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Adam Chilewitz 12P
Life Orientation Research Task: Final Draft

Introduction

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Research topic

A critical analysis of the cause and impact of stress on teenagers at King David Linksfield.

Motivation

I enjoy socializing. I like to meet and to interact with new people, I like to spend my time communicating. I have become almost obsessed with understanding people, trying to figure out who they are and with making connections. Through communicating and making connections I am able to understand people and perceive them in my own way, hence I am able to further and grow my own character through observation. Furthermore, I am also a matric student and through interacting with the people around it is clear that they, like myself, experience an enormous amount of stress in their lives. As the workload heightens it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain our normal state of living: to enjoy a social life, to indulge in our hobbies, to spend time with our families, to get enough sleep and so much more. Thus, evidently it is difficult to cope with and to juggle our daily lives however having said that I do believe and have noticed that students tend to stress too much, even about petty, small things. I have noted that this can result in lowered self esteem and hence an inability for one to fulfil one’s full potential and to grow. In order to overcome this stress and to cope with it one needs to understand what it is and where it comes from. Stress is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances. I believe that through my own observation, awareness and understanding I have been able to learn why students stress so much and therefore steer away from that mindset and to look at life as a challenge rather than a stressor. However, I obviously have not learnt all that I can on the topic and would enjoy doing so, in order to understand society and the people around me as well as to continue to improve myself and to grow. That is why I decided to conduct my own research on why students today stress so much and what physical and mental effects this has on them.

Aims

1. To explore the reasons why students stress so much.
2. To unpack the effects chronic stress has on students.
3. To learn how students cope with chronic stress.

Literature review:
What is known

A study was conducted by Noelle Leonard, PHD, in August 2015 at New York University entitled ‘Top High School Students’ Stress and coping mechanisms’. The study’s goal was to examine top high school students’ stress and how they cope with this stress. Author, Noelle Leonard, PhD, who is also a senior research scientist at the New York University College of Nursing, reported that good or positive stress does exist within the schooling system and can enhance academic and athletic performance; however this study was designed to investigate the effects and causes of “chronic stress” among the students.

The study, which was published in Frontiers in Psychology, was led by Leonard and assessed the coping skills, academic engagement, family involvement and expectations, mental health symptoms, and substance use among students enrolled in two highly selective private secondary schools: one an urban day school; the other a boarding school. In the first phase of the study, researchers interviewed 19 private school teachers, counsellors and administrators to uncover their opinions about student stress and coping. The second phase of the study included an anonymous internet based survey which was administered to 128 students between the 2 schools.

Why students stress

Results of the survey revealed that 49% of students reported feeling a great deal of stress on a daily basis and 31% reported feeling somewhat stressed. 26% of students reported feeling symptoms of depression at a clinically significant level. The main causes of stress were reported as being grades, homework and preparing for college or university.

Interviews were then conducted with 18 of the students. Results from the first 3 phases of the study were revealed to a panel of 8 private school experts, people who had been in and around private schools in different capacities, in individual meetings.

It was clear that parental pressure on schools and students was a significant problem, as university entrance becomes more difficult to obtain, parents’ expectations get higher and so too do school classes become more difficult and the workload heightens. The study showed that these demands did not seem appropriate to the students’ developmental levels. The students felt they had to work just as hard, if not harder than adults, leaving no time for creativity or relaxation.

How students cope with stress

The study displayed the coping mechanisms used by students to deal with the stress. Some were positive and proactive while others were destructive and dangerous. Active or problem solving strategies used to manage stress included: listening to or playing music, playing video games and meditating.

On the other hand, the interviews yielded descriptions of less adaptive strategies, namely emotional exhaustion and substance use. Emotional exhaustion was described by students as a feeling of lethargy and immobilization in response to feeling overwhelmed.

Substance use was a predominant occurrence in the study as two thirds of the students reported using alcohol and marijuana as a methods of managing stress and described substance use as endemic to their social experience. While substance use was very common it was reported that it did not rise to the level of hazardous use.

