The Stress Paradox

The entrenched belief that stress is always bad has remained unchallenged. High levels of pressure and the feeling of being overwhelmed are common catalysts of stress. The lack of control causes us to experience restlessness, the inability to concentrate and fatigue. This results in reduced productivity and decreased memory functioning which causes us to feel powerless, consequently inducing more stress and ultimately resulting in an endless stress cycle.

Let’s think back to the last time we experienced stress. Unsurprisingly, it will most likely not have been too long ago. Usually, we associate the psychological and physical effects of stress, such as increased heart rate and faster breathing, with the inability to cope under pressure or as a result of feeling overwhelmed. These effects cause us to feel out of control and therefore we may experience restlessness and a lack of motivation. However, Psychologist Dr Kelly McGonical argues “what if we believed that these signs of stress are simply signs of our bodies preparing us for the challenges ahead.”

In 2011, Harvard University conducted research where they invited participants to go through a “social stress test.” Before the test the participants were told that the body’s stress response which would occur due to induced stress, was to be regarded as “helpful.” That the increased heart rate was the result of “your body preparing you for action” and that the faster breathing was to “increase the oxygen supply to the brain.”

During periods of intensified stress our blood vessels undergo vasoconstriction and our hearts beat faster. However, throughout the study the participants experienced the complete opposite. After the participants were told to regard their body’s stress response as helpful, their blood vessels remained relaxed, exhibiting the same response as during periods of joy. The participants remained more focused, attentive and confident, causing them to perform at higher levels.

Acknowledging that feeling stressed is an inevitable and natural response, may encourage you to view the stress response as a way of preparing for the upcoming challenge. According to research conducted by psychologist Dr Alia Crum ‘our stress mindset determines our biological response to stress.’ If we believe that we are incapable of coping with the situation are stress levels will continue to elevate as we will experienced increased worry, reducing our productivity. If we believe that stress can be good for us, our bodies ‘will release hormones that will encourage and motivate us to face the challenges.’

Perhaps a way to manage stress is to not regard the physiological responses as a sign of feeling overwhelmed and out of control, but instead to regard the body’s stress response as a method of preparing to withstand the upcoming challenge.

Wiktoria – 6.1

Poetry by Heart

The Poetry by Heart competition is very exciting and gripping due to having so many different rounds. The first round was competing against other sixth formers internally at Concord, with each person performing two poems. When it was announced I had come first place for that initial round, video recordings of my performances were sent off to Poetry by Heart. Their panel of expert judges then ranked my performances along with hundreds of others from different schools in order to select the top performer from every county in England.

Many nerve-wracking weeks after my recordings had been sent, the news arrived that I’d been selected as the top performer in Shropshire! This meant I would continue to the national finals, representing our county. The national final was to be a day event held in London.

However, a few days later that dream slipped further and further away as covid-19 and a national lockdown became more of a reality. This situation has been confusing for everyone, but I want to thank Mrs Wear for her support. She’s helped me to understand the competition information, which kept fluctuating and being re-edited due to covid-19.

Eventually Poetry by Heart decided to judge the performers from each county through our initial video recordings. This whole competition has been a rollercoaster of a ride, but I felt like the track stopped twisting and turning to shoot upwards when I heard that out of all 48 counties, my performance was ranked in the top 10 nationally!

Poetry by Heart have said they’ll post me a certificate and prize, but most excitingly, they have invited me to attend an event they’re holding next academic year where I’ll have the opportunity to perform my poems on stage! Both of my video recording performances will also become available publicly on the Poetry by Heart website.

Although the competition this year was a little messier than anyone anticipated due to covid-19, I will always value this experience, as it has helped me channel my love for performing into a fulfilling competition that loves poetry (possibly even more than I do!) – I have also strengthened my ‘muscle’ of patience when waiting for the results from different rounds.

Lastly, I want to mention the Speaking Society club at Concord. SpeakSoc has always helped me to grow as a performer, taking me from beginner level to where I am now. I think performing is such an underrated life skill. I feel like it’s embedded into society and people often use it as a test of talent such as in job interviews. I’m sure I will be using it a lot in the future.

Rose – 6.1