How do schools influence the overall level of student’s stress and what can be done about it?
Stress has lately become something like a buzzword in our society. Especially among students. We use it when it comes to our school, work, but even at home and especially connected to any sort of responsibility. But what is actually behind that? Does every student have an enormous amount of work that makes them stressed, or does everybody just procrastinates and wait for things to pile up? Let’s look at it.
Let’s define it
Having a dispute with someone, or seeing a furios animal will most certainly result in an emotional response. But as we calm down, those feelings and emotions fades away. So do the physical symptoms such as sweaty hands, increased heart rate, tension and others that we experience on a daily basis. Sometimes this arousal just doesn’t go away, due to the continuing worries that people experience. For example, worry about money or paying the bills is not something that will go away in an instant.
Stress can be defined as a longterm arousal.
It is our natural response to any changes.
Stress might be one of the most studied parts of psychology as it is such a big problem in the modern world.”Long-term stress supresses the action of the body’s immune system, making us much more vulnerable to colds, infections and more serious illnesses. In the long term it can make us liable to contract heart disease. Long-term stress can also make us very jumpy and alert to potential threats – which means that quite often we see something as a threat when it is really quite harmless.” (Nicky Heyes, Undertand psychology, 2010)
Pick a video you are more interested in to get a deeper understanding of how the stress works and what affects does it have on an individual. First video is looking at stress from sociocultural point of view, whereas the other one is mostly focused on biological functions. The choice is yours.
However,not all stress is bad.
Not every bit of stress we experience is harmful. That is why we need to understand also its helpful effects so we can use it in a positive way.
There are less extreme forms of stress, that improves our functioning. Small dose of stress (or arousal) can be stimulating. That is the reason why people drink coffee in the morning, or excersize regularly. It helps them feel more alert. A little stress can improve our performance on a test, or helps us find words in an argument faster. But only to a certain point. After that, one can feel stuck, has dificulties to find words or concentrate on their performance. This principle is called Yerken-dodson Law of arousal.
As is the stress increasing, so is the interest, attention and overall performance. After it reaches the sweet spot when the efficiency of the stress is otimal, it declines and turns into strong anxiety, impaired performace. Because of shaky hands you might break something, slip and fall or feel like you forgot everything you studied.
The following video explains, what exactly is the problem with stress and also, how to change it from your enemy to your friend.
HOW TO SEE STRESS POSITIVELY
So what about schools?
In order to see, what importance does a school have in a life of a Slovak student, I looked into statistics of time spent in school. I acknowledge the fact that the time we spent on a thing is only a piece of value we assign to it, it is the most general resource I could use, holding an assumption that the importance is indeed very individual thing. According to the ministry of education of Slovakia, kids aged 11-16 spent on average 6-7 hours per day in school. That is one third of a day.
Having stated this, we see how important it is for schools to be stress-balanced and educate not only areas of logic and thinking but also essential skills and mental health education.
So the question rises: how can we balance the stress in schools so students can perform to the best of their abilities?
In order to understand, what is already being done in schools in Slovakia to face this challenge, I conducted interviews. I talked with my peers about their experiences, as well as with proffesionals about theirs opinions. After I got a brief idea, I created a survey to quantify my assumptions and validate my ideas. I got over 60 respondents from all around Slovakia. My study was taken through anonymus online survey. Below you can find the results of this survey. I was disturbed but not surprised by the results. X axis represents answers which range from 0= totally disagree to 10= totally agree. Y axis represents number of respondents. You can also take the survey in order to help me with my continuing research.
We didn’t talk about mental health nor stress management in my school at all, what is in my opinion a big mistake. At the time around my 7th grade I had never heard about these things and I took on certain bad and dangerous coping mechanism. (And I know I am not alone.) I think, that if they taught us this, our lives would be easier and it would help us better orientate in what we think and feel. – Emily, Student
One of the biggest problems is that many teachers still have this authoritative approach, being super strict just to gain power over the students. This kind of attitude stresses students who already have a lot on plate meaning all the tests and work. – Olga, Teacher
Nobody actually cares about the work we put into assignments. They don’t even care if we have a result, the only problem is, if we don’t. I have a friend who suffers from depression and I believe it is from a huge part caused by school. I think that my school didn’t taught me how to cope with stress at all. It is more like I had to learn how to get used to it, but the school and the teachers didn’t care. – Michal, Student
From the survey and also from those interviews I got pretty specific Idea what needs to be done and what actions need to be taken. Some of the biggest problems in Slovak school is, that instituitions do not care. As a post-communistic country having a majority of teachers being educated during communism or by people who experienced it, there is still this mindset prevailing that teacher is the ultimate authority, teacher can do whatever they desire and there is no space for compromise or discussion. The good thing is, that many teachers, especially those who have experienced other educational systems, are changing. They are adapting new kind of attitude towards the students. They don’t want to hurt them or their mental state, but they want to help them. However, this is difficult in certain schools. According to my interviews, some schools are even discouraging teachers to be friendly, in fact they might have problems if they are trying to be kind towards the students. “You are teaching, not making friends” they say.
We need a change and we need it now.
Schools in slovakia do not educate about mental health, in fact, many of them do not even have a psychologist or other specialist. I belive, that if we want to have a properly functioning future generation, that is also able to decrease the stigma around mental health in Slovakia, we need to educate people about mental health. From the interviews and survey I could see, that people would like some space where they could talk openly about their issues and they would be listened to. I proposed this problem to some of my friends and they got very excited about it. So we looked into it, had an online brainstorming session and came up with something, that would be viable, feasible and we believe also helpful.
Peers to peers
We would like to design a workshop, that could be an open space for students around slovakia. Voluntary sharing and learning together would be essential points of creating that kind of space. Together with stories from our lives and a bit of science from a network of psychologists whom we are trying to get, we would provide at least a fraction of what students need to hear. This is just the begginning, but from the feedback that we got, I believe that our project is able to help students, as it would help us couple of years ago.
In times of quarantine
As it became very difficult to pursue further with our designs for the project and prototype, due to the current situation and social distancing, we decided to look on what can be done even now. It is not a new fact that probably every teenager is active on some social sites. Especially now. Therefore the most doable idea is targeting people through social sites. Through a short research I found out, that there are very few videos connected to the topic of mental health in Slovak language. Therefore I decided to do something about it and spread this message also in a from of videos. Below, you can a video for a youtube channel, that I created in order to pursue my goal of educating about mental health and spark a change in my local community. I hope that students will be able to understand and learn more about these topics also through this form of youtube videos. The original video is in Slovak, however, here is the version in english.
We need a change and we need it longterm
During the research I could see, that a simple youtube or workshop project does not have a capacity, nor power to change the whole system, based on which the schools function. Another part of the problem is, that in Slovakia, the educational system goes through a reform every voting period (4-5 years), however, certain things remain the same from 17th century. Therefore I propose an institutional change of educational system in Slovakia. Below you can find a presentation of my proposal of educational plan for Slovak schools.
We need a change and you can be a part of it
A small group of people who think differently can start a big change of how society percieves stress. Smallscale solutions, like you changing your way of life, can spark a global change. A change of people, thinking about stress in a positive way and people who are letting stress boost their abilities.
When you choose to view your response to stress as helpful, you create the biology of courage. – Kelly McGonigal
I want to challenge all of you to revisit your beliefs about stress. How do you see stress? Do you see it as an enemy?
If so, I would like to encourage you, to transform your views on it. Change it from something that is draining your energy, to something really energizing.
Share it with peers, friends and everybody you know. You never know who might make a use of it and change their life.
Please let me know, what do you think about my presentation. I would be very happy to hear from you.