The effects of stress on students

Stress also commonly leads to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety and it was found that parents were reluctant to seek professional help for their children as they were worried about the ‘label’ that their children might receive.

High performing schools that are aware of the problem surrounding chronic stress have been able to manage it somewhat by changing school schedules, staggering exams and assignments among different classes, providing stress reduction techniques such as yoga and meditation as well as training families on how they can help.

While this source is a valid source of information as it is a published piece of research from the highest grade calibre (New York University) and professionals, it does have limitations as the study’s subjects only consisted of teens in New York City.

A study was conducted by R. Anuradha, R. Dutta, J. Raja, P. Sivaprakasam and A. Patil from September to October 2014 at the Indian Journal of Community Medicine entitled ‘Stress and stressors among medical undergraduate students’ to determine the prevalences of depression, anxiety and stress among secondary school medical students.

830 students were targeted for data collection. Seven schools were randomly selected, and all the students in the schools were enrolled in the study. The mean age of the respondents was 17.06 ± 0.68 years with a range of 16–19 years. The study tool used was a questionnaire containing DASS (Depression Anxiety Stress Scale) and sociodemographic characteristics.

The results showed that the prevalences of depression, anxiety, and stress among the 750 respondents were 19.5%, 24.4%, and 21.1%, respectively. In total, 81.6% of the respondents had at least one of the studied disorders and 34.7% of the respondents had all the three negative states. The prevalences of depression, anxiety, and stress were high.

Why students stress

The authors suggest that adolescence is considered a stressful period due to physical, psychological, sexual changes and is also influenced by maturity. It is a crucial phase in the course of a human life, and thus the presence of psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety, and stress at this stage of life is a matter of concern.

The effects of stress on students

The symptoms of these three disorders can lead to poor academic performance, lack of communication with friends and family members, substance abuse, feeling of abandonment, homicidal ideation, and suicidal tendency. Several areas of research show that the majority of adults suffering from mental disorders indicate that their symptoms began in childhood and adolescence largely as a result of chronic stress.

The important reports and results in this study are valid as they come from a recognized investigative centre and are backed up by additional research. The limitations are the that the study was conducted only on Indian students in India.

In a study done by H. Adelman and L. Taylor in 2014 at The Centre for Mental Health in Schools at UCLA entitled ‘Mental Health in schools’ the authors concluded that when it comes to learning and performance at school, anxiety can be facilitative and disruptive. All students are anxious at times; some more than others; some pervasively and chronically. When anxiety is disruptive, it is associated with a host of cognitive, behavioural, and emotional problems. When the problems are pervasive and severe, they may be diagnosed as anxiety disorders. However, most students who have problems and appear or indicate that they are anxious are not disordered and should not be treated as having a psychopathological condition. And, in most instances, it is difficult to differentiate cause and effect.

Why students stress

Common sources of anxiety at school are interpersonal and academic related stressors. All students experience pressures to both conform and change (as a result of enforcement of rules, norms, and standards created by society, parents and the schools themselves).

Daily interpersonal interactions with teachers and other students are especially difficult for some students. Differences in background, appearance, language, social and emotional development, all can affect whether a student fits in or not. Not fitting in can lead to being isolated, rejected, and even bullied and coming to school each day fearful and anxious.

Relationships with other students are always on a student’s mind. Concerns arise from such matters as not having enough friends, not having the right friends, not being in the same class as friends, experiencing peer pressure and interpersonal conflicts. And, there is the problem of bullying, which now has gone cyber, making the behaviour easier, anonymous, and more prevalent.

While personal factors can affect relationships with teachers, classroom demands are more frequent sources of stress and anxiety (exams and assignments). With grades so heavily weighted and publicized, teachers are under great pressure to produce high marks and that pressure is passed on to their students.

Pressures in meeting academic demands also can be exacerbated by too many extracurricular activities. And for high school students, there is the added stress of college/university and career preparation. The overload of activities and demands can cut students off from essential supports, hamper sleep, interfere with learning and development, and affect physical and mental health.

