Effect of stress on students academic performance

7 July 2016

This chapter reviews previous writings of recognised authorities and past research findings relating to research findings, the research problems of the study where reviewed by the researcher. Scholars, academia and works of other researchers were also reviewed in order to gain knowledge useful for the study and to avoid duplication of already done work on the study. The researcher reviewed a literature on the Effect of Stress on Student’s Academic Performance on Kogi State University Undergraduates”. The researcher also presents a theoretical approach relevant to the study and its implication.

There are several theoretical positions devised for examining and understanding stress and its related disorders. Brantley and Thomason (1995) categorized them into three groups: Response Theories, Stimulus Theories, and Interaction (or Transaction) Theories. These theories serve as useful ways to present the various theories and associated research. 2. 1. 1 Historical Background of Stress The term stress had none of its contemporary connotations before the 1920s. It is a form of the Middle English destresse, derived via Old French from the Latin stringere, “to draw tight.

Effect of stress on students academic performance Essay Example

” The word had long been in use in physics to refer to the internal distribution of a force exerted on a material body, resulting in strain. In the 1920s and 1930s biological and psychological circles occasionally used the term to refer to a mental strain or to a harmful environmental agent that could cause illness. Walter Cannon used it in 1926 to refer to external factors that disrupted what he called homeostasis. But “Stress as an explanation of lived experience is absent from both lay and expert life narratives before the 1930s”.

The use of the term ‘stress’ is now so integrated into our thoughts that it sometimes feels it has always been there. In fact stress, as we currently think of it, is a relatively new concept and its one that continues to evolve. Had we lived in the fourteenth century we would most certainly have used the term “stress”. But, with one or two notable exceptions, it would have had very little to do with our psychological state, except perhaps by implication. Stress had more to do with adversity, hardship or some form of affliction. It was not until

the eighteenth and nineteenth century that a shift in meaning started to occur. As most people know, the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries are associated with a period of intense scientific and industrial progress. As the sciences developed so language adapted in order to both accommodate and articulate these changes. The physical sciences, most notably engineering, began to use terms like stress, strain, resilience, pressure, elasticity, etc, to describe its effects. Nearly everyone will recognise these as an expression commonly used within medicine and psychology.

Still others, like ‘snapping’ or ‘breaking point’, tend not to be used within the professions these days but they retain a position in everyday language relating to emotions or behaviour. The adoption of the term “stress” as a psychological concept is frequently attributed to Hans Selye in 1936. By 1956, Selye had added to the developing ideas about stress by putting forward a three stage process known as the general adaptation syndrome (GAS). Selye stated that in response to some external stressor we first react by mobilizing our physical resources to deal with or escape from the stressor, Selye called this the ‘alarm’ stage.

The second stage, called ‘resistance’, involves ways of coping with the alarm stage by trying to reverse it. Thirdly, the stage of ‘exhaustion’ occurs if an individual is repeatedly exposed to the stressor and is unable to escape. As historians of psychology would be quick to point out, Selye actively avoided using the term stress until 1946. He was acutely aware of the fact that stress was much more closely associated with notions of ‘nervous strain’ and he was at pains to try to avoid criticism that its use was inappropriate.

In terms of accuracy, it was Walter Cannon who actually developed the term stress in his work relating to the fright-or-flight response in 1932. Today, the term stress can be used in different ways and for different purposes. If someone says they are under stress we all know what they mean and in this sense we have come to view stress as a negative experience rather than being positive. Psychologists also distinguish between stress that is harmful (distress) and stress that is positive (eustress).

In research terms stress now embraces biochemical, behavioural, physiological and psychological effects. Historically, both Walter Cannon (1929) and Hans Selye (1956) provided the foundation for the current interest in this physiological process. According to Cannon (1929), the body possesses an internal mechanism to maintain stable bodily functioning or equilibrium. As the environment presents the organism with various challenges, the body must respond to each new situation by adjusting various physiological systems to compensate for the resources being taxed.

A classic example of this type of compensation involves fluid regulation. When an organism ingests a large amount of water, the kidney releases more waste fluid into the bladder for eventual disposal in an effort to maintain bodily equilibrium. Many of the feedback mechanisms that regulate blood pressure share similar characteristics with bodily systems that maintain homeostasis. According to Cannon (1935), failure of the body to respond to environmental challenges by maintaining bodily homeostasis results in damage to target organs and eventually death.

