Post #3 Developing Stress Into Positive Belief: Improving School Outcomes

I feel stressful since the start of this new semester, likely because it is my final year and all my hopes in getting a good degree are based on my performance this year. I find it difficult to sleep at night; and my organs suddenly feel like under heavy pressure; my mom tells me that you have to learn to relieve your stress otherwise you will develop cancer in the future. In the end I am trying to convince myself that as long as I put in enough effort on my study, everything will go smoothly. So why am I still feeling so worried?

If you don't like something change it if you can't change it change your attitude

Innovative Viewpoints from New Science of Stress

Earlier this year, McGonigal (2013) gave a very inspiring speech on “How to make stress your friend”, which allow psychologists to re-investigate the positive aspects that stress can bring to individuals. Initial evidences was provided by Keller et al (2012), who conducted an experiment in order to assess whether the perception of stress and the degree of stress suffering would affect individuals’ health. Their finding indicated that there is an interaction between the degree of stress and the perceived stress against health, and reported statistically that participants who experienced a high degree of stress and also believed that stress had a negative impact on their health were more likely to have a 43% increased risk of premature death. According to the above research, there would be an estimate of over 20,000 deaths caused by stress beliefs in America. So why keep telling people that stress is bad for their health?


The emerging body of research indicates that cognitive reappraisal is the most frequently reported biological factor to explain how the perceived stress against health can actually affect individuals’ physical health.  Cognitive reappraisal refers to an emotion regulation strategy that requires the redirecting of the emotional or affective response by redefining the way individuals perceive a stimulus (Buhle et al, 2013).

To link cognitive reappraisal with stress and health, Blascovich and Mendes (2010) proposed a theoretical explanation of the shaping of stress responses that activation of stress is caused with different antecedent appraisal processes (personal interpretation of a situation) while individuals facing challenge or threat. In regard to physical health, challenge causes the improved cardiac efficiency and expansion of the peripheral vasculature, whereas threat reduces the cardiac efficiency and constricts the vasculature in anticipation of damage or defeat. This explanation implied that the activation of stress during approach-motivated challenges is more likely to improve the human hearts state of health as well as the performance.

The Altering Perspective of Academic Stress: Improving School Outcomes

The evidential findings from the above research point out a potential cue between the perceived stress (challenge or threat), and academic performance. A certain number of research have drawn on negative effect of stress to academic performance, (i.e. increased test anxiety), fundamentally however, only a very minority of researchers attempt to investigate the positive perspective of academic stress, which can positively associate with many school outcomes.

A commonly held belief of academic stress suggests that learners dealing with higher degree of stress are inclined to achieve lower average scores across the whole year, but actually Kumari and Gartia (2012) found that learners as high academic achievers are more likely to receive higher degree of stress, when compared to learners who are not; it was in line with Bankston and Zhou’s study (2002). Another interesting study from Malaysia implemented different stress factors to examine the perceived stress (i.e. nutrition, problems with partner or roommate, class attendance, sleeping too much or too less, social activities, finances, heavy workloads), and demonstrated that most learners perceived a moderate degree of stress throughout the whole semester, and surprisingly that these factors did not influence their academic achievement (Rafidah et al, 2009).

According to Rothman (1995), a possible explanation for academic stress from learners with high achievements is that they struggle to maintain their position that will allow them to enroll at highly esteemed colleges. Is it possible that maybe these learners manage to perceive their stress as a challenge rather than a threat? The findings of Rafidah et al (2009) implied this possibility, because their participants reached the expected academic performances (over 66 percent scoring GPA 3.00/4.00; 24 percent scoring GPA 3.50/4.00), at the meanwhile that they did not perceive stress as a major problem against their studies. In the implication of Kumari and Gartia’s study (2012), they also suggested that educators should reinforce this positive relationship between academic stress and academic performance towards students, teachers and parents respectively.

Personal Reflective Questions

It is compulsory to educate learners on what they need to learn in order to think creatively and critically, nevertheless, learning how to jump out from their frame of the world could help them be well-prepared for the real world and become significant individuals. An example of this would be that individuals cannot learn just from theoretically how to love others, unless they have experienced the feeling of being loved by their parents, relatives, friends, or even pets. The similarity of managing stress to learning to love is that learners must experience that emotional state in order to understand it. Some learners may not experience stress throughout their academic life, nevertheless, it is impossible to precisely know that they will not face any stress in the coming future (i.e. during work). School is the safest environmental setting for learners to express the questions and find the answers with sources and guides; therefore educators should do the best to embrace them. Is this what education is for?

