BrainCanDo Prefect Blog – Research on stress

Posted: 24th November 2020 by braincando

Hi everyone,

We’re the Brain Can Do prefects at Queen Anne’s School.

So far, we have been giving talks on different areas such as friendships, revision and motivation as well as sleep. Our most recent research was on stress. Here’s what we found out:

Stress occurs when the perceived demands of the situation are greater than the perceived ability to cope with the situation.

The first area we looked into was that of stress mindsets. We found that there are two main mindsets that determine how one will deal with stress. These are the positive and negative mindsets.

A negative mindset gives you the idea that stress is unpleasant, debilitating and harmful. However, this mindset is greatly deteriorating as a study has found that people with a negative mindset are unable to come up with effective coping strategies which lowers ones performance and can make you feel lethargic.

A positive mindset allows you to sharpen your focus, strengthen your motivation and offer learning and achievement opportunities. People with a positive mindset have been found to be less prone to feeling stress in difficult life events.

It is known that negative mindsets can be changed. For example, a study placed people into two groups and showed them two videos in which one demonstrated stress as good and the other as bad. After the two groups were put into a stressful situation, the group that perceived stress as good felt more positive and showed greater cognitive flexibility than the other group.

We then went on to research exactly how the mindset is able to be changed and chose our favourite five points:

1) Change Your Perception of Stress

The idea that stress is always bad is an often unchallenged belief. However, this belief is not only false, but can be counterproductive. When we believe stress to be good for us, our bodies actually release hormones that enable us to face our challenges, and grow as a result.

2) Modify the Meaning You Attach to Stress

Often there’s an underlying fear of incompetence that leads to stressful reactions to stress. When we believe that we won’t be able to cope with the situation, we debilitate ourselves with worry. The way out is to think of past experiences when you’ve risen to challenges, or to think of others who have done so in similar situations. This helps build self-efficacy and gives you hope that you can do the same.

3) Appreciate the Larger Perspective

Although an upcoming exam or topic test may appear to cause you a great worry, try and appreciate the bigger picture. Try to understand that the score in a biology test really do not mean much.

4) Learn to Handle Uncertainty

Sometimes your ability to take action toward the source of stress may be limited for reasons beyond your control; it’s important to respect this. Otherwise, you try to control what you have little power to change, such as other people’s behaviours or natural events. This leads to getting caught up in insecure striving, which leads to unhappiness if you don’t achieve your goals, and a false sense of security if you do. Mindfulness, especially self-compassion, can help you stay with the discomfort of uncertainty while staying open to possibility.

5) Help your wellbeing

Stress can take a toll on our mental and physical well-being, especially given that we’re wired for periods of short-term stress followed by longer periods of recovery. Try to look after your sleep, diet, and exercise. Stay engaged in meaningful work. Also, reach out to others to offer you a level of support which will encourage you to feel calm.

Although these steps allow you to change your mind set on stress, we have found that ‘clutch performance’ helps you with the ability to control feeling panicked and tense which reduces the risk of crumbling under pressure as if the stress is not controlled your skills can deteriorate and you perform poorly.

Clutch performance is when you learn characteristics associated with excelling under pressure and apply them to your stress. These include- not thinking about what would happen if you fail, high confidence, noticing your sense of control and enhanced motivation to succeed.

As exams are approaching within our school, we recognised that time pressure can cause students to become overwhelmed and stressed. However, when put under time pressure, people tend to act more like themselves for example, pro-social people become even more social. As well as this, time pressure can also improve decision making as it forces people to make tough decisions and, under time pressure these decisions are more likely to be the right ones. Therefore, instead of stressing yourself out over time frames, try to notice the positives and understand that you will work your best during such time.

Along with this, exam and revision time can cause people to feel isolated. Consequently, we looked into research on how to support one another during stressful periods of time. Recent research found that sending even just a text to a person dealing with a stressful task can make them feel supported. However, it is noted that using everyday, basic, normal texts was more supportive than a text that aims to be deliberately supportive. This is due to the idea that a deliberately supportive text will remind the person that the task they are facing is stressful and pressurising while a normal text makes them more relaxed about the task.

One way of dealing with exam stress is a technique known as Stress Inoculation Therapy.

Stress Inoculation Therapy is a psychological method of stress management which helps individuals develop coping skills and then exposes the individuals to moderate amounts of anxiety to enable the practice of coping.

There are three phases to this therapy: the conceptualisation phase, the skills acquisition and rehearsal phase as well as the real-life application and follow through phase.

  1. The first phase focuses on the client and the therapist identifying and understanding the stressors that the client faces. The client is educated on the aspects of a stressful situation that can be changed.
  2. The second phase focuses on helping the client to learn the skills they need to cope with the situation such as monitoring and using self-talk effectively.
  3. The third phase focuses on opportunities where the client is able to practice their skills in a safe environment while techniques are used to improve the realism of the stressful situations.

Although, it is most likely that not everyone will have a therapist on hand, you can always ask someone you trust such as a teacher, parent or friend to help you try this method.

We learnt new ways of dealing with stress and whilst we apply this to our exams, we notice they have been encouraging and motivating.

We hope this helps you under stressful times.

Thank you for reading,

Lily and Niamh