Surprising ways stress benefits students
Children experience stress, and it can be overwhelming for them.
Family issues, disturbing media images, and academic pressures can cause stress. Surprisingly, though, not all stress is bad for kids, especially when it comes to academics.
You’ve likely seen stress in your classroom. Students dash into class late, knowing they are already on their third tardy. They open their backpack, only to realize they forgot their field trip permission slip, or they accidentally crushed the project they’ve worked on for weeks.
Distress: clinically recognized types of stress
Stress is a survival skill. The American Psychological Association recognizes two primary types of stress: acute and chronic.
Your students are experiencing acute stress. Fortunately, this type of stress has a short life. The event happens, the student reacts, and soon it’s over. During a stressful time, students may experience physiological changes in their bodies, like getting headaches or developing butterflies in the stomach.
Acute stress, however, can lead to episodic acute stress. This type of stress persists for a long time. It creates chaos and disorder, making it nearly impossible to complete assignments or other tasks.
Your students may worry excessively, start but not finish tasks, and flit from activity to activity. Acute stress can prevent students from learning. One of the ways to help them reduce their chronic stress is to assist them in changing their habits.
Persistent stress wears your students down. They’ve experienced so much stress for so long that they no longer seek to solve their problems. You may see chronic stress in students living in impoverished conditions or among students with math anxiety. They cannot find solutions to their predicament, and they accept their reality for what it is.
The good stress: eustress
As negative as acute and chronic stress may seem, stress can benefit students.
Playing a game in the classroom, conducting a science experiment, and preparing a report in time to meet a deadline are examples of the eustress that your students might experience.
There’s a rush of adrenaline, but students are in no danger. The stress is positive and short term. It’s even exciting.
Eustress is the fuel for personal motivation. It can help students make decisions and improve their academic performance.
Making the best of stress
One of the most effective ways your students can deal with stress is by developing a growth mindset.
When your students believe that they can develop their skills and intelligence, they are practicing a growth mindset. To them, setbacks are temporary, and they represent an opportunity to find other solutions.
Eustress helps students work harder on the next assignment if they received a bad grade on an earlier one. Students who don’t use growth mindset techniques, however, are more likely to stop seeking solutions and accept the bad grade.
Your students need your support in handling stress. Teach students about eustress so they can recognize it and use it to their advantage.
If, however, stress impedes academic performance, it’s time to get additional support from counselors or other professionals.