Worried Sick: The Impact of Students’ Stress Mindsets on Health and Academic Performance

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The goal of this study was to evaluate how beliefs about stress as enhancing versus debilitating, also known as stress mindsets, relate to health and academic performance in an undergraduate sample. College students (n=499) were surveyed on their general and stressor-specific mindsets, and self-reported on their stress, health, coping, and GPA. Our findings suggest that beliefs about stress vary as a function of stressor type (acute versus chronic, and controllable versus uncontrollable), and that some stressor-specific mindsets may be more predictive of health than others. General mindsets were associated with health, consistent with prior findings. When stressor-specific mindsets were examines, chronic controllable mindsets were most pervasively related to health. Specifically, believing that chronic controllable stressors are harmful was related to worse mental and physical health. Consistent with prior findings, we found that measures of stress were associated with health, however this relationship was moderated by stress mindsets. Believing that stress is enhancing rather than debilitating appears to provide a psychological “buffer” against the negative effects of stress. Our work suggests that interventions which challenge students’ beliefs about stress may help students handle large amounts of stress with a lessened impact on their health. Interventions targeting chronic controllable mindsets may be more effective than current general stress mindset interventions. Future work calls for the development of student-oriented, stressor-specific stress mindset interventions.





Jenkins, Anna, Molly Weeks and Bridgette Hard (2019). Worried Sick: The Impact of Students’ Stress Mindsets on Health and Academic Performance. Honors thesis, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/18340.

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