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Anxiety, Academics, and Achievement

Sydney Kelley

Ms. Roberge

Independent Research G/T

21 February 2018
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Abstract

Stress is a common problem experienced by nearly everyone. Some people, however,

experience stress constantly or at completely unnecessary times. This is known as anxiety.

Anxiety is a disorder that affects many people throughout the world. The high school student

population is a specific age demographic that is commonly affected by anxiety. High school

students often endure a rigorous course load, participate in extracurricular activities, and play

sports or instruments. This study was conducted to advance the research in the field of anxiety,

which is still a growing area with much more to learn. In this study, which measured quantitative

data, over one hundred participants were asked to complete a survey that determined their

anxiety levels through the Generalized Anxiety Disorder – 7 exam, then evaluated their academic

performance. The results determined that students who have no anxiety and students who have

severe anxiety performed similarly academically. This means that students with severe anxiety

should be encouraged to seek treatment, considering that there is no known academic benefit to

having high levels of stress.
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Synthesis Paper

Hands shaking, head pounding, heart racing, I worried about the plethora of homework

assignments I had yet to complete. I could not take my mind off of the thoughts of failure,

disappointment, and worry. Something that others may have easily brushed off was something

that haunted my thoughts for hours. This is the story of a person with anxiety, a disorder

affecting millions of people around the world. Anxiety in teenagers influences their academic

achievement substantially because it hinders their ability to concentrate and creates unnecessary

distress, which is seen through stress caused by school, extracurricular activities, and emphasized

importance of school performance. This paper will demonstrate the correlation between anxiety

in teenagers and academic achievement, which will provide further insight into a topic that is

growing in importance each year.

Anxiety is a mental disorder in which one faces so much stress that they begin to notice it

impacting everyday actions. In its simplest form, anxiety is defined as “​a multisystem response

to a perceived threat or danger” (Frey, 2017). Its intended purpose is crucial for survival. It

establishes the fight or flight response that allows humans to save themselves when they sense

problems. ​At reasonable levels, “Anxiety is a normal, beneficial emotion” (Jacofsky, 2018,

which demonstrates that stress itself is harmless in small quantities. The disorder, however,

occurs when such high levels of anxiety are present that it becomes difficult to handle. With

school, academic clubs, athletics, and a variety of other stressors, many students have

experienced the results of anxiety (Denizet-Lewis, 2017). With how much pressure students are

placed under, it is not difficult to understand how, “Anxiety affects...25% of teens” (Nott, 2013).
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This statistic is demonstrative of just how pressing this matter is. One fourth of high school

students suffer from anxiety, which represents a substantial portion of the high school populace.

High school students everywhere are asked to balance a tremendous workload, which leads to

unrealistic expectations and pressure created by either the student or other influences (peers,

family, and teachers). This stress, to a certain extent, can be beneficial for students. It is a

response to a threat or it contributes to motivation and the will to complete tasks. When it

becomes too prevalent in teenagers’ minds, however, anxiety results which can have negative

outcomes, on mental health and one’s academics. This demonstrates an important distinction in

helpful stress and harmful stress. This also displays that the area of study warrants more

research.

Many students find themselves facing test anxiety or other anxiety derived from their

academic work. This is due to the pressure and competitive nature present in most schools. One

common and well known area from which teenagers derive stress is school. Academic pressure

can have a severe impact on teens, which can lead to severe anxiety. Parents, teachers, peers, as

well as the students themselves can cause this pressure. Students pursuing higher levels of

education see a drastically increased level of stress from their younger years. At the highschool

and university level, students are more likely to develop high anxiety levels (Ferraro, Lieberman,

2017), which makes sense due to all of the previously discussed stressed stressors experienced

by students. It is important to address this stress, as sources have displayed that it can lead to

several other mental health concerns in the future. An article by BBC news followed the life of

Hye-Min Park, a sixteen year old student in South Korea. She described her average day, which
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involved waking up at 6:30 A.M. each morning, attending school and academic related activities

for up to 14 hours throughout the day, returning home at 11:00 P.M. to complete homework, and

going to sleep at 2:00 A.M (BBC, 2013). This immensely busy schedule is standard in South

Korea. The educational minister, Nam Soo Suh explained that, “We focused on and emphasised

achievement within schools and in society, so that students and adults were under a lot of stress,

and that led to high suicide rates” (Chakrabarti 2013). This demonstrates the detrimental results

of stress and anxiety on students. South Korean students are put under tremendous levels of

stress, which have clearly led to poor outcomes, including high depression and suicide rates. The

experiences of this student reflects the current problem facing many students internationally,

demonstrating the effects of pressure derived from academics as well as extracurricular

activities.

