Stress is a mess.
Immense stress that results in an intense emotional moment, coined the “breakdown” or “meltdown”, is not uncommon for high school students.
According to The Franklin Institute, lack of sleep, lack of exercise and overstimulation result in overactive stress hormones that damage and kill brain cells. School psychologist Jeff Schlaeger said that this imbalance in the brain triggers a breakdown.
“You have portions of your brain that are geared to respond to stress or danger or overstimulation or work, and that balance is knocked off or skewed [during a breakdown],” Schlaeger said. “There [are]…not enough of the healthy things for your brain–like appropriate sleep, exercise…so then the system…gets unbalanced and is hard to get balanced again. So then you have this vicious cycle, where you’re already unbalanced, you’re staying up until 2:00 am for…a tough AP class, and you’re adding more coffee and Monsters and sleeping less and less, and not exercising…that’s not the solution.”
For junior Jenna McCabe, her breakdown moment involved the two-time damaging of her self-portrait project. The first accident was because of spilled hair dye. The second was thanks to McCabe’s dogs playing on top of the project.
“[My dogs] got on top of it and they were just scratching it and I yelled at them and told them to get off,” McCabe said. “I looked over and I just sat down on my bed and I was like, ‘Mom, I give up.’…I just bawled. I felt so pathetic.”
McCabe’s stress was soon alleviated with help from drawing teacher Beth Eline, who helped cover up the marks.
Not every breakdown, however, is resolved similarly. According to junior Corie Lawhorn, breakdowns are attributed to many demanding responsibilities piling on a person. For Lawhorn, a dance team member, long practices and schoolwork are a difficult combination.
“Recently [in] AP Bio…there was a point where she updated grades and I was really frustrated about it,” Lawhorn said. “And there was stuff going on at dance and it just gets super stressful when there’s a lot happening altogether. I just kind of broke down.”
Parental pressure is also a driving force of overwhelming stress, according to Lawhorn.
“I think there’s a lot of pressure now as you get older because you have college looming over your head, and with [pressure from] parents,” Lawhorn said. “My parents push me really, really hard. So that causes it too.”
Schlaeger said that expectations imposed by parents, teachers and counselors lead students to stress and eventual breakdown. The key to overcoming outside pressure is to prioritize responsibilities and [to be] aware of personal breaking points, he said.
“Everyone has their limits of what they can handle, from personality and cognitively and just attention span,” Schlaeger said. “…Prevent- ing [a breakdown] is just knowing your limits.”