Stress is the “wear and tear” our bodies experience as we adjust to our continual changing environment; it has physical and emotional effects on us and can create negative feelings. As a positive influence, stress can help compel us to action; result in a new awareness and an exciting new perspective. As a negative influence stress can result in feelings of distrust, rejection anger, and depression, which in turn can cause health problems such as headaches, upset stomach, rashes, insomnia, ulcers, high pressure, heart disease, and stroke. (Koop,1998).
The long term effects of stress on one’s health are quite significant. The American Academy of Family Physicians has said that two thirds of office visits to family doctors are prompted by stress-related symptoms. Stress is more than just a nuisance or something that occasionally makes people feel nervous or anxious. Very stressful events have been associated with a dramatically increased risk of heart attack. Chronic, ongoing stress, even when it is not so dramatic, can affect one’s health in very significant ways. One common example of this is the effect of a very stressful job. Stress, however, is not always bad. Some stress is inevitable and actually beneficial. Stress helps people when they need to grow, attain difficult goals and perform their best. Some degree of stress enhances performance even when individuals are not in immediate danger. An athlete in a race may perform better because of the stress of the big event. A wedding can be both very stressful and very happy at the same time. It would not be desirable to eliminate all stress from everyone’s life. The total absence of stress would leave people sluggish and bored.
Stress can increase performance, but only to a point. When one’s stress exceeds a certain limit, additional stress will detract from performance. Stress or nervousness before a big presentation sometimes helps one to perform better and/or think with more clarity and precision,. However, if that person becomes excessively stressed and anxious, he or she will have difficulty remembering what to say. The physical stress of swimming in very cold water helps individuals to swim harder, but only for a short time. The colder the water and harder that one swims, the more quickly he or she becomes exhausted. Everyone’s tolerance for stress is different, and individuals handle various types of stress differently. It is important to recognize and respect one’s limits. People do not learn to handle stress by letting it overwhelm them and rob them of their strength.
Ideally, people would be able to adjust to the amount of stress that they face so that they receive neither too much nor too little. This, of course, is not always possible. When one cannot eliminate excessive stress, the best way to manage it is to learn to maintain a balance even during a stressful event. If people learn to recognize the warning signs of increasing stress before they reach their limit, they can cope intelligently with their stresses before their resources are all spent. (Sarafino,1999).
A large population of people suffering from high stress is college students. In a study by Whiteman (1998) stress is defined as any situation that evokes negative thoughts and
feelings in a person. The same situation is not evocative or stressful for all people, and all people do not experience the same negative thoughts and feelings when stressed.
A critical issue concerning stress among students is its effect on learning. Yerkes-Doson
Law postulates that individuals under low and high stress learn to the least and that those under moderate stress learn the most. Field study and laboratory tests support the notion that excessive stress is harmful to students’ performance. Mechanisms that explain why students perform badly under stress include “hypervigilance” (excessive alertness to a stressful situation resulting in panic-for example, overstudying for an exam) and “premature closure” (quickly choosing a solution to end a stressful situation-for example, rushing through an exam). (Falk,1995).
Students react to college in a variety of ways. For some students, college is stressful because it is an abrupt change from high school. For others, separation from home is a source of stress. Although some stress is necessary for personal growth to occur, the amount of stress can overwhelm students and affect the ability to cope. Since World War II, changes in American higher education includes growth has been a loss of personal attention to students. One measure of excessive stress, or distress, in college students is the use of mental health services. Symptoms commonly report by campus psychiatrists portray a general picture of school related stress, for example, the inability to do school work and the fear of academic failure.
One way for teachers to promote more of a healthy learning environment is to reduce stress among students. Studies of teachings that produces the most learning suggest that “effective” teachers use an analytical and synthetic approach to the subject matter, organize the material well to make it clear, and establish rapport with their students. Most studies identify enthusiasm as important in promoting students’ learning. The key
seems to be to make college courses challenging but not threatening.
Many stress models emphasize a “mismatch” between the individual and his or her environment. Both too little and too much stress inhibits learning. Stress is difficult to define because individuals react to it very differently, and a situation that is stressful for
one person may not be for another. Further, stressed individuals vary widely in the effectiveness of their coping. Some college students, when stressed by academic demands, use ineffective mechanisms for coping. They may use “defense avoidance”, for example, avoiding studying and putting off writing assignments. Teachers can help such students develop more effective mechanisms for coping through “stress inoculation”-managing their courses so that students have more information about what to expect, giving feedback on their progress, and providing a degree of control over course activities. (Whiteman, 1998).
Feedback is information about current performance that can be used to improve future performance. When given properly, feedback can encourage positive stress that motivates students to action and can discourage the negative stress that inhibits action. Teachers can take specific steps to give effective feedback: (1) helping students know
where they stand, (2) setting up ‘learning hoops”, (3) providing written comments on students work, (4) testing often enough, and (5) arranging personal meetings to discuss students’ work. Having a personal sense of control is an important factor in reducing stress. When students do not know what to expect in their courses, they feel out of
control. Teachers can help students have a greater sense of control by using requests rather than commands, giving students choices in course requirements, explaining assignments so students know their purpose, involving students in the design of examinations, and soliciting and using feedback from students to improve courses and teaching. College teachers who can effectively use feedback and control in their classroom to create a climate ripe for learning. Students are relaxed but motivated to
learn when they have an instructor who provides direction and feedback and who is willing to accept it in return. (Gaff, 1998).
Studies of college teaching support the view that the frequency and quality of teachers’ contact with students, inside and outside the classroom, affect students involvement in there own learning. Positive teacher-student relations have been linked to students’ satisfaction with college, their educational aspirations, and their academic achievement. And when students perceive their teachers as partners in the educational process, they are more likely to take on new and difficult tasks. To improve their relationships with students and enhance students’ learning, teachers can provide structure at the onset of a course, encourage class participation, get to know students by name, mobilize student tutors and study groups, use appropriate humor and persona stories be “professionally intimate,” be accessible outside class, develop advising skills and be open
to the role of mentor. In general students feel less stress and cope more effectively with stress if they feel they belong to the academic community. Faculty can play a key role in
introducing and welcoming students to that community. (Ericksen, 1984).
While teachers are not therapists, they can be helpful to stressed students. By demonstrating friendly attributes, teachers can become aware when students are stressed and help them cope more effectively.