Stress caused from a young age has been proven to lead to a higher risk for acquiring

mental illnesses in adulthood due to neural embedding (Bogdan and Ahmad). For example,

Japan, a country with academic standards similar to the rigor of those in South Korea, conducted

a study on adults that determined that, “40% of all men and women responding to the survey

indicated that they sleep less than six hours a day” (Kane, 2016). Doctors recommend seven to

nine hours of sleep per night, and a lack thereof can cause decreased alertness and impaired

memory (Cleveland Clinic, 2018). Since a substantial portion of the population does not get

enough sleep, these mental challenges may ensue. This explains that a correlation between stress

and anxiety at young ages and unhealthy related habits as adults. This is a problem that should be

addressed in adolescent years in order to reduce the problems later in life. Some schools, in an
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effort to reduce anxiety within their students, have begun to implement, “...‘Mindfulness,’ a form

of attention training in which students—and sometimes teachers—engage in breathing exercises

and visualizations to improve focus and relieve stress. The method has shown evidence of

promise in reducing anxiety and behavior problems in children and adolescents in both the

United States and other countries” (Sparks 2017). This displays that educational programs have

begun efforts to fix problems with anxiety, meaning they have acknowledged the problems

regarding anxiety disorder.

Students between the ages of fourteen and eighteen have several issues to worry about

regarding school, but there are also many other areas of concern that lead or worsen anxiety in

teenagers. This displays that there are so many different factors in anxiety that it is difficult to

narrow it down to just one. Differences between teens and adults could be responsible for certain

causes of anxiety (“Anxiety in Teenagers,” 2014). One article asserted that teens do not have the

same freedoms as adults, despite having an equal number of responsibilities. Thus, they are

overwhelmed and “trapped,” which leads to stress and anxiety (“Anxiety in Teenagers,” 2014).

This article brings up an interesting point. Anxiety is managed better by adults because they have

more freedom to make their own decisions, whereas adolescents experience the same pressure

without the same opportunities to fix them.

Anxiety differs from one person to another. There are many different causes of anxiety.

Sometimes, medical attention is needed in order to seek help to the best of one’s ability. They

may receive medicated or therapeutic treatments through medical professionals; however, other
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times, the anxiety can be fixed more easily. Breathing techniques, taking breaks while working,

and healthy habits are all simple ways that one can attempt to improve their own anxiety before

seeking help (Gresty, 2017). Many people believe that anxiety has one solution that works for

everyone. However, there is not one treatment that will work for everyone since causes and types

of anxiety vary.

Studies have been conducted to determine correlations between anxiety and certain

aspects of education. There is a correlation between high anxiety, especially test anxiety, and

decreased GPA. The topic, however, warrants significantly more research since the study was

small and confined to the one university (Hartman, Waseeleski, Whatley, 2017). Another study

found that expressive writing did not have a significant impact on anxiety and performance

related to math (Hines, Brown, Myran). This suggests that either expressive writing does not

benefit people with anxiety or that reduced anxiety does not necessarily correlate to better

academic related performance. These studies, though telling and important, require corroboration

to display more information.

It is important to view anxiety by looking at other medical fields as well. Studies have

found that anxiety can have links to neuroscience. Neuroscience and psychiatry, though different

subjects, can be easily interconnected. Since they both revolve around the brain, it is important to

consider the perspective of both of these science fields before determining potential solutions to

problems in order to get a holistic view of the issue (Barron). The amygdala is the part of the

brain that is most impacted by anxiety (“Data on Anxiety Disorders Reported by Researchers at
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Center for Addiction and Mental Health,” 2017). The amygdala is also responsible for memory,

which means that damage from anxiety could negatively impact one’s ability to succeed in

school, since memory is an essential aspect of education. Some recent work has contributed to

scientists’ ​“understanding of the breadth of amygdala function, and in particular, how chronic

stress may affect amygdala processing, and conversely how amygdala-mediated defensive

behaviors may help protect against stress” (Ressler, 2010).

There are several other factors of anxiety that have not been previously connected to the

field of anxiety. There is a correlation between anxiety and other parts of they body. The

correlation between anxiety and bacteria in the digestive tract (Temming, 2017). It requires more

research before this statement is proven, but experiments so far have supported the idea of a

connection. A positive home environment and hard work are the two most important factors in

achieve academic success while avoiding stress (Horan, 2017). Time management and self

motivation are also key factors in limiting the amount of anxiety that one faces relating to school.

