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Educational Psychology: Student Learning and Stress Research Paper

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Updated: Oct 3rd, 2021

Abstract

The present paper looks at stress among students at various levels of education. It reviews statistical research to gauge the underlying causes of stress among students and possible measures that can be taken to reduce stress among students which, in turn, can result in improved learning. The paper is multidimensional because it aims to bring the results of studies conducted in diverse contexts. This results in major findings from several different situations that can cause stress among students. The paper examines the measures taken to overcome stress by students and other stakeholders.

Introduction

The present paper investigates various areas of stress found among students while they are at some stage of their educational career. The paper attempts an in-depth analysis of all major stages of stress in students’ educational career: from young age to senior university education. The paper also mentions a number of implications that various studies have brought forward by studying students’ stress in different situations and levels. The paper reviews some research studies to support empirical findings of the concerned issue. As such the present paper is a thorough document on the issue of stress and a multiple set of stressors. At the end of the paper, the entire investigation is summarized with recommendations.

Literature Review

This section is divided into three further subsections. Each section discusses a different area of students’ life and level of education and investigates the causes of stress, sources of stress, and remedial measures that are considered necessary to overcome stress. This section also includes an examination of international students and acculturative stress that they experience in a host country. As such, this section is a well-rounded account of various factors of stress and possible cautionary steps taken to cope with it.

Stress among Young Students

With time, more and more concern is being shown about stress among students in all age groups and at almost every level of studies in their lives. Various interpretations, studies, and examinations have been conducted to pursue the cause of stress among students and several reasons are pointed out as being the cause of stress among students. For instance, stress can overtake a student’s mind either through good or bad experiences that turn out to be stressful; the basic reason that Rena (1999) points out is that it depends on how effectively an event or happening undermines a student’s sense of well-being and security. The author further cites Peter Sheras, working at the University of Virginia as a clinical psychologist, who asked students from middle and high school as to what caused stress among them. Many of these students related fear of failure, academic pressure, peer group pressure, dating relationships, and friendships to be the major causes that stressed them out. However, other students reported that they were stressed out because of job-related issues. For instance, it was a matter of stress for these students to have a boss who demands that the students work for late hours on school nights. Additionally, athlete students’ cause of stress sprang basically from the pressure to win. Going ahead, the psychologist explored more unique types of stressors. The three stressors here mentioned by Rena are: trying to come to terms with a physical disability, divorcing of their parents, or financial pressure that the students faced at home. Students belonging to a younger age group can have a number of different causes and experiences that can lead to a higher level of stress. They can experience stress because of “victimization” at school caused by the teasing of their peers; intimidation is another cause with sexual harassment, bullying being also there in their lives. At home, the small children can face a lot of difficulties that can lead them to be stressed: different forms of abuse, negligent attitude of parents (for any reason whatsoever) and so forth. All these causes were reported to carry stressful experience for students. There are a number of implications that the stress can cause in students’ lives. This can be anything from the disengagement of students from learning, impact on emotional well-being and behavior, to health issues. It is, Sheras emphasizes, important that students have “coping skills” with which they can understand their stress and handle the issues related to stress. In this connection, the ability to maintain and regulate their emotions to react in a specific situation, anger management, problem-solving skills, realistic view of themselves and life around them is the major coping skills that the students need to learn to overcome their stress. From the outside circle, Sheras mentions that support from the environment, peers, educators, and family, is also crucial to help students cope with the level of their stress in any situation (Rena, 1999).

Stress among International University Students in the United States of America

The United States of America is one country alone where half of the entire population of international students heads for their studies in several fields and areas. According to a rough estimate, there are 170 countries registered in higher education institutions of U.S. which estimates enrolled students to U.S. universities as being around half a million, a figure that is expected to improve in the future as the educational institutions of the U.S. “strive to achieve their visions of diversity across a broad range of demographic and cultural dimensions” (Poyrazli et. al, 2004).

As such several studies have been conducted to figure out the experiences of the international population of students in the U.S. Acculturative stress is one area that has emerged from these studies; however, not so much of the research examines the reasons and variables found to be causes of acculturative stress among international students.

