school, university and your friends are there to support you and help to get the most out of this time in your life.

Talking to people about stress can sometimes feel daunting because of this culture of overachievement and excess pressure. However, based off the research above, more people are struggling with stress than ever before, so there are more people in exactly the same boat as you, feeling the same way and wondering if there is anyone else they can talk to or if they’re the only one feeling like this. Take the first step, open the conversation. It’s not only good for your mind but it’s good for your health!


[1] Coughlan, S. (2017). Rising numbers of stressed students seek help – BBC News. [online] BBC News. Available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/education-34354405

[2] Gleeson, H. (2017). Beautiful Failures: How the education system is making kids stressed and sick. [online] ABC News. Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-07-17/beautiful-failures-education-making-kids-sick/7589084

[3] American Psychological Association. (2017). Stress Effects on the Body. [online] Available at: http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress-body.aspx

Photo by JJ Thompson

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