A Mental Health Survival Guide in High School

High school is a time of figuring out what we like, dislike, and ultimately developing our interest in areas we may want to pursue as a career in the future. For me, I knew that sooner or later I would find myself in some science undergraduate degree, lost in a sea of pre-meds, all hoping to achieve the same goal. But here I was, at the starting line, peering only five feet into the haze that was the path to medical school. Only, I thought, maybe the road would be less treacherous than other career paths. Footprints leading into the fog came in the form of five minute reads titled, “How to Choose the Right Extracurricular Activities for Medical School” or “What Looks Good on Applications and What Doesn’t”. Just follow the path taken by others and I’ll be fine, right? Being a math loving student, I thought that there must be some reason as to why students would follow this Type A path. Any number substituting for x would produce a point sitting on the graphed function, extending all the way to medical school.

But why should we stop trying to be this “Type A” student and devote time instead to things we truly want to do?

  1. Mental health

If you’re truly interested in being the president of the biology club at your school, that’s awesome! But if you’re not, so be it. For the sake of your mental health, don’t constantly compare yourself to other pre-meds who are supposedly “setting up their applications better”. You’ll only dwindle down a road of constantly thinking that you’re self-sabotaging yourself. Not following the deep-rooted list of pre-med extracurriculars doesn’t mean you’re a better or worse applicant. It just means you’re different.

  1. Being true to yourself and genuine about who you are

Having almost reached the high school veteran status, I know that trying to pretend to be someone you’re not is tiring. If ever you found yourself being interviewed as an applicant, it would be much easier to talk about things that genuinely fascinate you than extracurriculars you’ve gathered as the person you think they want you to be. Not only this, but you’d have a lot more fun on the journey there, and in those five minutes you occupy their seat.

So what if my extracurriculars aren’t cohesive and perfectly crafted, but doesn’t that say something in their success of representing me and my unique interests? I say lead your own path and inspire others by your example, design your road so that it’s unbelievably unique and true to yourself. And when others try to follow your path they’ll discover the need to pave their own, because nobody can follow your exact journey. And that’s exactly why it stands out. (Val) 

Self worth will not and will never be dependent on feedback from teachers or peers. Whether it be praise from your classmates or criticism from your teachers, your self worth is not reliant on either. I can recall a time in my high school career where this problem had been most apparent to me. In the beginning of my junior years, I had used the method of seeking feedback to develop good habits. Using the feedback I got, I would implement whatever was needed into my work, and this habit became a skill in my daily life. Regardless of what it was, tests, homework, projects, presentations, I would always find the need to seek approval from others. As time went on, I had learned the hard way that there is a difference between seeking advice and seeking validation. I have learned that when looking for approval from others, we are almost always setting ourselves up for disappointment. There will never be a time where you will please everyone. Not only is it impossible to seek validation from everyone, but it is not efficient. I would spend an excessive amount of time on work that I would ultimately hand in and not be proud of only because it didn’t please ‘X’ amount of people.  I had become reliant and oftentimes sustained by the judgement of others. Oftentimes when there was no rubric to follow, I was lost and confused. I was constantly in distress by criticism and aimed to gain satisfaction from praise. In the beginning, it was almost promised I would feel content after receiving praise. Be that as it may, it became toxic to be dependent on someone else’s ideas. I became separate from my own thoughts. Although in the beginning it seems right to do what is expected of you, don’t use that as the be all-end all of your education. Stop seeking validation. Do things for yourself and do them to grow and learn. (Leah)

Family pressure is also a big thing, especially among students who have grown up with the mindset of always having to be the best. There can be pressure to prove yourself among peers, among siblings, to your teachers and to your parents. Coming from a family where I was an only child but having cousins older than me who were very successful, I also definitely felt pressure coming into high school to do something amazing. Good academics weren’t going to cut it with one cousin at Stanford and the other at Rice, I needed extracurriculars. My first year of high school, I didn’t join any clubs, opting instead to try to transition from middle school in a big city to a high school in a small town, with entirely different people and friend groups. Tenth grade, I was so stressed about academics that doing clubs like debate and DECA just felt like such a chore. So, instead of following what my parents had pressured me to try from the start: “You should join debate! Join DECA! They look good on your university applications!”I joined clubs like art, volleyball and swimming in grade 10 (much to the displeasure of my parents, I got a stern talking to after the club fair). My academic results in ninth grade were mediocre at best, but after joining the clubs I genuinely had a passion for, my marks went up in grade 10 and 11. I found that having an outlet for creativity, stress and free from the academic pressures and competition of a regular school day helped boost my mentality and grades. So I leave you with this: join clubs for you, not for your expectations (nothing at all against DECA or debate! If you have passions in those areas, go for it!). Make choices for you, not for what you want others to think of you. Explain to your parents the theory and the logics behind stress relief and clubs as an outlet for school. You’ll find that doing something for you, that you have passion for, is so much better than the stress of academic conformity and competition. (Ching)

As most of us may know, high school is filled with lots of ups and downs. There are many good memories that you make along the way, but there are also a lot of obstacles that you may have to face. While writing this article, I took a moment to reflect on all the obstacles and stresses that I had to overcome during high school and I realized that throughout it all, I told myself that I HAD to be okay and I rarely spoke up when something was wrong. I am here to tell you that it is perfectly okay to not be okay all the time. The human body is able to experience so many different types of emotions and we should not have to feel like those feelings are not valid enough to share. Here is an example of an obstacle that I had to face at the beginning of my second semester in eleventh grade. It was the beginning of a new year and I was looking forward to all that the year would bring for me. Little did I know, weeks later, my loving mother would be diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a shock for my entire family and I. I found it very difficult to focus on school during the time leading up to my mom’s surgery, but I decided to stay silent about everything that was going on in my personal life. I’d put on a fake smile and tell myself that I HAD to be okay. I am here to tell you all: please do not do what I did. Your mental health matters and it is extremely important. Do not underestimate the importance of being aware of your mental health. You don’t have to be okay all the time and there is nothing wrong with reaching out for help.  (Julia)

Leave a Reply