It seems almost impossible to slow down high schoolers. Just ask J.P. Etcheverry.
His sophomore year at Garces Memorial High School has been busy, to say the least. Just this past week he participated in a mock trial competition on Wednesday, played his heart out for a band concert on Thursday and had to factor in wrestling practice after school and tournaments on the weekends.
Oh yeah, he also has to find time to study for finals, which are scheduled to begin this week.
"It’s a lot to handle right now. You have to prioritize what's the most important on that day, so those are difficult choices," Etcheverry said. "I feel pretty scattered, but we have to push through."
He's not alone. More and more high schoolers are saying this time of year leads to increased levels of stress and anxiety. And it's really no surprise.
Finals fall the week before Christmas this year for most high schoolers. Not only do they have to worry about making sure they dedicate enough time to studying and schoolwork, students are trying to squeeze in holiday shopping, other family obligations, extracurricular competitions and tournaments and sports practices into already crunched schedules.
West High School senior Abby Lopez is a part of Associated Student Body and is a basketball player. Many times she gets home at 9 p.m. and finds it difficult to study at the end of the day.
Though she has crammed schedules on a daily basis, she said she's experienced a few "mental breakdowns" around finals week in the past, and being overwhelmed has a way of coming back time and time again.
Teachers provide study guides that closely mirror content on the final exam. It's definitely a benefit to have it, but when students have several thrown at them at once, it's difficult to find the time to finish them all and spend enough time on every subject.
"When I study I usually go through my notes, and when I don’t remember something, I get anxiety in a sense," Lopez said. "Then I would start crying because I get frustrated with myself."
The holidays also add to the stress, Lopez explained. There are several activities families want to indulge in together, but it's hard to truly enjoy them when students feel like they're buried under mountains of study materials and homework.
"I feel like we shouldn’t have to stress this much," Lopez added.
Teachers and counselors understand this time of year can leave students with a lot of responsibilities to handle. They try to encourage students early on to stay on top of their work so that they don't wait last minute and be even more stressed, explained Denise Limi, Garces Memorial director of counseling.
"The pool of the activities they’re involved in and managing, that’s why we encourage students, 'Hey, as soon as you get those study guides, understand that you may not have as much time as you think you will so make sure you plan ahead with everything that you have on your plate,'" she said.
Teachers also hold study sessions, and several schools are putting on events where students can study together, enjoy some hot chocolate and do different holiday activities.
Students also try to find different ways to step away from their juggling act. Etcheverry said he and his friends take a couple of phone breaks — "maybe more than necessary" — during five-hour-long homework stretches.
Natalina Antongiovanni, a senior at Garces Memorial, even considers her extracurriculars and family moments breaks. She has soccer practice after school for two hours, and she sits down for family dinners every weekend. While both add to her busy schedule, they help keep her productive in a way that's not finals-related.
"I try not to look at it as something that I have to do; it’s something that takes my mind off finals, something that relieves some type of stress for two hours," Antongiovanni explained. "I’m going to be brain dead after finals so I might as well do something to get my mind off things."
And sometimes it just helps to realize schoolwork can wait every once in a while. It's something that took Stockdale High School senior Emu Eghre-Bello a while to wrap her head around, but now she understands school shouldn't be a teenager's only priority.
"Just like how you factor in time in the day to do homework, you have to factor in that time to hang out with your friends and have your own time, and I hope other students realize that," she explained. "I was always stressing about my grades, but you’re going to have a lot more fun and feel a lot better about things when you know there are other things in life than just school."