School isn’t supposed to always be a walk in the park. But similarly, it shouldn’t be overly difficult, either. It should be beneficial to the student and society as a whole. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. There are times when school can become a little bit stressful — and then there are times when school can be extremely stressful. While most of the time, these periods of extreme stress are brief and pass without incident, this isn’t always the case. Researchers are increasingly finding a link between school stress and mental illness. If a student’s stressful period goes on for longer than normal, or they’re not doing anything to remedy the situation, then problems could arise.

In this blog, we’re going to look at a question that many people ask: ‘how does stress affect mental health?’ We’ll run through the ins and outs of school and mental health Canada, including can school stress cause mental illness, the signs that you should look for, how you can help yourself daily, and where to turn if the problem becomes more pronounced.

The Impacts of Stress-induced Mental Illness

We can think about how does school affect mental health, but for people living with stress, it’ll be of more interest to learn of the impacts. It’s interesting to learn the causes, but it won’t be too important to people that are living with it. So first, let’s think about how does stress affect mental health. If you’re living with stress, then you’ll find that your overall quality of life is reduced, that your physical health suffers, that you find it more difficult to concentrate in school, and more. Much of this comes down to the mechanics of stress, which can take a toll on your physical and mental health. That’s because the body will be under pressure. What’s going on is that the body is responding to something chemically — in the olden days, this would help alert people to potential dangers.

Today, we don’t live with those same dangers. Our lives are pretty well insulated from direct threats, especially at school! Yet while we’ve progressed as a society, our bodies are still the same as they were for, well, forever. When you’re under your stress, your fight or flight response is activated. The body thinks it’s protecting the student, but it’s just making life more difficult.

Signs That You’re Overly Stressed

Stress can be a little hard to quantify or self-analyze. It’s normally only after the period of stress has resolved itself that the person realizes that they were going through a stressful period. However, if you know what symptoms to look for, then you can go some way towards catching stress at the earliest signs. A person undergoing a period of stress will usually exhibit a range of symptoms, both emotional and physical.

Let’s begin with the emotional aspects of stress. It’s here where students will most acutely feel how does stress affect mental illness. You could find that you’re moodier than usual and that you show some signs of depression. You may feel unhappy or guilty and find it difficult to relax. You will probably feel less “like yourself” and show more signs of irritability.

What’s going on in your mind will also show some physical symptoms too. You may have headaches or muscle pain in your body. You will likely feel more tired than normal and could have a range of stomach issues. Nausea and vomiting are also not uncommon. While many things can produce these symptoms, if you’ve been going through a stressful period, you may be able to pull all those symptoms together and understand that your period of stress has led to a deterioration in your mental health.

Negative Cycles

One of the issues with mental illness is that they often produce behavioral symptoms that can put the student into a negative cycle. That is, they start doing things that make things worse. The initial case of mental health may have been minimal. But once the school stress and mental illness become more pronounced, things begin to descend. It’s a bit like an alcohol drinker who, to ward off the effects of the hangover, continues to drink alcohol — their behavior is making the original issue last for a longer period.

For example, a student that is experiencing stress may neglect their educational work, which, of course, makes the thing more stressful. They may also eat less and increase their intake of caffeine or cigarettes, both of which can place the body under greater levels of stress. At this stage, the student is in a negative cycle, and it’ll take more work to get out of it. As the student slides, their mental health begins to become even worse.

Signs that a Friend is Stressed

Studies have shown that stress-related mental illness is on the rise in many parts of the world. It’s a problem that is more pronounced than most people believe. And since many educational institutions lack the framework to be able to adequately deal with the situation, it often falls on the students to help each other. The first step is to look out for friends who may be going through stress or have other mental health issues. As we said above, it’s much easier to catch a problem early on rather than to let behavioral symptoms take over and make things worse.

So what should you look for? First is knowing the answer to the question ‘does school cause mental illness issues?’ If you know that it’s more than possible for students to have mental health problems, then you’ll be aware of the extent of the problem. From there, it’s all about being mindful of your friends’ behavior. Are they withdrawing socially? Do they seem to be responding to you with great volatility? Sometimes, just seeing that they’re “not themselves” can be enough to intervene. Don’t underestimate how valuable it can be to ask a friend if they’re OK or to engineer an evening where they do nothing but have fun.