Acculturation, a process of cultural change, can give way to acculturative stress in the individual going through this change. Acculturative stress, as such, is defined as “a marked deterioration of the general health status of an individual; it encompasses physiological, psychological, and social aspects that are explicitly linked to the acculturation process”.

The degree of such stress can range from mild to debilitating stress which results in depression and anxiety, and so forth. Because of limited personal resources, international students can have stress at varying levels as they enter their target foreign country; being in the host country can make it difficult for them to cope up with the ways of life. They might find it difficult to establish ethnic groups which are heightened by academic stress. The point here is that international students do not have access to resources that are available to domestic students like social support. All these may combine in international students a high level of stress that needs to be addressed to avoid severe consequences. It is also possible, and critical, that when confronted by these stressors, an international student may also not be able to find proper psychological assistance or help in the host country. Social support has been the most prominent variable associated with the stress and the acculturation process because it is the major thing that these students lose as they enter the host country. It has been pointed out that learning by these students and their academic goals are related to this stress and are significantly influenced by the factors mentioned about acculturative stress. Socialization is considered to be a very important indicator in coping up with the stress of students. Additionally, social networking with international and host country students also plays an important role in coping up with the process of acculturative stress. It has been pointed out that cross-gender issues with acculturative stress do not vary; however, other studies show that they do. Among certain inhibitors, the ones pointed out to be crucial among international students for their acculturative stress, are lack of language proficiency of the host country, lack of attributes that combine to create self-confidence, perceived discrimination, and academic concerns. The stimulators that help international students to cope up with stress are to show interest to learn the new culture, the ability to communicate in the host country’s language, and the readiness to socialize. However, according to the authors, counseling is one major factor that can lead international students to understand the problems that they are going to face in the host country so that they can prepare to face problems such as acculturative stress; this understanding will, in turn, help them to cope up with traditional study-related stressors (Poyrazli et. al, 2004).

Stress among Graduates

Several studies have been conducted to examine stress, causes of stress, and strategies to overcome stress among students of higher education. The common problems that cause academic stress are while students enter graduate programs, and finding adequate financial assistance. To some students, the level of stress is manageable, whereas, at times it is not. It has been reported that when traditional academic stress is seen as unmanageable, it is when the deadlines of research, course work, and fieldwork were concurrently put forth by the educational institutions. Presentations in seminars, choosing particular courses on institutional demands, and defense of the thesis is mentioned as chief causes of the high level of stress. Public speaking in front of a large audience, probing questions being asked by the public, and committing errors in front of the audience to get publicly embarrassed are also some of the stressors among higher education students. Writing of thesis is another very important stressor among others. Almost all the students (sample of a study conducted to gauge stressors among graduates) reported moderate to the high level of stress when asked about thesis writing. Criticism for their thesis while it went through editing, the process of defending what they have attempted in the thesis, and other such issues have been related to cause moderate to a higher level of stress among graduate students studied in the research. Faculty support and counseling were reported to be of great help to these students and learning was very beneficial for them for the future (Kranz, et al., 1999).

In the remaining part of the study, stress among students at different levels of education is discussed in detail from several sources. In this regard, the present research reviews a few secondary sources (case studies, surveys, statistical analyses, and so forth) to bear a thorough understanding of stress in learning among students and teaching and other factors are involved in coping up with such stress or vice versa. As such, the present study uses the exploratory method of research and is qualitative. Given the limited space available for this research, the study summarizes the case studies in such a way that the salient features are pointed out without bringing in the details that can be left out. The aim and objective of the type of exploratory study are to bring forward extensive evidence regarding stress, its sources, and other related issues, and then to suggest various ways to cope with it. This way the study is aimed to provide the reader with a detailed analysis of stress among students, learning, and remedial measures.

Stress among College Students

Ross et al. (1999) conducted their survey research, the Student Stress Survey (SSS) to examine what the major sources of stress are among college students. They report that college students (especially freshmen) are more likely to show stress because of the transition that they make into college life. It is the first time that these students are away from their homes and have to maintain a higher level of academic achievement as well as have to adjust to a new social setting and environment. Job finding for college students, whichever year they’re studying in, is another issue for along with finding a potential life partner. “These stressors do not cause anxiety or tension by themselves. Instead, stress results from the interaction between stressors and the individual’s perception and reaction to those stressors”.

