How Abington High Subdues Stress

A Hygge Room, No Homework Weeks, and a Kindness Campaign: Some Highlights of the Social Emotional Wellness Initiative


James Mulkern

Abington High School’s brand-new Hygge Room, located in the guidance department suite, is a room inspired by the Danish philosophy of promoting soft comfort and quiet as a break from the stressful busyness present in life (and school). The room is a place for students to unwind when they just need a break and someone to listen or be close by.

James Mulkern, Staff Writer

In 2014 the American Psychological Association reported that teens in the United States were even more stressed than adults, with students experiencing stress at growing rates. This has not changed. Pressures such as earning good grades, social acceptance, parental pressure, and preparation for college are all factors that contribute to high school stress.

Experts say that psychological stress affects the thinking skills and brain development of even the youngest students. Stress hormones influence the neural connections in the prefrontal cortex (behind the forehead) that houses one’s executive functions. These functions are critical for reasoning, planning, problem solving, and for regulating emotions and attention. In short, they are essential to academic success.

The hub of emotional responses lies in the amygdala, at the center of the brain. A storm of emotions in the amygdala, as a result of stress, can hamper the person’s ability to think or learn efficiently. Students under considerable emotional stress under-perform in school as stress impairs executive function.

Pullquote Photo

Students present stress in different ways. Some feel physically sick and often show up in the nurse’s office, some become agitated and easily frustrated, some shut down, while others cry

— Ms. Sweeney

Of course, Abington High School is no stranger to stress, and the staff has shown awareness to this and taken action. School support staff and teachers all talk with students who are overwhelmed, fatigued, or depressed to help them find a solution.

Ms. Sweeney, one of the three guidance counselors at AHS, is very knowledgeable on how stress affects students and what they should do when they recognize they are stressed. She says that, “Students present stress in different ways. Some feel physically sick and often show up in the nurse’s office, some become agitated and easily frustrated, some shut down, while others cry.” If someone recognizes how they react to stress, they can identify it early and take action.

Ms. Sweeney strongly advises students to talk to someone about their concerns early on rather than waiting until things get out of control. She says that whoever you are talking to “may just be a listening ear, which is sometimes just what you may need.” She added that the school’s support staff  can “offer some sound advice that can help you process the situation.” If students are feeling stress, there are plenty of adults at school who are happy to help.

Ms. Sweeney said that “Social Emotional Wellness has been one of the goals on Abington High School’s School Improvement Plan.”

When asked how this was being implemented, Ms. Sweeney said that “for the past couple of years we have had a ‘No Homework Week’ in order to give students a break from school work and spend time relaxing with family and friends. Last year a Kindness Campaign was developed and executed by students where they organized uplifting events such as Senior Send Off and Teacher Appreciation Day. This year the Hygge Room was created to allow a safe, quiet space in the building for students to use if they need a little time to collect their thoughts.” She added that “small changes like these are a great start.”

As for college preparation causing students stress, Ms. Sweeney finds that “the more research the student has done beforehand, the less stressed they tend to be.” College research is time-consuming, but if one stays organized it is easier and less stressful. Most importantly, students should go on campus tours and see firsthand what the college is like and if that school is a good fit for them. Ms. Sweeney recommends using Naviance, a college and career readiness software that conducts college searches, career exploration, and provides students with a visual on if a certain school would be right for them.

When stress inevitably barricades the paths of AHS students, rather than trying to cope with it by themselves, students should seek one of the many adults who are here to help.