Translating his work with physical challenges associated with eating, drinking, and physical activity into those of a psychological nature, Cannon hypothesized that common homeostatic mechanisms were involved. Accordingly, if an organism’s response to threat involves significant sympathetic nervous system arousal so that respiration and heart rate increase significantly, the body’s compensatory response should involve either reducing sympathetic nervous system activity or increasing parasympathetic nervous system counter-activity.

If the compensatory response is inadequate, tissue damage can result, placing the organism at a greater risk for subsequent medical problems associated with the damaged tissue. In brief, the concept of homeostasis introduced by Cannon has proved to be very valuable in explaining how acute physiological stress responses to threats of survival lead toward chronic stress responses. Selye (1956) was the first investigator to use the term ‘stress’ to describe the problems associated with homeostasis identified by Cannon decades earlier.

Although he borrowed the term from physics, he used it to describe the effects on the organism rather than the environmental stressors he examined in his empirical work. According to Selye, the ‘stress’ response of the organism represented a common set of generalized physiological responses that were experienced by all organisms exposed to a variety of environmental challenges like temperature change or exposure to noise. From his perspective, the stress response was nonspecific; that is, the type of stressor experienced did not affect the pattern of response.

In other words, a wide variety of stressors elicited an identical or general stress response. He termed this nonspecific response the General Adaptation Syndrome, which consisted of three stages: Alarm Reaction, Resistance, and Exhaustion. Physiological compensatory systems began working at peak capacity to resist the challenges the entire system was confronting, and according to Selye, actually raised the body’s resistance to stress above homeostatic levels. However, because this response consumed so much energy, a body could not sustain it forever. Once energy had been depleted, the organism entered the stage of Exhaustion.

In this stage, resistance to environmental stressors break down and the body becomes susceptible to tissue damage and perhaps death becomes inevitable. In Selye’s terminology, the Alarm Reaction Stage was comparable to the acute stress response described above and the Exhaustion Stage was comparable to a chronic stress responses. More recently, the historic works of Cannon and Selye that have attempted to explain how acute physiological stress responses evolved into chronic stress responses have been revisited by Bruce McEwen and colleagues (McEwen and Stellar, 1993; McEwen, 1998) at Rockefeller University.

In contrast to the state of physiological equilibrium of homeostasis essential for survival that Cannon discussed, McEwen used the term ‘allostasis,’ referring to the body’s ability to adapt to a changing environment in situations that did not challenge survival. From his perspective, an organism that maintained a perfectly stable physiological equilibrium during a stressful encounter (a non-response) might be just as problematic as an organism that exhibited an exaggerated physiological response.

Allostasis referred to the body’s ability to adjust to a ‘new steady state’ in response to the environmental challenge (McEwen and Stellar, 1993). To clarify the distinction between homeostasis and allostasis, consider two physiological parameters: body temperature and heart rate. For an organism to survive in a changing environment there exists a very narrow window of acceptable body temperature. Even though the temperature of the environment can change 50 degrees over the course of a single day, body temperature remains constant.

Deviations from a normal temperature are met with a range of symptoms (sweating, chills) that occur as part of our body’s attempt to regain homeostasis. For body temperature, homeostasis is a very important mechanism of survival. Now, let’s consider heart rate. In contrast to body temperature, our body can tolerate a wide range of heart rates. When we are asleep, our heart rate drops to basal levels. When we are awake, heart rates increase substantially, and when we are engaged in aerobic exercise, heart rates climb even higher.

Rather than maintaining stability in the face of a changing environment, as body temperature does, heart rate adjusts to a changing environment to optimize functioning. In this case, the ability of the body to adjust to aerobic exercise by resetting heart rate at a higher level is called allostasis, not homeostasis. McEwen argues that most acute stress responses represent challenges to the body’s allostasis, not challenges to its homeostasis. According to the work of McEwen and colleagues, ‘allostatic load’ is a term that refers to the price the body pays for being challenged repeatedly by a variety of environmental stressors.