The intensity of stress at the college level can vary depending on the ability of the individual to react to different stressors in different situations. If growing stress is not addressed with adequate concern, there is a likelihood, the authors report, of feelings of loneliness, sleeplessness, and nervousness. The authors report that numerous studies have been conducted to estimate stress among college students along with graduates. However, different studies point to different directions. For instance, the College Chronic Life Stress, by Towbes and Cohen, relates that first-year college students showed more stress in interpersonal conflicts. Another study points to several stressors among college students but it is unclear what causes these stresses. As such, the authors conducted survey research to determine the sources of stress among college students. They pursued to know the sources of most common stressors. They chose 80 females and 20 males; the Student Stress Survey (SSS) was based on the Student Stress Scale by Insel, & Roth, 1985. They also made use of the Taylor Manifest Anxiety Scale and other procedures. This was essentially a quantitative study that calculated the survey responses in statistical terms. The survey questionnaire comprised 40 items, further divided into 4 categories. 16 of the items focused on intrapersonal sources of stress; eight items represented sources of stress related to academic matters; 10 items represented environmental sources, whereas, six items represented interpersonal sources of stress. According to the results of the survey responses, it was estimated that intrapersonal sources of stress were the most prevalent. The top five of the sources pointed out by the respondents were intrapersonal sources. However, in order, the five most frequently reported stressors were change in sleeping routine or habits; breaks and vacations; change in the routine of eating; emerging responsibilities; and the last was increased workload of classes (Ross et al., 1999).

Ross et al. suggest that further studies should expand into the same direction of this research in that they should focus on the degrees of stress that spring from these sources. In this way, it will be possible to gauge the detrimental stressors. They also recommend that stress management programs, and workshops, specific to the college students’ needs, be based on the findings of studies such as this. They assert that though it is not possible to eliminate chances of stress among college students; it is possible to lessen the intensity of different stressors.

Creative Ways to Cope with Stress

According to Robinson (2000), there are some creative ways that college students can find to cope with the stress of finals week and other tests. According to the author, finals week is one episode in the time of college studies that can cause huge stress among college students, to some, this time can bring partial insanity. This is the time when grades are just on the line; as such, emotions go high and thoughts get scattered. Sleep is one thing that undergoes shortage among the majority of students. The use of caffeine and other such substances becomes the thing of the day. As such, according to the author, there are some ways by which this stressful time can be spent while students indulge in creative activities. These creative activities can be various. For instance, it is good to break the study span and spend some time with friends so that mental fatigue can be released. However, it is important to note that the limitations of this activity should be kept in view: the prevalent problems happening in such a social setting. Another way, according to the author, that can be made use of to cope with stress is watching TV for the sake of refreshment and releasing stress. Movies, good TV programs (even the bad ones) should be enjoyed with a feeling that it would release the tension of students’ study-related stress. Another way of going over stress of exams and test is to just relax and think about the good school days of past. The focus should be discarding the fear of finals. It must be kept in mind that the stress that finals and other such events bring to students’ lives is natural and should be dealt with naturally, that is to say, the reaction should be according to the demand of an event. If stress is dealt with in such creative ways as mentioned by the authors, it is possible to make more use of the finals weeks (Robinson, 2000).

