When it comes to students’ grades, people have a lot to say. How often do we hear opinions directly or indirectly telling us what our grades should mean?: “It’s just a number”; “What d’you get?”; “Did you even study?”; “It’s a failing grade”; “Stupid”; “I’m just…disappointed”
Sure, we know logically that grades are meant to measure our learning and improvement, thus making them essentials to our growth. Subjectively though, we know there’s more to that story: Maybe a good grade means a look of pride from a parent, proof of a brain in our heads, or a sure path to the future looming closer and closer over the horizon. Perhaps unsurprisingly, we see a culture of students prioritizing academic productivity and scores over health and emotional stability more and more these days. The pressure to perform according to expectations in certain subjects—whether from family, our peers, or ourselves—has created an often toxic environment of competition and heavy unending stress.
Those at school-age are especially vulnerable to developing mental health disorders. These types of issues surface typically by a combination of stressors like family problems or academic and societal expectations. In a study by Kaur (2014), he concluded that academic stress in particular can lead anxiety, tension, and hopelessness, as the burden of expectations from people around students rises.
But research only tells a fraction of the actual struggle students go through. For instance, I went through most of my highschool life thinking that my grades defined my intelligence and my future—that without my honors and my test scores, I’d have effectively disappointed anyone that held any expectations of me (Being a so-called nerd, those expectations were quite high.) I’d be devastated at failures, obsess over mistakes, and get anxious when a homework wasn’t making sense.
When we get caught up with our work, it becomes easy to lose sight of what’s important. We might find ourselves thinking, “Who cares about sleep when there’s a paper due the next day? Who cares about family quality time when there are 5 major projects to finish?” And what of mental health? Taking a second to slow down?—The concepts seem almost laughably foreign when in the middle of a flood of paperwork. Sometimes, we can’t help that nagging feeling of doubt in our abilities when a bad grade comes in, or that sudden panic twisting one’s stomach when deadlines start to pile. But we can help how we cope. There are a number of things it helps to remember:
- Grades don’t define your future. Yes, universities will look at your grades, and yes, getting into a good college is the most effective path to getting a good job. But universities care more about what you learn and take with you, which is not the same thing. Plus, a failure, or even multiple failures, is not the end of the world; there are so many options to get to where you want to be and individual paces for each person to reach their full potential. There will always be a tomorrow to try again.
- You are not a machine. You are a living, flawed, growing human being. Perfection should not be expected; productivity is not the measure of your worth. You are meant to sleep, to cry your heart out, to take breaks, to be happy, and to make mistakes. You are allowed to take care of yourself. You are meant to breathe.
- It’s not a competition. No really. Maybe with all the batch rank comparing and hearsay of how accomplished so-and-so is, you’re worried that you have to keep up with your peers or be left behind. This type of thinking only ups the stress one already has, and serves to clutter the mind even more. Really growing means realizing you can’t compare your achievement to another person’s. Everyone has their own kind of smart, their own topics to excel in, and their own time to bloom.
- You are not alone. There will always be at least one person around you who believes in what you can accomplish and accepts you for what you haven’t. It helps to surround yourself with people willing to listen to your stressing and struggle with you. Doubts and unhealthy thoughts become lighter when you don’t carry them by yourself. Whether its a parent, a friend, a teacher, or a priest, a positive support system will serve to remind you of who you are beyond your grades and to pick you up during a low moment.
Yes, grades are important. They really are. But so is mindfulness, family, health, faith, and happiness. So let’s recognize grades for what they really are: a call to continue growing.
So by all means, cry, study, rush, and work—but don’t forget to grow.
Bueno, A. (2018, April 11). Are Philippine universities taking care of their students’ mental
health?. CNN Philippines. Retrieved from http://cnnphilippines.com/life/culture/2018/04/10/mental-health-issues-university.html
Kaur, S. (2014). Impact of academic stress on mental health: A study of school going adolescents. Global Journal for Research Analysis, 3(5), 27. doi: 10.15373/22778160/MAY2014/11