Never before has the pressure to perform on high-stakes tests been so intense or meant so much for a child’s academic future.
Political campaigns, among everything else, are pressure cookers of stress. There's lots of moving parts, little time to make them gel and constantly changing environments. Everything is high-stakes, because small slip-ups can be fatal when they trickle into the grand arena. As such, campaigns offer a fascinating opportunity to see how people react under high pressure over long hours with little food, sleep or even breathing space. Some crack entirely - others quit, or tune out, or become bitter. The vast majority of campaigners adapt to the unsustainable nature of campaign politics, leading to uncomfortable wind-down periods when the campaign is over. The real world simply doesn't function at that high level - it couldn't.
It couldn't - but it's starting to. There's a slow creep of demand for more, faster, better, constantly. Employees are being kept at their jobs for longer hours and bringing not just work, but colleagues and bosses home via cell phones and personal computers. The bar for academic success keeps rising - marks alone aren't enough, successful students now need a host of extra-curriculars to meet the standard, which kinda means the extras are now necessary. Pressure is on parents to be all things to all people, including transportation hubs. Accountability has bled into personal life - you now are judged by every action you make on social media in addition to work performance.
Critics argue that all this test-taking is churning out sleep-deprived, overworked, miserable children. Adults, too.
Fortunately, when a window drops on your fingers, it sometimes shakes open a door. We're beginning to understand stress better. Turns out that it's a bit like fat:
Stress turns out to be far more complicated than we’ve assumed, and far more under our control than we imagine. Unlike long-term stress, short-term stress can actually help people perform, and viewing it that way changes its effect. Even for those genetically predisposed to anxiety, the antidote isn’t necessarily less competition — it’s more competition. It just needs to be the right kind.
Fortunately, as we start to wrap our head around mental health and mental illness, we're also starting to branch out into mental fitness and broader environmental impacts, like at the workplace. When even Tim Hudak starts talking about mental health in terms of social support and proactive accommodation, you know that things are changing.
The change required is massive, though and requires collaboration at all levels - and a bit of courage at the political level. Leaders have to be willing to forgo quick partisan wins at the expense of collaborative change, because we can't afford to dally much longer with the structural transformation needed.
No pressure, though - we're all in this together; we can only move forward successfully when we leave no one behind.