Say Yes to the Stress

Student Anxiety Can Cause Success

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Graphic by Kassidy Wilkinson

As students battle deadlines, major assessments and changing trends, anxiety takes control of the brain. Since 1936, when endocrinologist Hans Selye studied an organism’s ability to adapt, the term eustress has been used in psychology to describe “good” stress. “I view stress as both good and bad,” counselor James Sullivan said. “Good stress is often short term that can be used to motivate you, like the stress, or excitement, you feel before playing a sporting game, preparing for a test, or before going on a first date. Bad stress is usually long term and wears you out. Over long times it can lead to anxiety.”

Kassidy Wilkinson, Reporter

As students battle deadlines, major assessments and changing trends, anxiety takes control of the brain. Yet, even during these times, as the pulses quickens and hormones surge, there’s no threat or fear. Instead, stress takes the form of excitement. 

The physical, mental or emotional response to a situation or event, stress, is a constant in the lives of many high school students. While some see this as a bad thing, stress can be a beneficial part of a person’s daily routine. According to Stress.org, since 1936, when endocrinologist Hans Selye studied an organism’s ability to adapt, the term eustress has been used in psychology to describe “good” stress.

“I view stress as both good and bad,” high school counselor James Sullivan said. “Good stress is often short term that can be used to motivate you, like the stress, or excitement, you feel before playing a sporting game, preparing for a test or before going on a first date. Bad stress is usually long term and wears you out. Over long times, it can lead to anxiety.”

Stress is more than just the rush of energy or anxiety a person feels before an impactful event. In fact, it can save lives, according to Carrie Curnutt, a licensed specialist in school psychology.

“Stress is also a form of self-preservation,” Curnutt said. “It may keep us safe when presented with ‘risky’ situations such as walking somewhere alone at night, choosing not to get in a car with a friend who has been drinking or locking the doors at your house when you are home alone.”

Not experiencing enough stress results in students who have a lack of motivation, fail to reach desired goals or who do not exercise enough caution. On the other hand, a student under the consistent feelings of apprehension and worry that are not necessarily connected to a specific situation are likely to be experiencing too much stress. 

I view stress as both good and bad. Good stress is often short term that can be used to motivate you, like the stress, or excitement, you feel before playing a sporting game, preparing for a test or before going on a first date. Bad stress is usually long term and wears you out. Over long times, it can lead to anxiety.”

— James Sullivan, counselor

“Stress is unique to each person; what one student finds stressful another student may not,” Curnutt said. “Students demonstrate the most stress in regard to status or identity roles, extracurricular activities, school performance, social relationships and preparing for post-secondary plans such as college, work or the military. The COVID pandemic was a unique and unprecedented circumstance that appears to have stressed adolescents in a variety of ways that we are continuing to discover.” 

Stress can serve as motivation to study for a test, meet goals and help a person reach set deadlines.

“When I’m more stressed, I study more for a test so I don’t do badly on it,” sophomore Roy Ferguson said. “One time, I had this project in quest that I was freaking out over. I was super stressed, so I tried really hard on it and [because I tried hard] I was successful and got a 100.”

As the brain grows with the rest of the human body, stress has an impact, according to Curnutt. Adolescence describes the time of brain maturation and the continued development of neural pathways for brain functioning. As a student learns to cope with stress, they can develop skills that are highly beneficial towards their brain growth but bad stress can do the opposite.

“Appropriately handling stress can lead to the development of neural pathways for a variety of functions, such as good coping skills, problem-solving and resilience,” Curnutt said. “Chronic or ‘toxic’ stress can lead to the overproduction of cortisol in the brain, involved in the flight, fight or freeze response, lending to possible overreacting to situations. Additionally, the brain becomes prone to perceive more situations as stressful.”

Students of all grades should keep track of their stress, and whether it is beneficial or detrimental based on how long it lasts, its cause and what its effect on their daily routine is. Contact James Sullivan at [email protected] or Carrie Curnutt at [email protected] for more information. Students can also reach out to counseling services about managing their stress by using this check in form.