Increased allostatic load, or what McEwen and Wingfield (2003) called ‘allostatic overload,’ occurs with increased frequency of exposure to stressors, increased intensities of these stressors, or decreased efficiency in coordinating the onset and termination of the physiological responses 2. 1. 2 The Different Kinds of Stress Stress management can be complicated and confusing because there are different types of stress and they include acute stress, episodic acute stress, and chronic stress as related to academic stress, each with its own characteristics, symptoms, duration, and treatment approaches.

Acute Stress Acute stress is the most common form of stress. It comes from demands and pressures of the recent past and anticipated demands and pressures of the near future. Acute stress is thrilling and exciting in small doses, but too much is exhausting. By the same token, overdoing on short-term stress can lead to psychological distress, tension headaches, upset stomach, and other symptoms. Fortunately, acute stress symptoms are recognized by most people.

It’s a laundry list of what has gone awry in their lives: the auto accident that crumpled the car fender, the loss of an important contract, a deadline they’re rushing to meet, their child’s occasional problems at school, and so on. Because it is short term, acute stress doesn’t have enough time to do the extensive damage associated with long-term stress. The most common symptoms are: 1. emotional distress–some combination of anger or irritability, anxiety, and depression, the three stress emotions; 2. muscular problems including tension headache, back pain, jaw pain, and the

muscular tensions that lead to pulled muscles and tendon and ligament problems; 3. stomach, gut and bowel problems such as heartburn, acid stomach, flatulence, diarrhoea, constipation, and irritable bowel syndrome; 4. transient over arousal leads to elevation in blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, sweaty palms, heart palpitations, dizziness, migraine headaches, cold hands or feet, shortness of breath, and chest pain. Acute stress can crop up in anyone’s life, and it is highly treatable and manageable. Episodic Acute Stress

There are those, however, who suffer acute stress frequently, whose lives are so disordered that they are studies in chaos and crisis. They’re always in a rush, but always late. If something can go wrong, it does. They take on too much, have too many irons in the fire, and can’t organize the slew of self-inflicted demands and pressures clamouring for their attention. They seem perpetually in the clutches of acute stress. It is common for people with acute stress reactions to be over aroused, short-tempered, irritable, anxious, and tense.

Often, they describe themselves as having “a lot of nervous energy. ” Always in a hurry, they tend to be abrupt, and sometimes their irritability comes across as hostility. Interpersonal relationships deteriorate rapidly when others respond with real hostility. The work becomes a very stressful place for them. Another form of episodic acute stress comes from ceaseless worry. “Worry warts” see disaster around every corner and pessimistically forecast catastrophe in every situation. The world is a dangerous, unrewarding, punitive place where something awful is always about to happen.

These “awfulizers” also tend to be over aroused and tense, but are more anxious and depressed than angry and hostile. The symptoms of episodic acute stress are the symptoms of extended over arousal: persistent tension headaches, migraines, hypertension, chest pain, and heart disease. Treating episodic acute stress requires intervention on a number of levels, generally requiring professional help, which may take many months. Often, lifestyle and personality issues are so ingrained and habitual with these individuals that they see nothing wrong with the way they conduct their lives.

They blame their woes on other people and external events. Frequently, they see their lifestyle, their patterns of interacting with others, and their ways of perceiving the world as part and parcel of who and what they are. Sufferers can be fiercely resistant to change. Only the promise of relief from pain and discomfort of their symptoms can keep them in treatment and on track in their recovery program. Chronic Stress While acute stress can be thrilling and exciting, chronic stress is not. This is the grinding stress that wears people away day after day, year after year.

Chronic stress destroys bodies, minds and lives. It wreaks havoc through long-term attrition. It’s the stress of poverty, of dysfunctional families, of being trapped in an unhappy marriage or in a despised job or career. It’s the stress that the never-ending “troubles” have brought to the people of Northern Ireland, the tensions of the Middle East have brought to the Arab and Jew, and the endless ethnic rivalries that have been brought to the people of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Chronic stress comes when a person never sees a way out of a miserable situation.

It’s the stress of unrelenting demands and pressures for seemingly interminable periods of time. With no hope, the individual gives up searching for solutions. Some chronic stresses stem from traumatic, early childhood experiences that become internalized and remain forever painful and present. Some experiences profoundly affect personality. A view of the world, or a belief system, is created that causes unending stress for the individual (e. g. , the world is a threatening place, people will find out you are a pretender, and you must be perfect at all times).

