Nowadays, students are exposed to stress and anxiety due to dynamics in the social environment. When students are subjected to high levels of stress, their capacity to learn, memorize, and perform effectively can be affected. According to Chen & Lucock (2022), the ongoing pandemic is the recent cause of stress among students. The theories that can help explain this issue are social cognitive theory, biological theory, and The Theory of Reasoned Action (Wedlock & Trahan, 2019). The social cognitive theory shows that stress is a behavior that can be acquired from the social environment. Therefore, students’ high-stress levels can be addressed through therapy and fostering a good relationship.
The Description of the Problem
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the concerns about the mental health of university students have increased. According to Chen & Lucock (2022), COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to high anxiety, stress, and depression among students. This problem was linked to various life events associated with the pandemic, such as canceled events that adversely affected personal relationships and financial concerns. In addition, millions of people across the globe lost their jobs, while some had a pay cut (Chen & Lucock, 2022). This adversely affected some of the students because they were unable to get financial support from their parents. The students were anxious because they relied more on their parents and guardians for financial support. In addition, during the pandemic, there was a restriction of movement from within and outside the country. As a result, students were forced to remain indoors to comply with the directives.
The problem of high levels of anxiety and depression among students due to COVID-19 should be addressed because it adversely affects the physical, social, and academic life of students. Anxiety is usually associated with high blood pressure, weight gain or loss, weak immunity, and other health complications. This indicates that if the problem continues, the number of students with health complications will likely increase. Furthermore, the problem is likely to increase social anxiety disorder among students due to their inability to cope with the changing circumstances. Anxiety and depression also impair academic performance and contribute to underperformance. On intelligence and achievement tests, students with a high level of worry perform poorly than their peers.
Positive Psychology in Educational Institutions
One of the leading trends in the development of modern education is the orientation towards training professionals of a new level, independent, self-effective, self-sufficient. The leading factor determining the success of the processes of professional self-realization and self-development is the continuous education of the individual. Thus, the main system-forming factor of continuous education is the personality. Continuous education should develop into a system of support for human self-development. Only in this case, the individual becomes the subject of professional activity and life, which will allow him to be realized as a participant in a transformative social interaction. To solve the problem of professional self-determination, any person must first of all develop the ability to realize their life priorities. For today’s youth, this is a very difficult task due to the fact that the high pace of socio-cultural changes in modern society creates conditions of chronic uncertainty (Kem and Wehmeyer, 2021). Rapid economic transformations in the country and the world turn into a problem of unpredictability of one’s own professional and personal prospects.
There is a need to create educational programs that ensure the continuity of the content of educational activities in the transition from one type to another, from one life stage of a person to another. To this end, within the framework of positive psychology, several educational programs have been developed. Sternberg developed the Wisdom curriculum, in which the intellectual and moral development of children is stimulated in the process of teaching basic subjects (Kem and Wehmeyer, 2021). The Making Hope Happen and Making Hope Happen for Kids programs focus on building hope in school children (Kem and Wehmeyer, 2021). Strengths-Based Development Program promotes academic achievement (Kem and Wehmeyer, 2021). The Going for the Goal Program teaches teens the skills to set goals positively and achieve them more easily (Kem and Wehmeyer, 2021). At the University of Pennsylvania, Seligman and colleagues developed the Penn Resiliency Program, which promotes optimism by teaching students to think more realistically and flexibly about the challenges they face (Kem and Wehmeyer, 2021). The above programs depart from the traditional model of education and focus on the students themselves, on their skills and experience.
However, many of them single out only one of the topics of positive psychology – wisdom, optimism, hope, emotions or goals, considering it to be the most important. In the UK, a new Personal synthesis program has been created that combines the cognitive, emotional, behavioral and social aspects of personal development into one internally consistent educational model suitable for both adolescents and adults (Snyder et al., 2021). Personal Synthesis focuses on topics such as understanding oneself, managing emotions, building confidence, making decisions, dealing with anxiety, coping with stress, communicating effectively, and establishing constructive relationships. Unlike other programs, personal synthesis takes into account all the main aspects of the human personality.
