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Glenn Lane Dr. Clothier English April 7, 2014 The Psychological Analysis of Stress in Teenagers Its not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it. - Hans Selye As my high school journey comes to a conclusion, I reflect upon the experiences, the conflicts that arose, and the relationships that were built over the four years. Although I have matured over the years, a prevalent emotional motif of my life is the feelings of overwhelming, anxiety, losing control and ultimately having slight mental breakdowns. After my capstone, I come to the realization that this motif applies to high school. Before my capstone research began, I used school, my teachers, the amount of homework, my parents, and the random chores my parents would ask me to do as the reason for all the emotional and physical torment in my life. Of course though, I knew the real reason for my mental breakdowns was stress. But was stress the real reason for these feelings of anxiety as I approached deadlines? Teachers, counselors, and parents have continuously told me to simply handle stress, yet none of them fully explained what exactly that I need to manage. Furthermore, with my reflection, I come to the realization that the predominant theme of discussion among my friends is the struggle of stress due to workloads. Even today, seniors who are already in college and do not have to worry about maintaining perfect grades use stress as their excuse for being irritable. With stress seemingly dominating my life, I chose to delve into stress in order to grant me a better understanding.

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Undoubtedly, teenagers have experienced stress in some part of their life, yet they lack the proper understanding of what they are going through. To better understand what exactly teenagers think stress is, I conducted a survey asking teenagers when they felt stressed, what stress is, and what they feel when they are stressed.The 150 students who filled out the anonymous survey described stress to be an overall emotional torment that results from a major deadline. A majority of the students blamed school for their stress. Additionally, None of the students described stress to be a positive emotion. Clearly, stress represents a major component for high schoolers yet this survey illustrates the lack of understanding. Teenagers blame school for their stress. Their stress causes them to feel anxious, irritable, overwhelmed, as if their blood is boiling and nervous. However, the questions arise of what stress is, why do teens feel these emotions, and why do they demonstrate behavioral changes. Psychiatrists try to help teenagers handle their stress and disorders that stem from the struggle of stress. Labeling the psychological disorders as a syndrome characterized by clinically significant disturbance in an individual's cognition, emotion regulation, or behavior that reflects a dysfunction in the psychological, biological, or developmental processes underlying mental functioning, allows psychiatrists to begin helping people who suffer from disorders (Maisel). This definition of a serious disorder determines that psychological disorders stems from mental dysfunction, adding to the link foundation. Consequently, the causes of mental dysfunctions will govern the connection to stress. In order to analyze the cause of psychological disorders for teenagers, an understanding of what they experience and why they experience it must be determined. Observably, an individual under a stressful situation will behave differently due to their response to their stress. Ultimately, the response to and perception of stress causes neurological and physical dysfunctions that can lead to the development of psychological disorders without the

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proper management of stress. The aim of my Capstone is to help teenagers avoid mental dysfunction by implementing a program to aid them in understanding the link between stress and psychological disorders, allowing them to alter their perception of stress. The altercation to a better perception will minimize teenagers stress. I hope to develop and implement a three step program to minimize the struggle of stress using the understanding of what stress is, what effect it has over the human body, and what stress can lead to. The project component of my capstone is the creation of a Stress Program. Collaborating with Kathy Williams - Griffin, the Dean of Students at the Pembroke Hill School, I intend to make the Stress Program a supplement to the freshman orientation program. Pembroke already tries to help students deal with their stress, but the success of the program needs work. Therefore, the Stress Program will improve/replace the stress component of the freshman orientation at Pembroke Hill. However, the complete prevention of stress cannot nor should not be allowed because some stresses are good by challenging people to improve their lives (Royster). Nevertheless, the goal of this program is to help teenagers understand what they are going through and diminish the amount of angst they are going through. The first step of this stress program will be to identify the definition of stress and the cause and effects in a classroom setting. Because freshman will be attending this orientation, a smaller group discussion will capture their attention and improve the chances of changing their perceptions. Yet, with my research in how to manage stress and past experiences, the understanding of what stress actually is has never been fully discussed. In order to help a person handle their stress, the person must know what exactly he/ she are going through, creating the necessity for the definition of stress. Ultimately, this step should reveal that the students