When personality or deep-seated convictions and beliefs must be reformulated, recovery requires active self-examination, often with professional help. The worst aspect of chronic stress is that people get used to it. They forget it’s there. People are immediately aware of acute stress because it is new; they ignore chronic stress because it is old, familiar, and sometimes, almost comfortable. Chronic stress kills through suicide, violence, heart attack, stroke, and, perhaps, even cancer.

People wear down to a final, fatal breakdown. Because physical and mental resources are depleted through long-term attrition, the symptoms of chronic stress are difficult to treat and may require extended medical as well as behavioural treatment and stress management. 2. 1. 3 Stress and Academic Performance A frequently reported source of stress that most undergraduate students experience is receiving a lower grade than they expected (grade pressure) (Ratana Saipanish, 2003; Evans & Fitzgibbon, 1992; Kohn &Frazer, 1986).

Too much stress can interfere student’s preparation, concentration, and performance but positive stress can be helpful to students by motivating those to peak performance (Pfeiffer, 2001). Students also have a fear of failure in relation to their grades and academic work. To fall short of their own or others’ expectations in school, job, athletics, or any other activity one risks both external and internal costs: threat to academic or career prospects, disapproval, rejection, humiliation, guilt and blow to the self-esteem (Schafer, 1996).

Those studies carried out with medical students show that in the academic area, heavy work load, examinations and meeting deadlines for assignments were the most common causes of stress (Evans &Fitzgibbon, 1992; Kohn & Frazer, 1986). This is further supported by Ratana Saipanish (2003) who conducted a study on 686 medical students in the Faculty of Medicine; Ramathibodi Hospital, Thailand and finding has also shown that academic problems were found to be a major cause of stress among all students.

The results indicated that the most prevalent source of academic stress was test/exam. Obviously, test or exam anxiety is one of the main causes to academic stress and most university students seem to be more emotionally vulnerable due to examinations. Increased anxiety from tests has a debilitating effect on students’ performance. When information generated by worrying about the test reduces the capacity available for performing the task, the result is that performance breaks down becomes self-confirming (Fisher, 1994).

Academic stress pervades the life of students, and tends to impact adversely their mental and physical health, and their ability to perform schoolwork effectively (Clark & Rieker, 1986; Felsten & Wilcox, 1992). Stress associated with academic activities has been linked to various negative outcomes such as poor health (Greenberger, 1981; Lesko & Summerfield, 1989), depression (Aldwin &Greenberger, 1987), and poor academic performance (Clark & Rieker, 1986; Linn & Zeppa, 1984). For example, Lesko and Summerfield (1989), found a significant positive correlation between the incidence of illness and the number of exams and assignments.

Similarly, Aldwin & Greenberger (1987) found that perceived academic stress was related to anxiety and depression in university students. A number of studies have found a relationship between stress and poor academic performance (Clark & Rieker, 1986; Linn & Zeppa, 1984; Struthers, Perry & Menec, 2000). Felsten & Wilcox (1992) found a significant negative correlation between the stress levels of university students and their academic performance. Stress and Management Defining stress so that it resonates across clinical and experimental fields is a particularly thorny issue, Fivush acknowledges.

Yet research suggests that in every stage of childhood, stress plays a role in the development of a gamut of mental problems, from social adjustment disorders to depression and schizophrenia. Leading causes of death in American adults, like lung disease and cancer, may be linked to stress experienced by children living in dysfunctional households, according to Vincent Felitti (1943), a scientist with Kaiser Permanente who discussed his findings with Emory’s Science and Society Faculty Seminar. 2. 1. 4 The misery of Stress Growing evidence suggests that environmental stress reaches even into the womb.

Walker notes that research on non-human primates confirms early studies of effects of maternal stress in rodents. Both psychological stress, like isolation, and physiological stress, like electric shock, increase the mother’s stress hormones. For their entire lives, the offspring of these rat mothers can exhibit high levels of stress hormones and abnormalities in the hypo campus, an area of the brain associated with mood. Strikingly, most of the maternal exposure in those experiments was relatively brief. Findings in animals, of course, do not necessarily apply to humans.