Stress and Violence

Violence among students has been noted to increase in the present context of the U.S. educational institutions such as college campuses, which is giving the authorities a wave of chill. Recent efforts put to address this growing tendency of violence have been executed through advisement, counseling, preventive programs, workshops, and outreach in university settings. According to Winterowd et al. (2005), several studies have pointed out the causes of violence and stress among students. They list shame, unhealthy lifestyles, lack of meaningful relationships, and a lack of purpose or meaning of life to be the major causes of stress that leads adolescence to express their anger (building in them out of stress) in form of violence. However, the authors point out that very little has been investigated about stress among students, they’re attending to violence and their relation with spiritual beliefs. What specific point is missing in the present body of stress-among-students literature is “does spirituality mitigate some of the harmful consequences of stress and anger or does it contribute to and/or exacerbate the experiences and perceptions of stress and anger among college students?” According to the authors, if research is aimed at this very direction, it is more likely that insight into this region can be beneficial for counselors, professionals for students’ affairs, and other stakeholders of education. Another area that lags behind is research on students’ anger and strategies to cope with it. They point out several sources of stress among students. According to the authors, coping with anger and stress and be adequately addressed if college students are bent toward practicing spiritual beliefs. Spirituality, according to Winterowd et al. (2005) refers to a quest for transcendence, search for purpose and meaning in life, and a feeling of identifying with another human being in life. Thus they conducted a study that focused to find out the relationship of spirituality with anger and expression of anger; the other major focus of the study was to find out the relationship between spirituality and stress.

The 222 college students were chosen for the study. A scale (Spiritual Involvement and Beliefs Scale [SIBS]) was designed to estimate the link between spirituality and stress. The items rated different spirituality-related practices and beliefs of students. The result of the study revealed that generally higher levels of spirituality were associated with higher levels of stress and anger and there was less control over anger in the sample population of students. It was predicted that spiritual practices and spirituality were means of dealing with anger and stress. The authors conclude that “From this perspective, one might hypothesize that spiritual practices such as prayer and meditation might moderate feelings of stress and anger and lead to emotional states characterized as peaceful or serene”. Henceforth, the students who are more involved in activities that lead or focus on spiritual well-being are more capable of sensing stressful events and are more likely to rise above the common level to deal with frustration daily life by transforming stress and anger into useful spiritual practices (Winterowd, et al., 2005).

What is surprising to note is that the same study found out “spirituality beliefs and involvement were positively related to anger and anger expression and negatively related to anger control efforts”. One possible explanation that the authors bring forward is that the students who feel more stressed out and angry might turn to spiritual activities to alleviate themselves of anger and stress. The authors recommend further research that can probe deeper so that policymakers, students counselors, educationists, and other stakeholders can rightly benefit from these studies.

Role of Teachers and Stress among Students

The role of teachers, educationists, and students’ counselor in causing to reduce stress among students is considered to be of vital significance. Blankenship (2007), conducted a study that focused on how teachers can help students reduce their stress in physical education. This study has been chosen specially because above a number of academic remedial measures have been discussed with regard to students’ stress. This study relates the area of physical education so that more insight can be gained. According to Blankenship (2007), states that there are four stages of stress among students that the teachers must understand. The first stage is that of the demand of the situation in which a student finds him or herself. At this stage, there is some demand on a student from a cognitive, psychological, and physical viewpoint. The important point at this stage is that the teacher should see what are unnecessary demands placed on the students so that they can be removed to reduce the burden and stress on the students. Secondly, the teachers should critically view the demands that they make on their students. For example, an overweight student can’t go four laps of running in a warm-up task; therefore, what is important is that the teacher understands the significance of the kind of demand that specific students can fulfill.

Stage two, according to Blankenship (2007) is the cognitive appraisal. Cognitive appraisal is to look for details about what students think about a particular event or performance from their perspective. It is important to estimate because without cognitive appraisal it is not possible for the teacher to assess the level of stress among their students, nor can they find out whether stress is found to bear negative effects on students. One example is given by the author. That is a competition, a student, besides not being given enough practice time, thinks that she can do well in the competition and can contribute positively to the performance of the team. This student has high hopes for her partner who is more proficient in the game. However, the more proficient partner of the former mentioned student is stress out by negative thoughts about her performance and thinks that she will not do well. This leads the performance to end in smoke. Here the duty of the teacher to perform cognitive appraisal becomes crucial. If it is not done at all, it will not be possible to provide students with adequate cognitive support that they might need in performance. Thus, negative stress and a cognitive appraisal are critically related to each other and the major responsibility lies on the shoulders of the teacher.

