Stressed AF

This 30-Minute Growth Mindset Exercise Helps Teens Navigate School Stress

Researchers discovered that a single 30-minute online training encouraging a growth mindset is a long-term and effective treatment for teen stress.

A student stressed at school. Researchers at University of Texas Austin found that a 30-minute growt...
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When it comes to supporting a teen’s mental health, there are a lot of bases to cover: social anxieties, fears surrounding safety in schools, and stress about academic performance, to name just a few. The good news is that researchers have recently created a 30-minute online class about growth mindset that can improve a teenager’s response to stressful situations, especially when it comes to stress about academic things like giving a presentation to the class and getting good grades. And the best part is that they’ve made it free and publicly available for anyone to use.

Researchers at the University of Austin Texas put together the class, which involves answering a couple questions about past stressful or anxiety-inducing classroom moments along with physiological information about how stress can be used as a tool for growth as opposed to a hinderance to success.

“We’re trying to change teenagers’ beliefs about stressful situations and their responses to stressful situations,” Dr. David Yeager, a psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin and first author of the study, told The Guardian. “We’re trying to get teenagers to realize that when you’re doing something hard and your body starts to feel stressed, that could be a good thing.”

The researchers took a group of 4,000 high school and undergraduate students, showing some the 30-minute intervention on growth mindset, while others participated in a placebo session where they learned about the brain. The researchers then tested students’ responses to stressful situations and found that those who had the growth mindset training had much lower stress responses — like a racing pulse. Their findings are published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature.

The “growth mindset,” for those unfamiliar, is the opposite of a “fixed mindset.” In a fixed mindset, a child who was told they weren’t the best at math at a young age might have the fixed mindset that they are not good at math. They get stressed whenever they have to go to math class, and the frustration can lead to shame about not being able to perform.

With a growth mindset, however, a student struggling with math would be able to reframe stress and its physiological symptoms like a racing heart and sweat as a sign that the brain is growing. Instead of the stress adding to the student’s anxiety, the student takes it as a cue to continue working towards understanding math better, knowing that the stress will dissipate as they continue to growth and strengthen this part of their brain.

The study also has promising results in terms of longevity. In one experiment, researchers returned to students who took part in the growth mindset session nine months after the fact and found that they were 14% more likely to pass classes at the end of the year.

Yeager said the approach went against the “pervasive ethic of self-care” that often appears to view stress as a strictly negative feeling that needs to be removed or relieved by doing something like “go do yoga or have a camomile tea.” “That’s a way to distract yourself but it doesn’t help you deal with the underlying cause of stress,” he added.

The 30-minute intervention can be found here. And frankly, I did it as an adult well out of her academic years, and it was useful for reframing other stressful situations as well. Share this with a teen (or a mom friend) who has been stressed AF.