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psychological strain does not stem from school but rather from the individual and their perception. Creating the core definition for stress rests upon the broad overview of the actual word stress, the attempt at labeling what a person goes through under pressure, and the situation that an individual faces. The concepts surrounding the definition of stress creates a vagueness and a struggle of how to define stress. In other words, people use the word stress to confound ration thought, when they do not actually understand the situation a person is dealing with (Charlton 156). Normally, people use stress as a blind alley excuse when they do not fully understand why they are feeling anxious and on the verge of a breakdown (Charlton 156). Basically, the word stress represents a broad label that encompasses a construct of emotional states, pressure, perception, overwhelming, and physiological stress. With this broad definition there are two sides, psychological stress refers to the negative cognitive and emotional states elicited when people realize that the demands placed on them by the environment exceed their ability to cope (Ng 258). The other side representing the positive side, the developmental process associated with the stress of deadlines and meeting them with quality work, can prepare people for the world outside of school (Royster). People use the word stress as a general construct that subsumes various specific subtypes, like time stress (pressure), feelings of stress (perceived stress), and physiological stress, to describe the situation they are going through at the time (Ng 258). In simpler terms, Freud explains stress as the neurotic and psychotic behavior to be an exaggeration to a calm and normal reaction to conflict (Elkind 141). A universal definition of stress limits the understanding and scope of how stress leads to a psychological disorder due to the vagueness that surrounds the definition, leaving the core definition to the uniqueness of each individuals situation.

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Since stress stems from the specific individual responding to his or her certain situation, how an individual perceives their situation and responds to that hypothetical state causes their feelings of stress. Furthermore, the cause of stress helps identify what exactly stress is. The major component in the cause of stress results from the individuals perception of their situation. Stress occurs when an individual views a part of their environment as potentially harmful and exceeds the persons adaptive resources (Shirom 668). Thus, stress becomes dependent on the individual perception of a situation. Additionally, with the understanding that maturity changes an individuals perception of the world, the focus of teenagers due to their lack of maturity allows for a stronger connection between psychological disorders and stress to be established (Royster). Unfortunately, stress can also can additional stress, creating a spiraling effect. Stress can draw more material into this black hole of a concept until its mass becomes immense and stress threatens to swallow life, the universe and everything, which describes the feeling of anxiety and being consumed by this overwhelming sensation (Charlton 158). Regardless of the individuals perception, objective conditions create the situation in which people respond poorly to by feeling stressed. Therefore, a person does not have to feel the emotional torment of a stressful situation unless the individual defines the situation as stressful (Shirom 668). However, stress cannot be avoidable; it is a part of life, because we all have to meet challenges in our daily lives (Eliot 20). Establishing the understanding that stress revolves around an individuals perception represents the purpose of the first step of the three step program by recognizing what teenagers are going through comes from their own consciousness rather than what teachers assign them for homework. In addition, this establishment of stress builds the foundation for the link between psychological disorders and stress.

