When Stress Gets the Best of You

Are you a worrier or a warrior?

A recent article in the New York Times investigates two types of students. There are the warriors, who thrive off of high stakes and sudden stress situations. They have fast acting enzymes that can quickly clear dopamine that builds up in high stress situations.

Then there are the worriers. These are the students that need to plan ahead and get stomach knots when faced with a high stakes test. They have slower acting enzymes that clear dopamine from the brain in stressful situations. These students can usually concentrate well, and have an advantage in problem solving and planning.

Of course there are students that have a mix of the two as well. Apparently you get one gene from each parent, so you can have a mix, or be purely worrier or warrior.

I will be the first to admit I am a worrier. The past two weeks of high stress have demonstrated this, as I am now sick and stuck in bed. I do not handle high pressure and last minute stress. In fact, I get to the point where I become physically ill from the stress, which is where I am at now. I became so sick, that I had to cancel an important research trip. Thus, I find this article a fitting one to write about.

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The debate about the best academic environment is an interesting one. I am huge proponent of education. I also think students should be rewarded for hard work. We need a way to measure the ability of a student, but I have never been convinced that grades and tests are necessarily the best way.

In high school, I was the valedictorian on my class. I stressed constantly about getting perfect grades and completing each homework assignment to perfection. I would start each assignment ahead of time though, as it was impossible for me to do any assignment the night before it was due, as it would turn my stomach in knots. In hindsight, I should have probably given slightly less of a crap because there is more to life than getting good grades, but the past is in the past.

So, I got excellent grades. I don’t know that this necessarily means I was smart. In fact, there was a whole other aspect of the academic world that I was not, and am still not good at. This is the dreaded standardized test. While I didn’t necessarily “fail” at these sorts of tests, I have always received a far lower score than one that reflects my problem solving ability and knowledge. I even scored so low on the ACT, that it disqualified me for several scholarships.

On the other hand, I have several friends that are the complete opposite. They love to procrastinate. They do amazing on standardized tests, and have no problem going into tests with little to no studying. However, when it comes to these students succeeding at a long-term course projects, the procrastination thing doesn’t work out so well in their favor.

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I love comparing the experiences of different types of students. It is interesting to discuss what makes a class something that all types of learners and students can benefit from. I’ve found that my favorite classes were the ones with projects and labs. Spending time preparing and creating something was always fun for me. The classes that were purely test based were the ones I dreaded. If there were pop quizzes added in through the semester, it turned into a recipe for disaster for me.

An ideal class might combine all sorts of learning techniques, which include tests, interactive lectures, group work, long-term projects and shorter-term homework assignments. There are different types of learning subgroups even beyond the warrior versus worrier to think about as well. I would love to see more variability in academic courses. Then, of course this takes a lot of work and planning on behalf of the instructor, and that is something that just isn’t recognized or rewarded enough in the busy academic world for many instructors to embrace it.

What kind of person are you? A worrier or a warrior?

2 responses to “When Stress Gets the Best of You

  1. I think it would be helpful if you had a link of some sort that would direct interested readers into suggestions for coping with whichever model you follow–warrior or worrier. I forwarded your article to my cousins, who are in college at the moment. I think a helping hints list of what pitfalls to avoid and how to create a system to work within your limitations would be a beneficial inclusion to your blog.

  2. That is a good suggestion! I will look into stress mitigation techniques and resources. Usually I hear about reducing stress from a general standpoint (e.g. take time for yourself, get enough sleep etc.) So, it would be interesting to look at approaching stress from a personality type standpoint.

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