Research in Brief:  Rethinking Stress

Rethinking Stress to Help Young People Excel

Life is filled with stressors big and small.  For example, today I am stressed about my refrigerator.  It has been making strange sounds.  We cannot always predict how life is going to unfold, and incidents beyond our control change our daily lives.  (The fridge just made that strange sound again!) 

Like adults, young people experience stress too.  Making friends, doing well in school, and wearing the “right” clothes are just a few of the pressures young people face. 

Fortunately, new research shows that changing our minds about stress can make us healthier and happier.  In her engaging book, The Upside of Stress:  Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It, Kelly McGonigal, shares information about why our beliefs about stress matter along with strategies to change the way we think about stress.

Many of the studies she shares are from the new field of mindset science.  (Mindsets are beliefs that shape your reality.)  She highlights successful mindset interventions, including one conducted at a low-income high school in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Researcher, David Yeager, wanted to teach freshman a growth mindset – the belief that people can change in significant ways.  He had students read an article that introduced the following ideas: 

“Who you are now is not necessarily who you will be later in life; how people treat you or see you now is not necessarily a sign of who you really are or who you will be in the future; people’s personalities can change meaningfully over time.”

Students also read upperclassmen’s accounts of change and wrote about their own experiences of how people could change. 

This thirty-minute intervention resulted in “students who were more optimistic and less overwhelmed by the problems in their lives. They had fewer health problems and were less likely to become depressed than students who had been randomly assigned to a control group.  A full 81 percent of the students who received the intervention passed their ninth-grade algebra class, compared with only 58 percent of students in the control group.” 

Learning how mindsets can affect student performance helps both parents and teachers provide ways for young people to excel. The Upside of Stress shows how rethinking our beliefs can change aspects of our lives – for the better.  


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Debra Lemieux

If Then Creativity



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