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At this point, step two of the Stress Program begins with the purpose of separating the correlation between stress and deadlines. For the freshman orientation, Mrs. Williams - Griffin prefers to use a three step guideline for any subject of discussion: an introduction, a group activity, and a reporting system for feedback. While Pembroke operates this style of procedure for the entire Freshman class, each step is run through in groups of eleven freshman and two upperclassmen, who are in designated for the job. This step two will contain a group activity of simulating what stress does to an individual. Additionally, the group activity will be to follow the pre-existing guidelines while engaging the freshman attending. This portion will not only be full of excitement and fun, but it will hopefully allow students to associate the sensations of stress to something besides schoolwork. Illustrating that stress can occur in different situations other than school will create a different perception to stress, one that does not correlate to school. After understanding what causes stress, establishing what stress does to an individual helps connect the link between stress and psychological disorders. Determining the signs of stress can help people understand the effect of stress on individuals. Signs of stress can include apathy, anxiety, irritability, avoidance, administrative problems, alcoholism, and compensating actions to counteract their sensation of stress (Eliot 19). Supporting Eliot, Trudy Royster describes how stress can cause such angst in a teen that he or she will fail to make good grades, become depressed, develop eating disorders, begin to smoke, drink and take drugs/self-medicate, begin to have anxiety or panic attacks, be on edge, withdraw from peers, family and responsibilities, cry a lot, attempt and sometimes actually commit suicide.Stress also affects the body by increasing the risk of heart attack and high blood pressure. When under stress, the body experiences anxiety which comes from purposelessly alarming the brain and the body, causing the rise in blood pressure and can damage the arteries (Eliot 61). Besides raising a persons blood

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pressure, stress can cause heart conditions because purposelessly alarming the electrical system that connects heart fibers can destroy these fibers in the heart muscle, which increases the chances of a heart attack (Eliot 61). Moreover, stress can affect the prefrontal cortex, explaining the mental dysfunctions and the change in behavior. Stress impairs the function of the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and ultimately disrupts creativity, flexible problem solving, working memory, and other PFC - dependent processes (Liston 912). Lastly, chronic stress can lead to the personality disorders such as obsessive compulsion and antisocial disorder and can cause the further development of mental illnesses. Even though stress represents a risk factor for several major neuropsychiatric conditions that affect the PFC, including depression, bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, and anxiety disorders (Liston 912) and can lead to the development of personality dysfunctions, stress can only exacerbate neuropsychiatric illnesses (Royster). The understanding of what stress does to the body and mind creates the background knowledge necessary to simulate stress in the Stress Program and adds to the link between psychological disorders and stress. Step two of the Stress Program will use the understanding of the effect of stress on the human body and mind to stimulate the sensations of stress in a controlled setting while involving the groups of students. For this step to work, the freshman must be unaware of what stress does to the body. Stimulating a stressful environment will allow them to realize that stress can occur in different ways other than during deadlines, which will start altering their perception of stress in relation to school. One way of purposelessly alarming a person would be to set off an air horn during a discussion of stress amongst the groups. This way, people become excited and have their hearts pump faster, causing the raise in blood pressure and experience stress. Ideally, each upperclassmen who will be working in the freshman orientation will stimulate stress for their

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group then go into the explanations of what stress does to the body and create the comparison between the pre-existing perception of stress and what the freshman experienced. Thus, making the lecture engaging and increasing the chances of the freshman learning from the Stress Program. Understanding that the effects of stress influence an individuals behavior, the connection between a mental disorder and stress can be linked. Stress causes a significant alteration in behavior which illustrates the definition of a psychological disorder. However, psychological disorders represent a thoroughly more confusing definition than stress. Currently, a simple dysfunction has become defined as a mental disorder, while the question of disorders actual existence is being questioned (Maisel). Regardless of the current disagreement, stress ultimately causes disturbances in behavior for a period of time dependant on the individual. Because disturbed behavior represents personality disorders and stress causing such behavior, the link between stress and personality disorders can be established. More importantly, a dysfunction does not create a barrier between individuals nor create superiority or inferiority. No one is immune to stress because every person has the potential to become neurotic or psychotic if we are faced with sufficient conflict (Elkind 141). The third and final step of the Stress Program discusses the management of stress while the individual is in the situation where they feel stressed. Hopefully, the first and second steps change the perception of stress which helps prevent them from having to experience stress on a daily basis. Eventually though, a person will be in a certain environment and will be facing the struggle caused from the sensation of stress. Therefore this step gives the students the tools to properly control their perception of a situation that causes them their stress.