The key principle of positive psychology is that the successful development and advancement of a person along any of his life trajectories can be ensured only if he relies on his own merits, and does not try to eliminate shortcomings. The shift in focus from negative to positive is the most important idea of positive psychology (Snyder et al., 2021). This is the thesis that in the upbringing and education of children, adults, in connection with the evolutionary set, miss opportunities for productive and creative processes. Therefore, the main methodology for introducing positive psychology into the education system is to work with the strengths of the individual.
Strengths include skills, abilities, interests, characteristics, traits, and talents. So, a strong side can be a specific talent – musical, sports, artistic. However, it can also be a positive character trait that is clearly manifested in a child. Researchers identify three hallmarks of strength: good execution, frequent use, and energy (Snyder et al., 2021). These three components are cyclically linked: a musically gifted child will play an instrument well; it will energize him. He will turn to this occupation more and more often, and accordingly his skill will grow each time. On the other hand, a child, one of the main virtues of whose character is kindness, will enthusiastically take part in charity events and projects (Snyder et al., 2021). As a result, he will bring real benefits and more and more look for opportunities to repeat this positive experience, strengthening his dignity of virtue.
In working with strengths, it is important to understand that this is a process of recognition and nurturing, not formation. Scientists recognize that the genetic component of the strong side varies from 20 to 70% (Snyder et al., 2021, p. 349). American scientists conducted a series of studies among twins and adopted children in order to understand how the shares of genetics and upbringing are distributed in the development of human dignity. For example, a study conducted at the University of Western Ontario found that the formation of such positive qualities as altruism, compassion and caring, the influence of genetics and the environment is evenly distributed in half. Similar results were obtained by Michael Steger, Ph.D. from Colorado State University (Kem and Wehmeyer, 2021). He found that the genetic contribution to character traits averaged 40% (Snyder et al., 2021, p. 684). Traits such as creativity, perseverance, forgiveness and self-control are 50 to 60% genetic (Snyder et al., 2021, p. 709). At the same time, cognitive abilities are approximately 50-70% due to heredity, while the genetic contribution to physical abilities ranges from 20 to 70%. The genetic component of human dignity is important to consider.
This helps parents and teachers to refrain from projecting their own attitudes and views in upbringing and education. Very often children are called to actions and efforts in which their strengths cannot be shown. In this connection, none of the elements of merit is observed: neither good execution, nor energy, nor frequent use. A naturally inquisitive child is forced to read a lot, constantly pointing out his lack of interest in new knowledge as a big drawback, ignoring his strengths such as kindness, gratitude, sense of humor or creativity. Accordingly, it is necessary to take into account the strengths of the child in order for positive psychology to be implemented as efficiently as possible.
Assessing Positive Psychology Intervention
It must be emphasized that the application of positive psychology must be evaluated in order to understand the relevance of this method. An empirical study, where students and schoolchildren of several schools and universities took part, showed the following results. The introduction of positive psychology significantly increases a person’s ability to self-determination of their own activity (Snyder et al., 2021). It also forms skills and develops skills for the practical application of knowledge about the patterns of personality development in the course of the implementation of life plans (Snyder et al., 2021). This will allow in the future specialists not to leave their field of professional activity, but to look for and find new aspects of applying their knowledge and talents, to respond flexibly to market conditions.
Implications for Practice and Recommendations
Schools should provide mental health services to students to assist them in coping with their bad emotions while pursuing their education. According to the social cognitive theory, students are prone to be stressed due to the environment (Wedlock & Trahan, 2019). As a result, schools should engage psychologists and therapists to provide effective mental health services to students. Learners will be able to effective anxiety-reduction techniques as a result of this. These mental health specialists should be available to meet with students on campus and, more importantly, offer a safe and secure setting where learners acquire confidence in seeking therapy. In addition, they should create a socialized environment for students with psychiatric problems and autism spectrum disorder to lessen their isolation and dread. To adjust to university life, these students must regulate their social emotions.
