Walking through the downstairs 9000 building each morning before school, I often see freshman waiting outside their English classrooms, chit-chatting about the impossibly long Quia that has been assigned for Honors Biology, fretting over tomorrow’s Algebra test or agonizing over the Spanish homework. As the freshman discuss today’s stress, the habitual chorus of groans echo through the halls, as upperclassmen remark how “easy” the freshman have it and how their complaining and stress is largely unwarranted.
To be fair, at the root of their criticism lies a nugget of truth. With challenging, advanced level courses, standardized tests, extracurriculars, bubbling social lives and college applications, both junior and senior year are notoriously the “most” stressful. However, to say that the stress the underclassmen feel is unworthy of recognition is not only unfair, but also unrealistic and narrow-minded.
Just because another student’s problems appear smaller does not mean their stress, worry or feelings are invalid. Pointing the finger at an underclassmen and blowing off his or her stress as trivial or unimportant, whether intentional or unintentional, is insensitive not only to the student, but also to the very nature of stress.
Think of it this way: stress is relative to each individual and the experiences he or she has had. For a freshman who has never taken a class as challenging as Honors Biology, the upcoming exam could be nerve-wracking, simply because he or she has never experienced studying for such a difficult test before. While it may be true that comparatively speaking, the courses that underclassmen take are not as challenging as upper-level junior and senior courses, each student has a different tolerance for stress and high pressure situations. Naturally, resistance to stress and the ability to keep calm under pressure are skills best improved through years of experience, which underclassmen do not yet have under their belts.
In addition to academic pressure, everyone, underclassmen included, face extenuating circumstances that warrant stress and worry. Unfortunately, divorce, death, illness, and job loss are hardships that do not discriminate based on age or grade level. Try to keep in mind the clichéd mantra, “don’t judge a book by its cover,” because you truly never know what kind of emotional or personal hardships an individual may be dealing with.
Regardless of grade level, we all experience stress of varying magnitudes on a daily basis, both academic and personal. Next time, before scoffing at anyone’s perceived stress level, remember that one person’s stress is rarely illegitimate, and that it is truly relative and individualized to each student.