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?
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?
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:
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- 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.
- 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.
- Cassady, J. C., (2004). The influence of cognitive test anxiety across the learning-testing cycle. Learning and Instruction, 14, 6, 569-592.
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- 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.
- 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.
- McGonigal, K. (2013). How to Make Stress Your Friend. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/kelly_mcgonigal_how_to_make_stress_your_friend.html
- 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.
- Rothman, R. (1995). Measuring Up: Standards, Assessments, and School Reform. San Fransico, USA: Jossey-Bass.
- 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.