The sweaty palms felt before a final, the shortness of breath before a presentation, and the nauseous sensation that surrounds an advanced placement (AP) student before the test all these are classic examples of stress that can be felt by every student at least once in their high school career.
“Stress improves a student’s ability to focus and direct their attention at important tasks, it improves motivation. The problem becomes when there is too much stress, it can create problems with physical complaints like upset stomach, difficult concentration and with problem solving,” Dr. Brian Crane Pediatric Neuro Psychologist, said.
With the end of the year getting closer and closer many students can start to feel the pressure of upcoming AP tests and finals.
“AP Spanish or Pre-Cal [Pre-Calculus] are my most stressful classes, because there was the AP test and Pre-Cal can have a high workload sometimes,” sophomore Spencer Pudists said.
But classes do not have to cause high amounts of stress. If each scholar took time to properly prepare for their stressor (AP test, final, presentation, etc.) then the stress would almost be eliminated.
“It depends on just how they look at the world, their demeanor, definitely affects how they handle stress… Students who take time out of their day to meaningfully study things that need to be studied and put focus on the things they want to do, they’re more prepared. And the more prepared you are, the more confident you are and the more confident you are, the less stressed you are. It’s students that aren’t prepared that are being put under the most stress,” AP Psychology teacher of Bonney Lake High School Josh Gaydos said.
However, sometimes there is too much stress to handle. Even though teenagers will feel prepared, it is the doubt and the unknown that are worrisome.
“They will almost do anything in order to escape the situation that is causing them stress. Because when we are stressed our brain kicks off what is called a fight or flight response, so too high levels of stress cause a problem with the fight or flight response. So when people feel too stressed it causes them to misinterpret signals from the environment and then they want to escape any level of stress,” Crane said.
The fight or flight response is defined as a response where our brain will signal the adrenal glands to secrete adrenaline to prepare our body to face a perceived threat (Barron’s AP Psychology). Anxiety, which is felt by all people, can also be damaging to our body, not just to our brain.
“I have seen this year alone about half a dozen students just breakdown in tears because of stress. There’s a lot of anxiety for tests, or pop quizzes, or big assignments due. So on some level of their brain they tell themselves oh it’s not due yet, and they choose not to focus on the upcoming deadline. So, when the day actually happens they’re really stressed out about it because they haven’t prepared for it,” Gaydos said.
The main lesson that can be learned is prepare mentally and physically for the main stressor in your life. It may not always be easy to change the habits you are accustomed to, but your stress will be greatly reduced.
“The students that have changed their habits, they have grown because of it and pretty much all of them are going to score better on their AP test because of it. However, the students who stay up late drinking monsters, enjoy screen time at night, playing video games, or are on their phones before they go to bed, and watching movies, aren’t prepared so they don’t do as well. All that stuff is great, but it’s not good at the very end of the day, it actually interferes with your memory consolidation and stress,” Gaydos said.
If students start to eat healthier, get more sleep and consume less caffeine and sugar during the last half of their day, they will be more focused to properly study for the test and better rehearse their presentation. Athletics and extra curricular activities have also helped students de-stress.
“Sports actually help me to get rid of some stress,” Pudists said.
Pudists is involved in both cross country and track, he enjoys doing both. He feels they help him relax and become more focused on the task at hand. Anyone can learn how to relax; it is just a matter of taking the time to acquire the information.
“I think everyone can do better learning how to better deal with their high levels of stress. What they have to realize is it takes our brain about five minutes [to] calm down after a stressful situation so they need to breathe or do some other relaxing technique to give their brain the full five minutes. Then they can look at the test and make better decisions,” Crane said.
The next time your hands get clammy or your heart rate picks up, remember to breathe and try to relax. Otherwise, the stress could lead to serious mental and physical side affects.