Schools that do too little to address interpersonal and academic related stressors can expect a great many anxiety-related learning, behaviour, and emotional problems.

UCLA is a world renowned university, known for producing intelligent, world class research and hence this source can be considered to be valid and reliable. The limitations however, are that the study only focused on schools and students in the United States.

A study was conducted in 2016 by Douglas Carlson entitled ‘3 Ways Stress Negatively affects student performance’ and it found that today’s students may be more stressed than ever before. In fact, the 2015 American College Health Association found that 85.6 percent of students had felt overwhelmed in the past year. The pressures of getting top grades, balancing extracurricular activities with studying, and spending time with family all add up. In addition, students manage another identity in the digital world. Social media platforms are one more thing to keep up with and are often rife with stress-inducing comparisons, gossip and bullying.

Significant life changes—such as a death in a family, moving to an unfamiliar location or a divorce—are likely to cause high spikes in stress. A 2016 study published in the International Journal of Clinical and Health Psychology shows daily stressors play just as significant a role in affecting overall mental health.

Belief in oneself is vital to minimizing the negative impact from stress. As outlined here, administrators and educators can provide counselling centres, online resources and other services to help students cope with stress. Students who can better manage their stress are more engaged in class, more likely to absorb what they’re learning, and more likely to excel beyond the classroom.

Here are three significant ways excess stress can negatively affect students:

Stress Decreases Sleep Quality

There is a link between stress levels and poor sleep. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 70 percent of those who report persistent stress have trouble sleeping. The National Sleep Foundation reports teens need at least eight hours of sleep to function at peak performance, yet only about 15 percent of teens get an adequate amount. Poor sleep makes stress management more difficult, while also negatively impacting concentration, learning, listening, memory and problem-solving.

Stress Makes Students Angrier

Stress may be the culprit of students who are prone to bullying others. The Mayo Clinic reports stress increases feelings of irritability and anger, which increases the likelihood for angry outbursts and social withdrawal. Besides directing anger at other students, students who are stressed may be resistant to following school guidelines and respectfully engaging with instructors. They may also exhibit disrespectful behaviour online. Their focus on anger may cause overall work to suffer.

Stress Worsens Grades

When a student is stressed and preoccupied, it takes over their ability to focus during lectures or studying. Stress may even cause students to drop out of school or drop classes. The 2010 American College Health Association National College Health Assessment reported more than 25 percent of students say that stress lowered their grades or ability to finish a course.6
For students experiencing stress at home, attending to schoolwork may not be a top priority. As research shows, stress exhibited by instructors directly increases the stress levels of students while in the classroom. Stressors may pop up at any moment to disrupt learning and concentration. It’s vital for educators to recognize the significant impact stress has on teens and young adults, and work to create a supportive and calm educational environment. School administrators who want their students to succeed academically should conduct regular check-ins with students and direct students to counsellors and mental health programs when necessary and educate families about the negative impact of stress on students.

This is a valid source of information as it is supported by factual statistics. The source is limited, however, as the research used as support was conducting in America only.

Methodology

The research involved for this study consisted of primary research as well as secondary research. Mixed methods were used to interpret and conclude the data captured.

The secondary research used for this study was obtained through extensive exploration of the internet and what is already known about the topic. A clear understanding of the topic, gained through thorough research, assisted with the primary research conducted. After an understanding was built, various international studies were summarized to which the primary research was compared.

Primary research was conducted through a questionnaire generated on Google Forms which was distributed to students of King David High School Linksfield. The questionnaire investigated the attitudes of King David students about stress, the factors which cause it and the mechanisms which they employ to deal with it. The questionnaire was optional and only students between the ages of 16 and 18 partook. The interviewees knew that the function of the questionnaire was strictly for the purpose of the Life Orientation Research Task. They also knew that their identities would remain anonymous and their responses confidential.

Upon completion of the research, results were analyzed through the generation of graphs on Google Forms and were then compared to the information in the literature review. Thereafter, a calculated and educational conclusion was made.

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