But, Walker explains, the few studies following the development of children whose mothers experienced major stress while pregnant a natural disaster, for instance have found a greater incidence of various psychiatric disorders. Reunette W. Harris Professor and Charles Nemeroff published findings in JAMA from the first human study to suggest that stressful childhood experiences heighten an individual’s response to stress throughout life. What had been missing is an understanding of biological mechanisms. Why are some people affected and not others?

” Investigations into the interaction of genes and hormones, however, promise to add another piece to this puzzle. Walker’s own research indicates that increased levels of stress hormones could play a role in triggering genes that harbor vulnerabilities to specific disorders, such as schizophrenia. Nemeroff’s study shows that stress in early life makes a part of the central nervous system active in cognitive and emotional processing particularly sensitive to stress. Thus, even relatively mild stress in adulthood may trigger mood and anxiety disorders in these individuals.

The mechanisms causing personal misery associated with less severe problems are similarly complex. Psychology professors Marshall Duke and Steven Nowicki hypothesize that stress can interrupt a young child’s learning of nonverbal language; resulting in a condition they call dyssemia. “An anxious or depressed child just doesn’t pick up on nonverbal clues,” Duke explains. That causes him to react inappropriately to peers who often reject him, causing more stress. Duke emphasizes, however, that this cycle can be broken through learning better social skills and that parents and teachers can often intervene more effectively.

The developing brain’s sensitivity to stress may also provide some protection from mental illness. Paul Plotsky, psychology professor and director of the Stress Neurobiology Laboratory at Emory’s School of Medicine, established several years ago that newborn rats who receive caring stimulation develop a stress response that equips them to handle stress better throughout their lives. The distinctly human ability to make meaning through narratives helps explain why some kids suffer more from stressful events than others.

The national controversy in the 1980s about the reliability of children’s memories in sexual abuse cases piqued Fivush’s interest in children’s memories of stressful events. Her study of children who survived Hurricane Andrew found out that even three-year-olds could recall detailed information. Children’s memories of such events may be more detailed, in fact, than memories of more mundane experiences. According to Fivush, a substantial body of research shows that “creating coherent accounts of stressful or traumatic experiences has long term effects on both emotional and physical well-being.

” Conversations with parents and other adults about those memories can put them in context, offer ways to cope, and provide a sense of closure on negative experiences. Unfortunately, the twenty-five percent of girls and fifteen percent of boys who are sexually abused may experience a silence that compounds the negative effects of abuse, Fivush says. Not only do abusive parents not provide “a coherent verbal framework” for the child, she explains, but they often label the abuse as “punishment for misbehaviour” or a “special game.

” While those kinds of narratives may exacerbate the effects of stressful experiences, another common kind of story told in our culture may equip children to cope with stress. Fivush and Duke currently are analyzing the effects of family storytelling on children’s well-being. “We’re looking at how families tell stories about themselves: positive ones, negatives ones, heroic adventures, and plain old tales,” Duke explains. “The hypothesis is that these stories make kids more resilient and able to cope with stress, perhaps through showing that bad things happen, but you can go on.

Investigating everyday coping mechanisms of functioning families may be as important as understanding deviance and extreme dysfunction. Duke worries about the increasing prevalence of medical models for understanding childhood problems. While medical models “work well for some things, we need to get away from the idea that everything we consider wrong with children is a psychological disorder,” Duke says. “Some of what we call ‘disorders,’ our grandparents called ‘life. ‘ ” Selye’s (1956) General Adaptation Syndrome described above is a classic representation of a theoretical perspective that focuses upon stress as a response.

In fact, Selye went so far as to state that the nature of the stimulus was irrelevant to the stress response. To support his view, he subjected animals to a wide variety of experimental conditions that elicited very similar physiologic stress responses including temperature change, pain stimulation, and exposure to infection. Likewise, although acknowledging the importance of the stress stimulus in their theoretical models, McEwen and colleagues have also focused on the physiological stress response, paying less attention to the type or nature of the eliciting stimulus (McEwen and Stellar, 1993; McEwen, 1998).

