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Through the Thunderstorm: Handling Chronic Stress

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· the sun behind the thunderclouds ·

After listening once to this piano piece, what are your initial thoughts? What do you think it could be about? And what emotions does it evoke? Keep the answers to these questions in mind as you continue reading.

· what is chronic stress, and why do we feel it? ·

If you are currently a high school student like me, then chances are, you have experienced immense stress before in your life as a student. But what exactly is “stress“?

Scientifically, stress refers to the response of the average human body to a perceived possibility of danger – it is a defense mechanism against threat. When in a dangerous situation, hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol are produced by the nervous system in the body. As a result, the body experiences an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. This triggered process is known as the “fight or flight response“.

The fight or flight response to stress can be largely beneficial when we are experiencing physical threat, as it is able to protect us from imminent danger; yet it can also be triggered when we face mental or emotional threat. The body of a student, for example, tends to demonstrate the same response to high-pressure situations, including impending deadlines for assignments or upcoming examinations. In the short term, such reaction – the release of stress hormones – helps prepare the body, and its effects are not permanent. However, if the system undergoes the process on a regular basis, a condition known as chronic stress may be developed. Chronic stress, usually caused by psychological pressure, can yield significantly long-lasting impacts upon the body, such as diseases.

The American Institute of Stress has provided a list of commonly seen symptoms of stress. Physically, stress can cause light symptoms – including sweating, headaches and fatigue – as well as more severe ones – panic attacks and fainting. Compared to these physical signs, the emotional symptoms can become much more critical, ranging from sudden mood swings and continuous racing thoughts to isolation from social interactions and hostility toward others; in the most serious cases stress can even lead to depression or suicidal thoughts.

Along with the list of signs and symptoms of stress, the American Institute of Stress also offers a 40-question survey which informs participants of their stress level as demonstrated by their responses. Follow the link to view the list and take the survey yourself: Stress Effects

· in my community… ·

In the community of my school, CAISL, symptoms of chronic stress are manifest in the behavior of a considerable number of students from what I have noticed. In order to gain various perspectives regarding students’ stress, I interviewed several of my peers, asking them to answer the following questions:

  • Are you stressed?
  • If so, what would you say causes your stress?
    • How has your stress affected yourself in terms of thought process, behavior, etc.?
    • Do you think it can get better?
  • If not, why do you think so?

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Some of their responses are anonymously listed below:

Yes, I am very stressed, not because of the constant overload of work but because of how little time we get to do the work. This leads to lack of sleep, which prevents me from being fully able to do work properly, inducing stress… It’s a cycle.

A 10th grader at CAISL

Yes, due to the amount of schoolwork. It is always absolutely necessary for me to complete all of the work, because if I don’t, my future will not have a direction. Basically, the correlation between schoolwork and my future is what directly causes my stress.

A 10th grader at CAISL

Not anymore… I feel like I’ve been through so much stress, I have now lost the ability to feel both stress and the need to finish my work, so I tend to miss deadlines.

A 10th grader at CAISL

Definitely, since I have to fulfill all of the expectations people have of me. I am often unable to deal with the stress – I get in a bad mood, I panic, and my self esteem is lowered.

A student council representative

In one way or another, these responses all confirm my hypothesis that the majority of my classmates are experiencing immense stress, which is affecting their behavior and performance. However, there were also a few responses demonstrating a healthy mindset:

Not really. Whatever happens is mainly a consequence of my actions so why should I be worried about something I can, for the most part, have some control over?

A 10th grader at CAISL

I am not stressed, because I listen to music, I imagine myself in good situations, and my mind ignores all unnecessary worries.

A 10th grader at CAISL

An interesting phenomenon is that according to the results of my interview, most of the participants who answered “yes” were female, and most of those who answered “no” were male. Further research should be conducted to determine whether there is a correlation between gender and perceived stress level.

· coping with stress ·

Speaking from my personal experience, it can be extremely difficult at times to deal with stress. It is crucial to remember, however, that there is a “limit” for everyone – it is practically impossible to stay focused after such limit is exceeded. In order to re-concentrate effectively and prevent the condition from deteriorating further, sometimes the best choice is to take a break instead of keeping on pushing yourself. What should you do during these breaks?

  • Reflect on the things you feel happy about, and maintain a positive outlook on life (keep the words of the last two interviewees in mind).
  • Perform physical exercises, pay attention to your diet, get sufficient sleep, and make sure to stay healthy.
  • Calm your mind by learning relaxation techniques, including meditation and deep breathing. Listening to music is also a common, effective method of reducing stress.
  • Socialize. Talking to people you trust about your problems can cause your body to respond by releasing stress-relief hormones.