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Stress management stems from the understanding that stress results from an individuals perception of their situation, and in order to manage stress an individual must control their responses to and perceptions of those stressful situations. Unfortunately, the average teenager turns to an excessive amount of alcohol and drugs in response to their stressful situations, hoping to minimize the effect of stress on their minds (Eliot, All, 199). One cannot change the destructive tendencies of responding to stress in a harmful way, but an individual can learn to perceive situations as less stressful and develop coping mechanisms that are not destructive. Managing stress does not mean to make an individual's environment or objective situation less overwhelming but rather to control the emotions associated with those situations. Moreover, to actually manage ones own stress actually means managing the anger and anxiety you feel in stressful situations so that you can move on to solving problems creatively (Eliot 21). Trudy Royster uses a list of numerous tools to help her clients, such as: deep breathing, meditation, crying, exercising, punching or kicking a punching bag, throwing rocks at a tree, cursing, singing uplifting and soothing songs, and smiling to yourself in the mirror. These methods for managing the stress that an individual experiences in the moment will be the tools discussed in the third step of the Stress Program. Lastly, a teenager should try to avoid social acceptance of exaggerated behavior in response to stress and follow the rules in life that maintain an individual's safety, such as choosing not to drink (Eliot, All, 201). My personal past experiences gives me the determination and reasons to explore the meaning, causes and effects of stress on High School students. The purpose of my capstone research is to delve into the connection between psychological disorders and stress, and implementing a three step Stress Program that corresponds to my research. The basis for this link rests upon the definition of stress, the definition of psychological disorders, the cause of stress,

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and the effect of stress on the human mind and body. The simple dysfunction of the mind that impairs an individuals personality represents the definition of psychological disorders. While the actual word stress creates a vagueness to the user, the core definition stems from the perception of the persons surrounding as incompatible of adaptation. Furthermore, since maturity plays a role in a persons perception of the world, the focus of teenagers forces maturity out of the equation. Unfortunately, stress has a tremendous affect on a person, causing heart conditions, anxiety, irritability, depression, administrative problems, drug abuse, and even suicide. Stress causes an emotional imbalance in the mind and body and can lead to the change in personality. This effect of personality establishes the link between mental disorders and stress. However, my aim is to prevent teenagers from experiencing stress on a mass scale by teaching them what exactly they are going through, hopefully persuade their perception of school away from stressful environments and provide them with the tools to cope with the unavoidable situations of stress.

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Works Cited: Charlton, Bruce G. Stress. Journal of Medical Ethics 18.3 (September 1992): 156 - 159. JStor. Web. March 2014. Elkind, David. All Grown Up & No Place To Go. Massachusetts: Addison - Wesley Publishing Company, 1984. Print. Elkind, David. The Hurried Child: Growing Up Too Fast Too Soon. Massachusetts: AddisonWesley Publishing Company, 1981. Print. Eliot, Robert S., and Dennis L.Breo. Is it Worth Dying For: How to make Stress Work For You Not Against You. New York: Bantam Books, 1980. Print. Liston, C., B. S. McEwen, B. J. Casey and Michael I. Posner. Psychosocial Stress Reversibly Disrupts Prefrontal Processing and Attentional Control. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 106.3 (Jan. 20, 2009): 912 - 917. Jstor. Web. March 2014. Maisel, Eric Ph.D. The New Definition of a Mental Disorder. Psychology Today. 23 July 2013. Web. March 2014.

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Ng,Weiting, Ed Diener, Raksha Aurora, and James Harter. Affluence, Feelings of Stress, and Well - Being. Social Indicators Research 94.2 (November 2009): 257-271. JStor. Web. Feb. 2014. Royster, Trudy. Personal Interview. 1 April 2014. Shriom, Arie. Students Stress. Higher Education 15.6 (1986): 667 - 676. JStor. Web. Feb. 2014.