Science assert that chronic stress weakens learning ability, cognitive function, emotional intelligence, social intelligence, social connection, immunity and health, as well as the ability to choose a healthy lifestyle. Here is what experts have to say.
- “Many learners who are underperforming may be simply overstressed.” (Jensen 2008)
- “Stressful school environments reduce the schools ability to carry out its principal mission.” (Sylwester 1994)
Stress kills brain cells and negatively impacts our ability to focus, concentrate, discriminate, process information, and remember things. When stress is reduced cognitive function improves.
- “High levels of distress can cause the death of brain cells in the hippocampus – an area critical to explicit memory formation.” (Jensen 2008)”
- “Chronic high cortisol levels can eventually destroy hippocampal neurons associated with learning and memory.” (Vincent 1990)
- “Even short-term stress related elevation of cortisol in the hippocampus can hinder our ability to distinguish between important and unimportant elements of an event.” (Gazzaniga 1989)
- “Identifying the core stress, then creating an awareness of alternatives, and ultimately working toward a desirable change are the cornerstone of empowerment. And it is this foundation that is critical to optimal learning. Remember, if the brain is in survival mode, it won’t effectively process and recall even simple semantic facts like a basic math calculation.” (Jensen 2008)
- “Non-stressed learners will exhibit better thinking, understanding, attention, concentration, and recall.” (Jensen 2008)
Stress compromises our ability to regulate our emotions, which can lead to impulsive and aggressive behavior and decreased academic performance. Contrarily, emotional intelligence can build intellectual resources through enhanced learning and performance. (Fredrickson 1998)
- “Findings suggest that emotional intelligence is relevant to scholastic achievement and deviant behavior at school, especially for disadvantaged and vulnerable adolescents.” (Petridesa et al 2002)
- “Recent studies link chronic stress to low serotonin levels, which are suspected risk factors for violent and aggressive behavior patterns.” (Jensen 2008)
- “We know emotion is important in education – it drives attention, which in turn drives learning and memory.” (Sylwester 1994)
- “Experiments support the claim that positive emotions facilitate learning and mastery.” (Fredrickson 1998)
- “A joyful classroom atmosphere makes students more apt to learn how to successfully solve problems in potentially stressful situations.” (Sylwester 1994)
SOCIAL INTELLIGENCE & SOCIAL CONNECTION
Under stress people are highly self-focused and less capable of connecting with others, which can lead to anti-social, aggressive and violent behavior, as well as poor academic performance. Contrarily, social connection is associated with psychological health, pro-social behaviors and higher achievement.
- “A great deal of research has shown that children [with low social connection] often react in antisocial, if not blatantly aggressive ways…Certain instances of real-world violence appear to be precipitated by social rejection, such as when ostracized students shoot their classmates.” (Fiske et al 2010)
- “The more positive the relationships among students and between students and faculty, the lower absenteeism and drop out rates and the greater the commitment to group goals, motivation and persistence in working toward goal achievement…willingness to take on difficult tasks…” (Zins et al 2004)
- “Psychological health is the ability (cognitive capacities, motivational orientations, and social skills) to build, maintain, and appropriately modify interdependent relationships with others to succeed in achieving goals. People who are unable to do so often (a) become depressed, anxious, frustrated, and lonely, (b) tend to feel afraid, inadequate, helpless, hopeless and isolated…” (Zins et al 2004)
- “Cooperation tends to promote higher achievement…The impact of cooperative learning on achievement means that if schools wish to prepare students to take proficiency tests to meet local and state standards, the use of cooperative learning should dominate instructional practice.” (Zins et al 2004)
HEALTH & IMMUNITY
It is well known that stress has an impact on health, immunity and well-being. In the context of student learning ability, exposure to chronic stress presents not only serious physical, mental, social and emotional health implications, but presents a negative impact on performance as well.
- “In one study learners examined just prior to test time revealed depressed immune systems and lower levels of an important antibody for fighting infection. Such findings may help explain the vicious academic performance cycle with which most of us have become all too familiar: more test stress means more illness and missed classes, which eventually means lower test scores, and the cycle of failure repeats.” (Jensen 2008)
- “Learners in a state of fear or threat experience not only reduced cognitive abilities but also weakened immune systems.” (Jensen 2008)
Chronic stress has been linked to unhealthy lifestyle choices and harmful coping behaviors, such as excessive consumption of food, drugs, and alcohol.
- “Most major theories of addiction postulate that chronic stress plays an important role in the motivation to abuse addictive substances. For example, the stress-coping model of addiction proposes that use of addictive substances serves to both reduce negative affect and increase positive affect, thereby reinforcing drug taking as an effective, albeit maladaptive, coping strategy.” (Sinha 2001)
YES! FOR SCHOOLS: ADDRESSING THE NEED
By offering youth practical tools and life skills to manage stress, YES! for Schools is addressing a critical issue in education today. As students learn to reduce stress and manage emotions they gain the ability to focus and perform well academically at school, as well as the ability to build more positive relationships with their peers, parents and teachers.