By Serena Mao
Stress in schools is one of the biggest contributors to teens’ health in today’s world. The epitome of stress can be witnessed in Chinese schools. The Educational Review concludes that students in China feel disproportionately more stress than others around the world. On the other hand, although it is comparatively less widespread, Americans are similarly busy and stressed in their workplace or school environments. The US-China Education Review published a study in 2017 analyzing the differences and similarities between stress in Chinese and American high schools. It found that Chinese students tended to spend more time on schoolwork, and less time playing sports and sleeping than American students. However, even though the time distribution is different between the two countries, academic stress within the student population is roughly equal.
Clearly, both countries experience a very high-pressure environment daily. And the fact that it’s everywhere becomes a problem because nobody likes to be stressed out. It’s not something people enjoy feeling. Hating stress is justified, as the Mayo Clinic explains that excessive stress can cause illness, insomnia, decreased productivity, and a list of other negative effects that just goes on and on. As you might expect, there are numerous internet articles, magazines, and books to help with this pervasive phenomenon. But what is the solution? Exercise? Tai Chi? Laughter? Aside from the various other things, you can attempt to reduce stress by merely changing your perception of stress, which can be a game-changer.
Yes, stress can hurt you both physically and mentally. But demonizing it and turning it into the enemy may not be the solution. The University of Wisconsin researchers tracked 30,000 American adults for eight years, finding that those who reported feeling a significant amount of stress were 43% more likely to die. But there’s a catch. The higher death rates only affected those who thought of stress as bad. On the other hand, people with a positive view of stress had among the lowest death rates in the group, even lower than those who didn’t experience much stress. This negative view of stress can be a silent killer, as a wider application of the study reveals that thinking of stress as bad causes 20,000 American deaths a year. That would make it the 15th highest cause of death in the US.
But how exactly are we supposed to see stress as good? When you’re conventionally stressed, there’s a rush of adrenaline, your heart beats faster, you breathe more frequently, and you might start sweating. Typically, we see this as a sign that our body can’t cope properly with stress. But when participants of a study at Harvard University were told that stress was an energizing force preparing them to face the challenge, things changed for the better. They performed much better in purposely stress-inducing experiments. But apart from the more obvious results, the more physical responses to stress also improved. Blood vessels typically constrict when you are under stress, thus heightening the risk of cardiovascular disease. Interestingly, those who saw stress as beneficial did not see their blood vessels constrict while others still did.
So the next time you’re stressed, take a step back and reevaluate your approach. Try not to be so stressed about stress. Instead, see it as your body’s way of preparing you for the challenges ahead, and that belief might very well come true.