1234880_642968445726168_93237401_nFor some learners, they may not experience any stresses in the academic life. However, their nightmare start right after their education…

Recent literature reviews judged on the educational assessment being massively dependent on standardised examination, that how it can relate to test anxiety and the problems caused by test anxiety (i.e. increased heart rate, less social behaviors) (Cassady & Johnson, 2002; Cassady, 2004). In regard to this concern, a reduced use of standardised examination as teaching assessment should be considered. According to my week one blog, I have mentioned how this standardisation system hinders the creativity in education, nevertheless I cannot deny that educators may have their own concern that prevent them to implement new assessments in the education system. Their concern can possibly be political issues, which means that they conform to the expectation of government? It is most likely because government funds the public school, and it can be understood that educators do not want the school to be shut down. So I make my point that it may require years of psychological battle between educators and politicians to reduce standardised examination and implement other assessments such as oral speech, blog and assignments. However, learners under the current education system continue to undergo the stress from standardised examination. Before there is a change, is it possible to use the new perspective of stress to help them?

Using Self-efficacy To Improve Positive Stress

Self-efficacy is a psychological concept that maybe a third factor to mediate the relation between challenge and threat (academic stress). According to Bandura (1997), self-efficacy refers to “the perceived self-efficacy as personal judgments of one’s capabilities to organize and execute courses of action to attain designated goals, and he sought to assess its level, generality, and strength across activities and contexts”. As previously mentioned in the model of stress response (Blascovich & Mendes, 2010), individuals perceive stress as either challenge or threat, and Chemer, Hu, & Garcia (2001) showed that individuals with high degree of self-efficacy are more likely to believe their working competence and evaluate a difficult task or situation as a challenge. There are also studies pointed out the moderate to strong negative relationship between self-efficacy and perceived stress towards academic achievement consistently (Torres & Solberg, 2001; Zajacova, Lynch & Espenshade, 2005). More interestingly, Zajacova found that academic self-efficacy accounted for a larger responsibility for the school outcome, when compared to academic stress; because stress has a negative but weak relationship with academic performance. Therefore maybe the self-efficacy based interventions can help to change stress into positive belief most efficiently?


An increasing number of research found that changing the attitude towards stress can promote heath; additionally this discovery has a serious implication on the self-management of academic stress. The current evidences are not convincing enough for educators to implement this new perspective of stress to aid learners in the education system, and obviously further investigation is needed. Personally, I would say the best way to change negative stress to positive stress is to compare your present self only to your past self. No matter what the result is, success or failure, you have gained benefits from the process because what you learn is experience which provides you a new perspective.

P.S. Here is a verbal presentation of this article:


  1. Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavior change. Psychological Review, 84, 191-215.
  2. Blascovich, J., & Mendes, W. B. (2010). Social psychophysiology and embodiment. In S. T. Fiske & D. T. Gilbert (Ed.), The handbook of social psychology (5th ed., pp. 194-227). New York: Wiley.
  3. Buhle, J. T., Silvers, J. A., Wager, T. D., Lopez, R., Onyemekwu, C., Kober, H., Weber, J. & Ochsner, K. N. (2013). Cognitive reappraisal of emotion: A meta-analysis of human nueroimaging studies. Cerebral Cortex. Advance online publication.
  4. Cassady, J. C., (2004). The influence of cognitive test anxiety across the learning-testing cycle. Learning and Instruction, 14, 6, 569-592.
  5. Cassady, J. C., & Johnson, R. E. (2002). Cognitive test anxiety and academic performance. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 27, 270–295.
  6. Chemers, M. M., Hu, L.-T., and Garcia, B. F. (2001). Academic self-efficacy and first-year college student performance and adjustment. Journal of Educational Psychology, 93(1), 55–64.
  7. Keller, A., Litzelman, K., Wisk, L. E., Maddox, T., Cheng, E. R., Creswell, P. D., & Witt, W. P. (2012). Does the perception that stress affects health matter? The association with health and mortality. Health Psychol, 31(5), 677-684.
  8. Kumari, R. & Gartia, R. (2012). Relationship between Stress and Academic Achievement of Senior Secondary School Students. Asian Journal of Multidimensional Research, 1(3), 152-160.
  9. McGonigal, K. (2013). How to Make Stress Your Friend. Retrieved from
  10. Rafidah, K., Azizah, A., Norzaidi, M. D., Chong, S. C., Salwani, M. I. & Noraini, I. (2009). The Impact of Perceived Stress and Stress Factors on Academic Performance of Pre-Diploma Science Students: A Malaysian Study. International Journal of Scientific Research in Education, 2(1), 13-26.
  11. Rothman, R. (1995). Measuring Up: Standards, Assessments, and School Reform. San Fransico, USA: Jossey-Bass.
  12. Zajacova, A., Lynch, S. M. & Espenshade, T. J., (2005). Self-efficacy, Stress, and Academic Success in College. Research in Higher Education,46(6), 677-706.


4 thoughts on “Post #3 Developing Stress Into Positive Belief: Improving School Outcomes

  1. I would tend to disagree with you here. Whilst it is true that high academic achievers have more stressed placed upon them, the pressures and expectations that others hold of them can often be detrimental. Recent research by Wolf (2009) indicates that students going through medical school are suffering a health hazard due to huge amounts of stress, whilst Lee and Graham (2001) found that many medical students believed that their own health had suffered due to the stresses of learning such large amounts of information. Whilst the study is older, Stewart et al (1999) found that levels of stress were negatively correlated with high grades in medical school.
    To me, stress is something that should be avoided rather than used. Whilst it may be possible to utilise it, I would prefer to not have to feel it at all in order to attain high grades and a good education.

    Lee, J., & Graham, A. V. (2001). Students’ perception of medical school stress and their evaluation of a wellness elective. Medical Education, 35(7), 652-659.

    Stewart, S. M., Lam, T. H., Betson, C. L., Wong, C. M., & Wong, A. M. P. (1999). A prospective analysis of stress and academic performance in the first two years of medical school. MEDICAL EDUCATION-OXFORD-, 33, 243-250.

    Wolf, T. M. (1994). Stress, coping and health: enhancing well‐being during medical school. Medical Education, 28(1), 8-17.

  2. The emotions which students experience within the learning environment are known to be related to important outcomes such as academic success and academic adjustment, and also to student health and well-being. The topic of test anxiety and its effect on academic performance has been widely studied (e.g. Zeidner, 1995 and Zeidner, 1996). Studies of other correlates of negative emotions have established associations with stress in students (Austin, Saklofske, & Mastoras, 2010) and with poorer academic adjustment (Halamandaris & Power, 1997). The role of positive emotions in educational contexts has been less widely researched but associations have been found with academic performance and academic engagement (Lewis et al., 2009, Pekrun et al., 2009 and Reschly et al., 2008). In the context of studying student emotions, it is also appropriate to examine the potential utility of emotional intelligence as an explanatory variable. Models of emotional intelligence highlight a range of emotion-related capabilities; a component of emotional intelligence which appears to be particularly likely to support students in the learning environment is Emotion Regulation, since individuals who can regulate their emotions well are better able to manage stress.

  3. I am writing to reply dunekahnshillan’s comment above.

    Thank you for commenting on my post. I deeply understand your viewpoint that sometimes stress may come from expectations of parents or teachers, because I have gone through it in my personal experience. My dad has high expectation on my study that he compares me to relatives who did their degree in Oxford and Stanford University, and I am not disappointing him. I understand that I had not enrolled in the highly esteemed university; nevertheless, I understand what I am capable of, and how my perspective of success is different from my parents. In the past, I used to compare myself with those relatives to meet my dad’s expectation and felt like I was nobody. It took me years to change my attitude towards this issue. As I have mentioned in my blog, I compare myself only to the past self. A comparison is needed in order to understand what I have learnt now is not enough and will motivate myself to search for new information. It is understandable that people have different beliefs, like you and a majority of people believe that stress is bad for their health or performance, and that is why a new perspective of stress can help these people.

    The research in relation to stress and medical education has consistently reported a negative relationship between them. The causes of stress in medical students can be explained by the long working hours, serious and competitive environment, strict authorities, financial problems, time constraints, an imbalance between work and personal life, etc (Mahajan, 2010). The occurrence of these causes cannot always be seen in other disciplines. For example, most subjects do not require students to work for long hours, and medical education requires a very large amount of money in comparison with most other higher education; whereas the most important stress of studying medicine is that a mistake may cause death. So I make my point that there are substantial amount of reasons that made medical education very different from other education.

    I cannot deny that altering stress into positive belief may not work on medical students, whereas it may have an effect on students from other discipline. For example, Early Intervention is famous for treating young children with autism, however, its finding on children who started the intervention from 3 years-old or above is insignificant. Can we then deny its effect on young autistic children?

    1. Mahajan, S. A. (2010). Stress in Medical Education: A Global Issue or Much Ado About Nothing Specific?. South-East Asian Journal of Medical Education, 4(2), 2010.

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