Forget Everything You Knew About Stress Relief

“I was up until three in the morning, because I had a two papers and a presentation due. Then I got up at six. Usually, there’s one day like this a week.”

That was what one student (who asked to remain anonymous) had to say about stress. Stress is everywhere: every student, at one time or another, has felt it, whether cramming for a test, catching up on homework, or worrying about social drama.

Another student, when approached, refused to comment, but still managed to sum up the dominant sentiment concerning stress within the SLS community with three words: “I’m too busy”.

Every night, students all around the country face mountains of homework

Students will be relieved to know that the administration is on the case: last year, the groundbreaking documentary Race to Nowhere– an entire film dedicated to the “why” of student stress- was screened in the Seldin Performing Arts Center for more than a hundred parents, teachers, faculty and students. Prior to the screening, Mr. Davis himself trailed two students all day through their classes, frees, and afternoon activities in order to gain a personal perspective on the daily lives of SLS students. Even after this effort, however, the community has made very little headway in the area of reducing student stress.

This article will be the first in a series of features about stress, and how the school combats it. But- in the meantime- what should students do to reduce stress? And, more importantly, what are students doing that simply isn’t working? The answers may surprise you.

First, emotional outbursts do not help reduce stress. This may sound self-explanatory, but consider the common ways in which students express stress. At school, many students will quietly curse when they feel overwhelmed- be it from a low quiz score or a looming due date. To most, this seems to be a quick, easily accessible and even semi-automatic way to relieve stress.

In fact, however, cursing does not relieve stress; it does just the opposite. A study conducted by Professor Jeffrey Bowers and Dr. Christopher Pleydell-Pearce, both of the School of Experimental Psychology at the University of Bristol, linked cursing directly to increased stress. According to the study, “taboo words generate emotional reactions in part through verbal conditioning, that is, through a simple form of learning, the sounds of taboo words become directly associated with emotional centres in the brain.”

In other words, the more you swear, the more stressed you become. By the same token, the more stressed you become, the more you swear. It’s a vicious cycle, and it’s one that can only be broken by training oneself not to swear. At the risk of sounding liking a maiden aunt: swearing is bad for your health, so stop it.

But what about that second, more intimate, emotional response? It’s one we rarely see in school, but one that exists nevertheless: crying. A Dutch study has proved that “when crying helps, it’s likely not because of the tears but because it recruits social support and draws attention to important problems.” In simpler English, crying only helps by attracting attention, and promoting social interaction. In other words, crying by itself is not beneficial. If you feel better after crying alone, then consider yourself lucky: according to the study, less than one in ten respondents felt any acute stress-relief from this. So, instead of succumbing to tears, consider utilizing Facebook and other social networking sites to their full potential, to bolster your human support group.

Otherwise, the gold standard in stress-reduction is time management- but that can be a challenge when one is looking at five (or more) subjects’ worth of homework, in-class material, exams, and projects- not to mention after-school activities. The runner-up, though, and the favorite of all high-school students, is good old-fashioned sleep.

Most students are already aware of the calming effects of more sleep. As one student put it: “Sometimes, I’ll just let myself sleep for an extra one or two hours.”  But we’re not out of the woods yet.

Apparently, oversleeping isn’t good for the body, either. And while teens need a lot of sleep- between eight-and-a-half to ten is recommended- going too far above that limit (into eleven or twelve hours) can pose a health hazard. During the week, this isn’t likely to be a problem- frankly, anyone who sleeps for eleven hours on a Wednesday night deserves a medal- but over the weekend, when students try to catch up on missed sleep (“sleep-debt”) by snoozing till noon, it can become problematic. And more to the point- it doesn’t work. According to Scientific American, sleep-debt can be made up, but it “won’t happen in one extended snooze marathon”. Instead, adding forty-five minutes to an hour of sleep each night will allow the body to adjust back to normal sleeping habits.

Other successful stress relievers? The list goes on and on, but chief among them are: listening to music, laughing, deep breathing and- believe it or not- positive thinking. Any of these- or any combination of these- can help relieve the constant pressure some students feel. But again, time management is key to any successful stress-relief strategy.

The Sentinel hopes that, by publicizing the reality behind student stress, and the solutions proposed by students and teachers, we can all work as a community to remedy this issue as much as possible in our academic lives.

– Sebastian Bates, World News Editor

Posted by on December 26, 2011. Filed under School News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry