It’s been almost two months since junior year started, and I find myself feeling down pretty frequently. Like many, I have a lot of things to juggle including a heavy academic and extracurricular load, time for my friends and trying to get at least eight hours of sleep a night.
At the end of each day, I often find myself feeling exhausted, stressed and despondent. Sometimes it feels like my happiness and self-confidence are really fleeting. I hate feeling hopeless, but it feels inescapable given all of the work and stress I signed up for.
I have a few senior friends who had a similar workload to mine last year, and most of them characterized junior year as relentlessly grueling and tiring. Because of this, I’m not really sure if what I’m feeling is normal as an inevitable side-effect of junior year or something more serious.
I’m getting increasingly concerned that I might be depressed, but I don’t want to look into it because I am already so overwhelmed and feel like living with mental illness would just be another thing for me to deal with.
Where should I go from here?
— WORRIED AND UNSURE
DEAR WORRIED AND UNSURE:
You are not alone. Many teenagers around our age and at our school often feel stressed and sometimes sad. That’s not to say that how you feel isn’t significant; it is important to pay attention to how you are feeling, and it is great that you already are.
Try taking note of your mood when you are not stressed, such as a weekend or a vacation. Are you able to enjoy things you normally enjoy and have the energy to do them? If you are, your emotions may be more stress-related than what psychiatrists call depression.
If you are feeling down most of every day, not enjoying things you usually do or isolating yourself from friends or family, you should talk to someone: a case manager, school counselor, ACS, pediatrician, parent or school psychologist. If your thoughts are suicidal, please reach out immediately.
No matter where your emotions lie, remember that seeking professional help is not shameful but shows responsibility, strength and humility for acknowledging your individual limitations and taking care of yourself. In addition, though mental illness may be difficult to deal with, it will never diminish a person’s worth.
One crucial aspect of mental health is sleep. Hold onto your goal of eight or more hours a night! Maintaining a healthy, consistent sleep cycle will make you both feel and perform better.
Happiness based on things around us, such as school and extracurricular achievements and other people’s approval, can be fleeting, but our ability to experience happy moments is still a blessing. The more positivity there is in your life, the less space there is for negativity. Prioritize personal activities that create joy in your life over those that just meet obligations or expectations. These will remind you that there is more to life than your performance, give you a sense of purpose and sometimes provide you with a community. Though you can’t always control how you feel, you can choose what you do, and making decisions for yourself can be incredibly empowering.
We in Palo Alto are often told that because of our high-achieving culture, we must all be extremely stressed and even depressed. But labels, like depression, can be scary. Instead of trying to classify all of your emotions, try to think about how you want to feel and how to feel that way.
Junior year is certainly difficult. I remember floating through many days feeling empty, numbingly exhausted and weighed down by heavy emotions, but these feelings can get better. There will always be people around you who want to help rekindle your hope and remind you of joys in life no matter the cost because they love you.
WITH LOVE: JAMIE
Dr. Moira Kessler, a child psychiatrist at the Stanford University Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, offers feedback to the column writer. She is not providing any clinical services.