Although response theories have contributed greatly to our understanding of the physiological response systems that mediate the relation between environmental stressors and chronic stress responses, they have typically neglected a detailed exploration of types of environmental stressors and how they might influence the disease process. The different theories of stress are Life-events theory, Hardiness theory, and Social support theory. They involve mixed interplay of the different components of stress 2. 1. 5 The Life Events Theory of Stress

The life events theory of academic stress underscores that reaction to stress depend on the duration of exposure to stressors and the degree or strength of these stressors. This theory is supported by Holmes & Rahe (1967), Lazarus (1966), and DeLongis (1982). Proponents of the life events theory measure stress as the accumulation of major and minor life events, minus major and minor uplifts. For example, a person may have experienced the death of a loved one, but won eight figures in a lottery the next day; or that another failed a test in one subject, yet received a perfect mark in another.

If a person experiences more stressors than uplifts, he or she is said to be stressed. The Hardiness Theory of Stress The hardiness theory of stress underscores that individuals react to stress differently. Suzanne C. Kobasa et al. (1985) believes that hardiness, that is, perceiving stressful life events as challenges than threats, serve as buffer to stress. For example, one person may perceive of being fired from job as a major stressful problem, while another may see it as an opportunity to get a vacation and find better pastures.

This theory, therefore, adds a third element in the stimulus-response interaction – the perceptive buffer – besides stressors and stress reactivity. The Social Support Theory of Stress The social support theory of stress underscores that besides the perceptive buffer, stressed individuals can turn to available social support systems and resources to reduce the impact of stressors and avoid being stressed. J. C. Overholser, W. H. Norman and I. W. Miller (1990) believe that stress occurs only when social support systems and resources are not enough to dissolve the threat of stressors. 2. 3 Effects Of Stress On Undergraduate Academic Performance

Studies have identified that the sources of stress, which influence the performance of students, change because of the wide extent of stressors while at university. Stress is one of the most common emotions that are experienced by human beings (Alansari, 2006). There can be a number of reasons why students develop stress, personal factors that are unique to the individual are categorised by the demographic classification. Students can have an increase in stress because of the year in which they are in (Naidu et al, 2002) (Sanders et al, 1999) this may relate to the increased workload from the progression of the course.

Age can be another contributing factor, with older students having more pressure to achieve a higher standard of academic performance when compared to younger students (Naidu et al, 2002), (Sanders et al, 1999). When starting university there may be changes taking place that are new to the individual thus leading to stressors that can include an impact upon the health of the individual. According to Liu, Shono & Kitamura (2009), “The concept of well-being refers to optimal psychological functioning and experience”.

This shows that when a person has a positive wellbeing, it will reflect in their day-to-day living, such as doing housework, maintaining good personal hygiene and completing tasks on time. Naturally, if a person is not in “optimal mental shape”, they will not be performing to their best potential, possibly having a negative effect on their lives. If this happens during University, there will be a high amount of risk of failure. People attend schools so as to better themselves academically so they can be successful in future, providing a safe environment in terms of money and lifestyle.

University is also a big financial obstacle in modern times, so adverse grades would ultimately be a waste of money. An increase in depressive students in counselling, has led psychologists to wonder whether the financial hardship that some students face may be severely influencing students mental health (Royal College of Psychiatrists, 2003). In a study by Andrews & Wilding (2004), nearly 10% of the first year students, who had answered the survey, became depressed during their first semester, while 20% became “anxious” during their studies.

The prime reason for these depressive episodes was due to financial difficulties and relationship problems. This ultimately led poor performance during the end of term examinations. The personal factors that students experience can have adverse effects on their health through stress. These include the financial implications that can arise from the nature of being independent at university (Garbee et al, 1980), (Grandy et al, 1989) which can relate to the social class (Fredericks et al, 1967).

Family issues have been proven to contribute towards the stress of students while they are staying away from home if problems occur (Garbee et al, 1980). Sell & Robson’s (1998) study student life at the prestigious Oxford University found that out of the 318 respondents to the Questionnaire, a third felt that they were discriminated against due to their social class (not being invited to balls) ,despite enjoying the overall experience.

In addition, 1/3 of female undergraduates had been sexually harassed or discriminated against during their time at university. Their overall learning experience had been stopped abruptly due to differences in gender, which would be an extremely troubling experience. The study also found that there was a large prevalence of Class, A drug taking and overuse of Alcohol during the respondent’s time at university, providing a possible solution to stressful experience or a route provided by peer pressure

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