Days of adolescence are a delicate period of transformation for most children which includes physical, mental, emotional, and psychological. This period can also be filled with challenges as they walk the path of self-discovery and growth and hence ensuring a sound mental wellbeing becomes very important. Researchers at the University of Rochester have developed a ‘synergistic mindsets intervention’ that helps channelise stress responses to a positive driving force.
The need for preventive interventions has become critical due to the teen mental health epidemic. Scientists think they may have one. The 30-minute online training module teaches teens to redirect their stress responses—perspiration-covered palms, a racing heart, for example—away from something negative that should be feared and tamped down and towards recognising those responses as positive motivators, as the team explains in a recent study.
Teenagers nowadays are experiencing unprecedented levels of stress, which is reflected in their record-breaking mental health issues. Naturally, teenagers have a lot to be concerned about. a worldwide pandemic. Europe is at war. The US is plagued by mass shootings, unstable economies, and exorbitant education expenses.
Social evaluation — a constant stressor for teenagers
Incorporate the detrimental consequences of constant exposure to social media. Teens’ perceptions of their social environment—their peers, instructors, parents, coaches—have a significant impact on their psychological health, more so than it does on the psychological well-being of other age groups.
“We receive an endless stream of likes, dislikes, and comments via social media, which makes for a constant state of social evaluation,” says Jeremy Jamieson, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Rochester. “That’s probably one of the most damaging things we’ve seen for adolescents.”
The need for preventive interventions has become critical due to the teen mental health epidemic. Along with colleagues from the University of Texas at Austin, Stanford University, and the Google Empathy Lab, Jamieson, the director of Rochester’s Social Stress Lab, thinks they have one.
To channel the stress response from a negative to a positive driving force
The 30-minute online training module teaches teenagers to channel their stress responses—sweaty palms, a racing heart, for example—as a positive driving force rather than something negative that needs to be feared and tamped down, as the team explains in a recent study published in the journal Nature.
Researchers have found that the intervention is effective in helping teenagers cultivate two “synergistic mindsets.”
Intellectual ability can be developed; Stress can enhance performance
The first is a growth mindset, which enables youngsters to deal with stressful situations by fostering the belief that intelligence can be developed in response to difficulties. “It’s basically the belief that intellectual ability is not fixed but can be developed with effort, effective strategies, and support from others,” Jamieson says. “It’s the idea that if I push myself, I can grow, I can learn, I can improve, and I can push through difficulties.”
The second is a stress-can-be-enhancing mindset — the idea that people’s stress responses are not harmful but instead can fuel a person’s performance by helping them persevere and take on difficult challenges. Sweaty palms, a racing heart, and deeper breathing, for example, are physiological changes that “mobilize energy and deliver oxygenated blood to the brain and tissues,” says Jamieson.
How does the ‘synergistic mindsets intervention’ work?
Using a total of 4,291 young people (students in grades 8–12 and college undergraduates), the researchers conducted six double-blind, randomised experiments in both laboratory and field settings. They found that their intervention improved the participants’ stress-linked health outcomes, such as their biological responses, psychological well-being, anxiety symptoms during COVID-19 lockdowns, and academic performance.
One of the trials was conducted at a demanding urban public charter high school where 99 percent of the kids are from low-income families and 95 percent of the students identify as Black, African American, or Hispanic/Latinx. The reason the researchers selected this group of students is that they are more likely to experience ongoing, everyday stressors that can induce detrimental stress reactions in kids who are dealing with both high academic expectations and socioeconomic challenges.
In the hardest STEM courses, the researchers saw remarkable results: students in the synergistic mindsets intervention group passed with a 63 percent pass rate, while students in the control group passed with only a 47 percent pass rate.
Here’s some of what the researchers taught the teenagers during the intervention
- High school is a time when experiences of difficulty, struggle, and frustration offer opportunities for personal growth.
- The stress that your body feels when you face those experiences is preparing you to learn from challenges.
- People who understand that the brain changes with learning and that the body’s stress response facilitates learning are better prepared to address the demands of high school.
- As you approach difficult challenges more often, things that used to be hard begin to feel easier. When something feels difficult your brain learns how to respond more effectively.
The data showed that the synergistic mindsets intervention
- Improved physiological responses to stress, including increased delivery of oxygenated blood to the brain and body, and caused a faster return to the body’s homeostasis after a challenging event
- Improved psychological well-being (people felt liked, powerful, satisfied, good about themselves, had higher self-esteem, and didn’t feel rejected, insecure, or disconnected)
- Reduced negative self-regard, an internalizing symptom that can lead to depression
- Increased academic achievement (measured in pass rates for core classes)
- Decreased anxiety symptoms
“Because mindset interventions like the one we tested could be delivered cost-effectively in national or regional scale-up studies, our research links insights about people’s affect regulation with the discovery of actionable intervention methods that might be able to produce real and lasting change for a large group of people,” says study coauthor David Yaeger, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, who is an expert on adolescent development and well-being.
The team states that its technique is applicable to stressors that promote growth, such as formal education, learning new skills, or social evaluation situations. However, they issue a warning that this kind of approach is not appropriate for dealing with systemic injustices, trauma, or abuse.
Materials provided by the University of Rochester. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
David S. Yeager, Christopher J. Bryan, James J. Gross, Jared S. Murray, Danielle Krettek Cobb, Pedro H. F. Santos, Hannah Gravelding, Meghann Johnson, Jeremy P. Jamieson. A synergistic mindsets intervention protects adolescents from stress. Nature, 2022; DOI: 10.1038/s41586-022-04907-7
University of Rochester. “Helping teens channel stress, grow in resilience.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 July 2022. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/07/220706153053.htm>.
Help is here:
Toll-Free Mental Health Rehabilitation Helpline Kiran (1800-599-0019)
Name of the Organisation: Indla’s Child Guidance Clinics (ICGC)
Indla’s Child Guidance Clinics (ICGC) was established in Vijayawada and then was expanded to Mumbai in 2015 followed by another branch in the same city in 2017. ICGC provides assessment, remediation, and counselling all under one roof. It offers medication, parental counselling and therapies for children and adolescents. They also conduct workshops on parenting and life skills development.
Contact: email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Telephone: 9820333068, 022-24380802
Name of the Organisation: Vandrevala Foundation
Vandrevala Foundation is a non-profit that partners with organizations to help communities thrive by providing education and healthcare. Vandrevala Foundation launched a mental health helpline in India in 2009 to offer free psychological counselling and crisis mediation to anyone experiencing distress due to depression, trauma, mood disorders, chronic illness, and relationship conflict.
Contact: Email: email@example.com
Telephone: +91 9999 666 555