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· the rationale behind the piece & its relevance ·

I wrote this piece of music mainly with the intention of raising awareness regarding the issue of chronic stress which I have witnessed in the CAISL community. As 10th grade students are slowly approaching the end of the year as well as the start of the vigorous International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Program in 11th grade, we are constantly overwhelmed with schoolwork: preparation for final exams and next year’s IB courses, potential university and major choices, applications for summer programs, and so on and so forth. Consequently, many of my closest friends have developed unhealthy habits such as procrastination – “The more there is to do, the more you don’t want to do it” according to one of my friends – and, therefore, irregular sleep schedules. I decided it was time for a change, however slight it might be.

Melodically, the song signifies the transition of one’s state of mind from overwhelmed with stress to calm and peaceful. The first part of the piece, measures 1-17, is what I call the “thunderclouds” section; it has more complex chords and a deep and solemn tone overall. This section represents the overwhelming pressure which people under stress experience, as if they are undergoing a heavy storm. This effect is achieved using a minor key signature, B minor. Next, the piece enters a transitional phase which lasts from measure 18 to 21. The light staccato notes have a sound similar to that of water droplets; the storm is thus coming to an end, with only a few raindrops falling. At measure 21, the key signature changes from B minor to its relative major, D major. The major key for the rest of the piece (the “sunshine” section) directly contrasts with the opening, and evokes a warm, joyful mood, representing the transition from stress or despair to the beginnings of happiness.

Although my music may not completely resolve the issue, I would like for its underlying significance to inspire the people in my community to develop a more open, relaxed state of mind. Along with the aforementioned treatment methods, I hope “The Sun Behind the Thunderclouds” will be able to assist students of CAISL in handling stress caused by schoolwork.

· about the composer ·

· sheet music for piano ·

· works cited ·

Kandola, Aaron. “Chronic Stress: Symptoms, Health Effects, and How to Manage It.” Edited by Timothy J. Legg. Medical News Today, Healthline Media UK, 12 Oct. 2018, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323324.php.

“Mental Health Hotline | 24 Hour Psychiatric & Mental Illness Helpline.” PsychGuides.com, American Addiction Centers, 2019, www.psychguides.com/guides/mental-health-hotline/.

Segal, Jeanne, et al. “Stress Symptoms, Signs, and Causes.” HelpGuide.org, Nov. 2018, www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/stress-symptoms-signs-and-causes.htm/.

“Stress Effects.” The American Institute of Stress, www.stress.org/stress-effects.

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COMMENTS: 14
  1. April 28, 2019 by Alex.Lepa Reply

    Hi Joyce,
    Your presentation was really moving. I really liked the addition of the summary video a the end. Thanks!
    Alex

    • April 28, 2019 by Joyce Jiayi Li Reply

      Thank you! I’m glad the video helped further introduce the issue 🙂

  2. April 28, 2019 by Yolanda Reply

    Hi Joyce,
    Good job! I hope you can bring your music to your community to help others cope with stress. Thank you!

    • April 28, 2019 by Joyce Jiayi Li Reply

      Thank you! That was my intention 🙂

  3. April 28, 2019 by Kristina Peterson Reply

    Stunning project. I am going to put the music on my computer for when I need it. If that is ok.

    • April 28, 2019 by Joyce Jiayi Li Reply

      Thank you so much! Yes, that’s fine with me, as long as it’s helpful!

  4. April 28, 2019 by Sierra Erdman-Luntz Reply

    Thank you.

    • April 28, 2019 by Joyce Jiayi Li Reply

      You’re welcome, I’m happy to know my presentation could help!

  5. April 29, 2019 by Taylor.Hurt Reply

    HI Joyce, this was such a great project! Thank you for bringing awareness to chronic stress in high schoolers today. I really like how you opened up a conversation for readers to engage in and also implemented your music in the project. Such a beautiful piece!

    • April 29, 2019 by Joyce Jiayi Li Reply

      You’re welcome! I’m so glad you enjoyed my piece and presentation!

  6. April 29, 2019 by Samira.Kethu Reply

    You did an amazing job on your project! I loved the video you included at the end about the composer and also how interactive your project was!

    • April 29, 2019 by Joyce Jiayi Li Reply

      Thank you very much! I aimed to make the audience feel personally connected to me as the presenter 🙂

  7. April 30, 2019 by Shaya Reply

    Hi Joyce! Thank you for creating a project that is engaging, relevant, and well-organized. I have never been a musician/learned music composition before, but I definitely relate to the high stress levels of a high school student, and I enjoyed seeing how your piece connects to and helps reduce chronic stress.

  8. April 30, 2019 by Claire Reply

    Hi Joyce! As a ballerina, I love classical music! Your piece was so beautiful and moving. I really enjoyed this project and learning more about the chemical reactions behind feeling stressed in terms of the hormones released by the pituitary gland. I loved how you combined biology and music to illustrate the effects of stress:)

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