A New Way to Think about Stress?

When it comes to dealing with stress, most treatments focus on reducing the affected person’s stress levels. But what if another approach could work better?

Different Approaches, Different Results

According to a 2021 study, training college-aged students to view stress as a coping tool may lead to improved scores on tests. A total of 339 students participated in this study, all of whom were enrolled in community college. At the onset of the study, the participants were divided into two groups.

One group was given a few paragraphs to read regarding the body’s reaction to stress. They were also advised to avoid thinking about stress when they encountered it. In contrast, the opposing group was instructed to think about stress quite differently; these students were asked to view stress as something that could actually be useful for dealing with difficult situations. This group was likewise given a small amount of reading material regarding the body’s stress response.

Behind the Numbers

The next step was to document the students’ academic performance over the duration of one full semester. Specifically, the math test scores of the subjects were carefully tracked. In addition, they required their participants to answer questionnaires about their stress levels prior to taking these tests. Finally, the authors measured stress levels by regularly collecting saliva samples from the students, enabling them to measure levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Upon reviewing their data, the group which was assigned the stress reappraisal approach outperformed their counterparts in every respect. They not only reported lower levels of math exam-related anxiety, but also scored better on math tests when compared to the stress avoidance subjects. Their cortisol levels were also found to be notably lower.

The study’s lead author, University of Rochester in New York professor Jeremy Jamieson, noted that stress may not be as bad as is commonly believed. “It’s actually a resource. It’s actually something that’s steeling your ability to succeed and perform,” stated Jamieson. “We’re trying to get you out of the mindset about stress as this bad thing that’s harming you.”

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