“Even though stress is increasingly recognised for the serious mental health issue that it is, it is

often underrepresented as a significant risk to physical health. Indeed, leading experts such as the

British Heart Foundation do not consider stress to be a direct risk factor for cardiovascular

disease. Even though the link between stress and heart disease has been known for over a decade,

the mechanism by which this link occurs has long puzzled scientists” (Gresty, 2017).
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Data Collection and Analysis

The research that was conducted in this experiment was quantitative and recorded

through a survey. The survey was collected by asking high school students through social media

platforms, including Facebook groups and Instragram posts. The survey was collected over a

span of two days, since more than double the needed participants responded to the survey within

that time frame. They were then analyzed by finding the mean values of unweighted grade point

average, weighted grade point average, rigor, and hours spent studying based on their category of

anxiety based on the anxiety portion of the survey. Groups were separated into whether they had

no anxiety (scoring between zero and five on the GAD-7 exam), mild anxiety (scoring between

six and ten on the GAD-7 exam), moderate anxiety (scoring between eleven and sixteen on the

GAD-7 exam), or severe anxiety (scoring between seventeen and twenty one on the GAD-7

exam). The results of this experiment were presented in an event hosted at the Miller Branch

Library. Future work that can be done to continue this project includes expanding upon it by

collecting more data and educating students about results of such studies. Spreading awareness

regarding anxiety is critical, as that would increase the chance of people becoming

knowledgeable about and seeking treatment for anxiety. More people seeking treatment is better

because they can be helped by professionals to manage and treat their anxiety. Becoming

educated in the field of anxiety will benefit students, parents, and teachers to become educated in

the field of anxiety.
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The research revealed that students with no anxiety and severe anxiety performed at

similar, high achieving levels. They had the highest GPAs out of all of the test subjects, both

unweighted and weighted. Students with mild and moderate anxiety also performed well, but not

as highly. They had high scores and reported a substantial amount of rigor, but both their scores

and level of reported rigor were significantly lower. The students with more anxiety had higher

weighted grade point averages than those with no anxiety than the students with no anxiety. The

students with no anxiety, however, had higher unweighted grade point averages. This displays

that students with more anxiety likely take more difficult classes but do not perform as well

within them. As anticipated, the reported rigor of courses increased as anxiety increased. The

difference between the number of hours spent studying was not a significant difference. Out of

everyone, most of the people stated that clubs and extracurricular activities were their biggest

stressor outside of school.
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Conclusion and Discussion

Though there are some risk factors that cause certain demographics of people to be more

likely to have or develop a general anxiety disorder than others, anxiety is a mental disorder that

can have an impact on people of any ages, occupations, and genders. Anxiety is a relevant issue

that requires more attention, research, and more efficient and effective treatment options. With

the large number of people impacted by anxiety, the vast majority have or know someone who

has anxiety. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) has estimated that

25.1% of teens between the ages of 13 and 18 have anxiety (“Facts & Statistics,” 2018). The

ADAA has also noted that they have detected a correlation between untreated anxiety disorders

and, “Perform[ing] worse in school, miss[ing] out on school activities, and substance abuse”

(Facts & Statistics par. 1). The quote mentioned previously reflects the importance of managing

or treatingn anxiety that is present, since, as stated, that will help to improve school performance.

Anxiety disorder is clearly an issue that requires attention, even from people who do not

directly have the disorder. The greatest and most influential step society can take as a whole to

prevent anxiety is to prioritize practices that promote mental health and encourage treatment for

individuals struggling with anxiety or other related disorders that affect the brain. Some

treatment methods require further development; however, there are a plethora of options

available for those who seek treatment and consult physicians or other certified professionals.

High school students with anxiety that are treated by professionals are more likely to be able to

better concentrate on and pursue school related fields and personal passions, meaning that mental
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health should be encouraged and viewed as important by students, teachers, and parents alike.

Making a difference is feasible, and advancements will come soon with hard work and

persistence.
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Works Cited

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Anxiety in Teenagers. 2014, July 6. ​New York Times​, p. 10(L). Retrieved from

http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A373763155/SCIC?u=elli29753&xid=ddfa772e

Barron, D. (2017). Why Psychiatry Needs Neuroscience. ​Scientific American Mind​, ​28​(4), 81.

Beck, Freeman, et. al (1990) Retrieved from

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Appendix:

Anxiety Level Unweighted Weighted GPA Hours per week Rigor (1-10)
GPA spent studying

None (0-5) 3.84 4.28 20.5 7.22

Mild (6-10) 3.40 3.84 15.73 7.45

Moderate 3.62 4.15 18.42 7.59
(11-15)

Severe (16-21) 3.81 4.38 19.61 7.76
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