Graham’s Blog: Stress and Education

Stress is an emotion that we have all experience at one point or another. For teenagers, stress comes as a result of school work, friendships, relationships and responsibilities at home. With so many things to worry about, and very little real-life experience to use as a reference, stress can become overwhelming, thus causing a person to become less productive in the areas of our lives that are causing a person to be stress. But how does all of this affect us at school?

According to British psychologist, Guy Brandon, author of psych blog Stress and Education, stress is a defense mechanism. Its original purpose in mankind was to keep us safe from physical threats, resulting in a fight or flight response. However, in modern times, it is more commonly caused by social situations.

The problem with stress comes when we consider the different types of stress, and how they vary based on their triggers. Turns out, stress is a one-size-fits-all response to negative situations in general. This means that the stress you experience when coming in contact with a serial killer is technically no different than the stress you would experience over an essay that is due tomorrow; Crazy, right?

However, stress is intended to be a short-term response to something that is dangerous, and it is not meant to last for long periods of time. Education, in contrast, is inherently a long-term situation; something we are faced with from the age of five to the age of 18, and even longer for a vast number of people. Our bodies are not prepared to deal with stress for such a long period of time, and it ends up being extremely overwhelming. This all ultimately results in disaster.

Thankfully, there are a number of solutions to this problem that can be built into a teacher’s syllabus.

One is exercise. Since stress induces a fight or flight response, physical activity can allow students to release that energy somewhere else. This is obviously a better alternative to not exercising, which causing them to completely avoid the situation that has caused the stress, such as an essay or a homework assignment.

Relaxation exercises are also a way to relive stress. These allow you to look at the stressful situation from an objective point of view, and allow you to deal with them in an appropriate manner.

Finally, cognitive behavioral therapy is a very effective way of reducing or relieving stress. CBT is a psychotherapeutic approach to treating irrational or negative thinking. CBT can range from tasks as simple as keeping a diary to attending regular sessions of therapy with a licensed therapist. In these sessions, a patient is likely to be doing things such as facing activities that may have previously been avoided and discussing the problem, allowing the patient to view challenges clearly. This also allows you to look at the situation from an objective point of view. By doing this, you can adjust the connection between the way you think and the way you feel, allowing you to simply “turn off” the automatic stress response when it is not necessary.

Stress serves a purpose; to protect a person’s well-being. However, it’s place in the educational system seems to be counter-productive. While we may never see the day when methods of relieving stress such as relaxation exercises and cognitive therapy are a regular part of our education system, it is certainly something to think about.

Blog by Alyson Graham