The Impact of Student Stress

As we said earlier, the effects of student stress are wide-ranging. It impacts, first and foremost, the student themselves — but it also goes beyond this and can have an impact on the people around the student, as well as the school. The friends and family of the student are distressed to see their loved one going through a difficult period. The atmosphere on the campus can also be impacted. In many ways, this can further the negative cycle — one person’s struggle is our own since we all connect and interact with one another.

Who’s at Risk of Stress?

Anyone can feel stress — it’s a part of being a human. But some people are more prone to stress than others. And for those people, the feelings can be more severe and longer-lasting, and, of course, have a more damaging impact. Some factors will determine whether a person is more likely to feel stress to a debilitating degree.

Students who have little to no support from friends or family and have multiple causes of stress are at the highest risk. Beyond that, it’s the people who have difficulty in regulating their stress levels and who have low confidence that feel it most acutely. In some cases, it’s not the level of stress that’s key, but how the person interprets it. Someone who rejects stress will typically have a more difficult time than someone who just accepts that it’s part of life.

Cold Ambitions

Stress has been on the rise in large part because of the shift in ambitions that schools have. When the goal is to get the highest results possible, rather than learning for fun or because it’s the person’s passion, there’s a lot of pressure for the student to perform. This can create a damaging environment that impacts the student.

In the Digital Age

The coronavirus pandemic had a damaging effect on the mental health of many people, including students. Part of this was because of the transition towards digital education. While learning through a computer is useful, it does present its own set of problems. For example, there’s the matter of “always being on.” In normal circumstances, a student could leave the campus and disconnect. But now, the student is always connected to school, which has also invaded their home space. It has also made socializing more difficult, and that can do a lot to keep stress at bay.

How Schools Can Help

Part of the reason why stress has been on the rise is that schools are ill-equipped to deal with the issue. While the circumstances that could increase stress — such as increased workloads/consequences of failure — have accelerated, the help that’s needed from schools has not developed quite as quickly. Fortunately, just because schools have failed in the past, that doesn’t mean that they can’t help things to improve in the future. There are various ways that they can do this. The first step is simply recognizing that it’s an issue. They have to answer yes to the question ‘can school stress cause mental illness?’ From there, it’s about asking the right questions, such as: ‘how does stress affect mental health?’

Providing some mental health training to employees, educating the students on the signs and symptoms of stress, and having a place where students can discuss their mental health will all help a great deal. More broadly, they should aim to create a positive environment at the school.

Everyday Tips to Manage Stress

If you’re experiencing mental distress, then remember that there are always things you can do that’ll help to minimize the negative impacts. The first step is to not try to ignore the issue — accepting that it’s there is to put a label on it, and then you can do something about it. There are plenty of stress relaxation techniques that’ll help too, such as meditating, listening to music, writing out your thoughts, and having fun with friends.

You can also exercise, which is a great way to get that nervous ball of energy out of your system. You should also avoid things that can make stress more present, such as caffeine, alcohol, and cigarettes. Your environment will also play a big role. If you can avoid people and places that make you feel stressed, then that’ll help.

Seeking Professional Help

It’s clear that everyone needs to do their part in order to improve mental health in Canada, and that includes the educational institutions themselves. However, while we should work towards improving mental health across the board, it’s also true that in some cases, mild modifications to the student’s behavior will not have the desired effect. There can be many factors that contribute to poor mental health. It could be that the educational system was what provoked the increase in anxiety or depression.

The good news is that there’s always something that can be done about stress or poor mental health. If you or your child is experiencing mental health issues, then look at getting in touch with us here at the Calgary Institute of Counselling. Our trained team of professionals have the tools required to

Final Thoughts

Life can be difficult at any time, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that some aspects of life are more difficult to manage than others. While most of them are to do with obvious traumatic events, such as divorce, some are less obvious — and that’s certainly the case with school and mental illness. The positive side of this is that once you’re aware of the problem, there are things you can do to handle the issue. If you’re looking for help, then look at getting in touch with us here at the Calgary Institute of Counselling. You can make an appointment by giving us a call on (587) 350-8843 or sending an email to