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The Impact of Stress on Learning

source: http://www.trainingplace.com/source/stress.html

Stress affects all of us. Today’s research suggests that stress can block chemical reactions in the brain that are necessary for learning. Stress can disrupt learning and memory development ( long-term potentiation (LTP)) as it forces the brain to revert to more primitive survival needs. To foster creativity and learning, educators should learn how to minimize stressful situations. The challenge is to introduce new ways or instructional strategies to reduce levels of the stress hormone (cortisol) and increase levels of the `happy’ hormone (DHEA).

We have much to learn about the impact of stress on learning and memory. This site (http://www.trainingplace.com/source/stress.html) provides educators with information, techniques, and resources for learning about stress and stress management as it relates to learning, As practitioners, the more we know about stress the more we can be proactive–not reactive to supporting learning challenges.

See http://www.trainingplace.com/source/stress.html#general for more info.


Source: http://www.dmu.ac.uk/Images/impact_stress_tcm6-15825.pdf

The Impact of Stress on Learning. Trevor Butlin
De Montfort University 2007

Excessive stress can result in a reduced quality of work as
concentration, memory capacity and thought processes are
affected. Prolonged stress can sometimes lead to ‘burn
out’. We all need a certain amount of pressure to work, but
stress occurs when we feel more pressure than we can
cope with. Individuals vary in their capacity to absorb
pressure, but the goal of optimum performance is achieved
when there is an ongoing healthy tension between being
relaxed and energised.
Symptoms of stress
> The acronym SPACE is a useful way of summarising stress
> S – the situation (e.g. dealing with academic pressures such as
exams and personal pressures such family and relationship
> P – the physical impact of stress can show itself in neck, back and
chest pains, headaches, dizziness, appetite change, fatigue,
feeling ‘run down’.
> A – actions such as increased alcohol/drug intake, withdrawing,
becoming impatient, twitchy or aggressive, working longer with
little effect, disturbed sleep\and eating patterns.
> C – cognitions or thoughts such as ‘I can’t do this- I’m losing it’
plus disorganised or negative thoughts, not being able to switch
> E – emotions e.g. feeling irritable, critical, sad, depressed,
What can students do to combat stress?
Physical health
> Physical relaxation is important and examples include music,
reading, walking, yoga, hot baths etc. Relaxation helps to activate
the parasympathetic nervous system which calms down the body if
it has been over aroused.
> Regular exercise, e.g. twenty to thirty minutes a day, three times a
week enhances mental and physical well-being.
> A healthy diet, multi-vitamin tablets, regular sleep patterns (seveneight
hours sleep each night) and reduced alcohol, caffeine, drug
intake can also help.

How can you help?
Suggestions for discussion
> You can help by looking for signs of stress and by listening, and
showing understanding and support.
> The student may need help to identify why things have got out of
hand and any changes that could be made to relieve pressure.
> Review work timescales and avoid ‘bunching up’ of assignment
deadlines if possible.
> Signpost to other sources of support. (See ‘Useful contacts’)
> Getting the right work/life balance is important. To keep working
without taking regular breaks is both unproductive and stressful.
Students could review this by drawing up pie charts showing a
typical day’s activities divided into hours and then comparing this
to a chart of how they would ideally divide up a day. What
changes could be made?
> Proactive action is important to combat stress rather than just
slumping in front of the TV!

> Stress can distort cognitions or thoughts so things get ‘blown up
out of all proportion’ and are not seen objectively.
> Some people are driven by lots of ‘oughts’ and ‘shoulds’ or aim to
‘be perfect’ adding more stress but students could consider what
they really want and what is important. A ‘good enough’
philosophy might help.
> Talking to friends, a tutor or a counsellor can really help as they
can give a different perspective and can encourage more realistic
> Remember stress is not about being lazy, it is a sign of more
pressure than the individual can cope with.
> If stress builds up over time and students ‘keep things in’ it can
lead to ‘burn out’ and depression.
> Emotional support from friends, family or a counsellor can help.

> Having fun and smiling more often is a good prescription!…

…Further information:
Reference material
for students
> The following booklets are available from Counselling and
Personal Support or at
> ‘The MIND Guide to Managing Stress’
> ‘How to Cope With the Stress of Student Life’
> ‘How to Cope with Exam Stress’
> The following resources are all available from Counselling and
Personal Support:
> Handout: ’Helping Stress with Sport and Activity’
> O’Hanlon, B. (1998) ‘Stress – The Common Sense Approach’.
Newleaf. Dublin
> Holden, R. (1992) ‘Stress Busters: Over 101 Strategies for
Stress Survival’. Harper Collins. London
> Relaxation CD available on loan.
> Relaxation course available via the Counselling Service website


Web sites


Other related Focus
On titles
> Difficult One-to- one Meetings
> Mental Health Problems
> Helping Students who are Withdrawn and Depressed

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