There is also a need to reduce the influence of peers on the students’ behavior. As shown in The Theory of Reasoned Action, social peers have the ability to determine the behavior of an individual (Wedlock & Trahan, 2019). Thus, students are more likely to engage in behaviors supported by most of their peers for purposes of belonging. As a result, students are supposed to be informed that stress and depression adversely impact their lives. In addition, the students should be informed of the most appropriate coping skills. Adopting the right behavior will often result in a change in how one feels.
Some of the coping methods are yoga, reading, and humor. Coping techniques are critical because they help reduce anxiety and stress. The students should understand which coping techniques are the most helpful for one in stressful situations. Additionally, they should learn to adopt alternative strategies when coping with an uncertain event. For example, when the lockdown was introduced, limiting social gatherings and parties, one could shift to indoor activities to remain active during the period. Therefore, providing the students with the right information is important to enhance their coping skills.
The other recommendation emphasizes the importance of public health practitioners attending to students’ psychosocial needs during the pandemic. This strategy should include vulnerable people, such as homes that lost income due to the epidemic (Cheng et al., 2018). Understanding households’ economic position during the transition is vital in evaluating vulnerability and mitigation techniques, as economic hardship is a risk factor for stress and depression. In addition, as the government relaxes COVID-19 regulations, public health practitioners and schools should work together to collect psychosocial data on students and develop effective solutions and coping mechanisms for them. This measure would boost students’ psychosocial well-being and equip them to cope with the pandemic’s negative psychological impacts long after it has passed.
Educators and parents should ensure that students adopt a positive attitude. According to the Theory of Reasoned action, an individual’s attitude impacts their behavior (Wedlock & Trahan, 2019). Positive emotions are not permanent, but they can cause changes in people’s thoughts, actions, and reactions to diverse situations over time, increasing our well-being. An individual can have a better long-term outlook if they are made on performing small activities throughout the day that elicit these emotions.
The real-world problem affecting experienced in education is increased stress among students. COVID-19 has caused students to experience excessive worry, stress, and melancholy. This issue was linked to a number of life events related to the pandemic, such as canceled activities, which negatively impacted personal relationships and financial concerns. The students suffered due to the ongoing pandemic because they were unable to obtain financial assistance from their parents. Because they rely on their parents and guardians for financial support, the students were concerned. Additionally, movement within and outside the country was restricted during the pandemic. As a result, they could not organize and attend parties as they used before the pandemic.
The theories that can explain high levels of stress among students are social cognitive theory, the Theory of Reasoned Action, and the biological theory. According to social cognitive theory, behavior is learned through the social environment. The Theory of Reasoned Action shows that an individual’s attitude and subjective norm influence an individual’s behavior. Lastly, behavioral theory reveals that behaviors can be passed on from parents to a child. Using these theories, the following recommendations should be adopted to solve the problem of increased anxiety and stress among students. The schools should provide continuous mental health services to students to reduce anxiety and depression.
The high level of stress among students can be mitigated by increasing mental health services, adopting a positive attitude, and other coping strategies. However, this problem can affect students’ physical health, emotions, and academic performance. In addition, students’ ability to learn, memorize, and do well in school might be affected when they are subjected to a high level of stress, regardless of their age or grade. At the same time, positive psychology as part of the educational process can increase the effectiveness of the educational process. In addition, the program has a positive effect on the personality of individuals, allowing them to be more successfully realized.
Chen, T., & Lucock, M. (2022). The mental health of university students during the COVID-19 pandemic: An online survey in the UK. Plos one, 17(1). Web.
Cheng, H. L., Wang, C., McDermott, R. C., Kridel, M., & Rislin, J. L. (2018). Self‐stigma, mental health literacy, and attitudes toward seeking psychological help. Journal of Counseling & Development, 96(1), 64-74. Web.
Kem, M. L. & Wehmeyer, M. L. (Eds.). (2021). The Palgrave handbook of positive education. Springer International Publishing.
Snyder, C. R., Edwards, L. M., Lopez, S. J. & Marques, S. C. (Eds.). (2021). The Oxford handbook of positive psychology. Oxford University Press.
Wedlock, B. C., & Trahan, M. P. (2019). Revisiting the unified theory of acceptance and the use of technology (UTAUT) Model and scale: An empirical evolution of educational technology. Research issues in contemporary education, 4(1), 6-20. Web.