Stage three, according to Blankenship (2007), is the response that the students give in a situation of stress. This response is the combined result of their cognitive appraisal done by their teacher, the resources available for their performance in a competition, and the consequences that they can perceive in time: they all influence their response to a situation and might cause moderate to high-level stress that must be kept into view by the teacher. The major component that the teacher must address at this stage is how the students relate their anxiety to the performance they are going to make. If performance anxiety is not properly addressed by the teacher, it is possible that this can create a high level of cognitive stress that can lead the student to perform poorly even if the student is ideal to win in a competition because so much performance anxiety can lead to cognitive negative stress.

The behavioral result is stage four according to Blankenship (2007). “The stress response can influence a number of aspects of students’ physical education experience. If the cognitive or somatic state anxiety is too high, motor performance of well-learned skills could suffer” (p. 39).

This can result in some negative implications of stress while a student is performing in a competition. For instance, being under the stress of this kind, the student might suffer from sound decision-making and can cause their team to perform badly. Moreover, the student can lose confidence while in the middle of the competition and can give way to poor performance when it is so much needed. Sweat, as a result of so much negative thinking, with other indications can add to the poor performance that the students might come to show. If this continues even after a competition and the teacher does not address it, it is more likely that the future performance and learning of new motor skills by the students can go through a phase of deterioration and can lead the students to end in smoke. The very important thing is that, if a student is burned out in this way, they will quit enjoying their performance and their participation in any activity which will lead them to back off.

Ways of Reducing Stress

All these stages of stress are not linear but cyclical and can feel back into the very first level of stress and can influence the demand made on the students in a negative way. The important thing is that the teachers should understand all these stages well and address them accordingly. They should design their activities in a way that is developmental for every student concerning their abilities and limitations of both cognitive and physical domains. They should not force their decisions on students; instead, they should create an environment in which all the students are invited to perform according to their preference for a specific situation or task. As such the tasks designed should be interactional and there must be intra-task variation in the activities designed. It is important because one task cannot fit the capabilities of all the students in a group. Several strategies can be used by the teacher to address stress at all four stages that aim to reduce the stress and not heighten it. For instance, the teacher can also have private counseling discussions with the individual students about their particular area in which the teacher feels the student needs counseling. Moreover, the tasks specific to a student’s performance can be given in private without announcing so that the students feel secure of their self-respect and come to perform better after they through a developmental process of such tasks.

Conclusion

The present paper has specifically looked at the issue of stress among students at different levels of education and has brought forward several implications related to stress among students, its causes, and the remedial measures that can be taken both by the students themselves and by the teacher. The research in the paper shows that stress and its intensity vary from level to level, and from student to student; for instance, stress and its causes are different in local and international students and also in physical education. The important point that the present paper makes after the examination of studies conducted on stress is that stress must first be examined with its causes or stressors and then should be addressed properly. It is important in today’s world because of diversity in almost all walks of life and especially in education. Addressing stress is crucial because it is now linked to growing violence in an educational setting by stressed-out students. Teachers have to play a very vital role in reducing the level of stress among their students. There can be several efforts that can be put by the teachers: from private counseling to controlling stress seminars and workshops.

References

Blankenship, B. T. The stress process in physical education: the first step to reducing student stress in physical education is to understand where it comes from. Contributors: JOPERD–The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 78 (6). Publication Year: 2007. Page Number: 39+.

Kranz, P. L., Cook, S. B., & Lund, N. L. (1999). Perceived stress reported by fisheries graduates students at Tennessee Technological University. Journal of Instructional Psychology. 2008. Web.

Poyazli, S., Kavanaugh, P. R., Baker, A., and Al-Timini, N. (2004). Social support and demographic correlates of acculturative stress in international students. Journal of College Counseling, 2008. Web.

Rena, L. (1999). Easing the strain of students’ stress. NEA Today. 2008. Web.

Robinson, A. (2000). Campus life; college students find creative ways to break the stress of tests. Charleston Gazette. 2008. Web.

Ross, S. E., Niebling, B. C., and Heckert, T. M. (1999). Sources of stress among college students. College Student Journal. 2008. Web.

Winterowd, C., Harrist, S., Thomason, N., Worth, S., & Carlozi, B. (2005). The relationship of spiritual beliefs and involvement with the experience of anger and stress in college students. Journal of college student development. 2008. Web.

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