The Stress Culture at SMHS


Esther Lian, Contributing Writer

The perception that most outsiders have of San Marino High School (SMHS) is that it is a melting pot brimming with bright and determined students, clamoring for a chance to bring positive change to the world. Yet, the view as a student from the inside is drastically different. The truth is: there’s no escaping this onslaught of teenagers who are willing to fight tooth and nail for an extra leadership position, a curve from a B+ to an A-, and ten extra points on the SAT.

Stress culture refers to how a student’s surrounding environment encourages them to celebrate stress as proof of their hard work. It is exacerbated by pressure from peers, family members, school faculty and administrators. High schoolers across the country face increasing pressure to chase after better grades and test scores, bag one more award or trophy, create a masterpiece, secure an internship, discover a cure – anything: in order to increase their chances of being admitted to a prestigious college. Incredibly, the bar seems to be raised higher with each passing year.

At SMHS, this is accentuated; stress culture is not just a mere triviality, but a widespread epidemic. Junior Mitchell Tuey insists that this issue does not just hurt him, but also “many others at SMHS.” Students at SMHS constantly compare scores, grades, and extracurriculars, which fosters extremely unhealthy peer pressure. Senior Sophia Lee, who juggles being a member of Dance Company, Chamber Choir, and the President of Leo Club on top of academia, reflects that “stress is very glorified in our current generation” and that she is “still struggling to teach [her]self that it’s okay to enact self care and work at [her] own pace.”

Yet, there are some who view stress culture more positively. These resilient few are firm believers that stress is a source of motivation and students working off of one another’s achievements increases their potential for success. Sophomore Megan Choa asserts that although stress culture is prevalent at SMHS, “with the right time management and work ethic, it is possible to have a proper school and life balance.” Nonetheless, she expresses her discomfort at still feeling “a lot of pressure from the expectation to always be stressed and working hard toward something.”

The bitter pill though, is that the confidence of many at SMHS is no longer built upon personal achievements or self fulfillment but on how they are keeping up with others. Stress culture perpetuates the delusion that if a student doesn’t feel as stressed as his peers, he’s not doing something right. As students of SMHS, we must not tout stress as a symbol of our accomplishments. We should, instead, collectively aim to work not against, but alongside one another, while always allowing room for kindness, cooperation and fun!