STRESSFUL EXPERIENCES in SCHOLLAGE

24. května 2012 v 12:13 | Prof.PhDr.Rudolf Kohoutek,CSc.
Abstract
The paper deals with the research into stressful experiences and traumas
in the past history of university students. In the hierarchy of traumas, the death of
a close person has the highest ranking, followed by traumas suffered at school. Other
stresses reported by students were related to problems at work, divorces and separations,
serious illnesses of close persons, their own diseases, subsistence problems, witnessing
of the death of an unknown person, their own car accident, personal failure, problems
with friends and family problems. Types were also detected and described of school-related
mental traumas (stress) suffered by children, pupils and students in kindergartens,
primary and secondary schools and at universities, and prevention and therapy were
recommended in order to treat stressful, critical and traumatic experiences.

Keywords
stressful experiences; types of mental traumas; mental discomfort
in kindergarten, in primary and secondary schools and at universities; prevention of
stress; therapy of stress and mental traumas.

Introduction
We were interested especially in the order and frequency of the school-related
traumas (kindergarten, primary and secondary school, university) in the mental refl ection
of stressful experiences of university students. Therefore, fi rst we asked 50 men and
50 women studying social pedagogy in combined studies at a private university in Brno
to describe their worst ever experience of their lives which could have had an impact on
their health. The total result was as follows (men and women):
17 % Death of a close person.
• 15 % Stresses and traumas at school.
• 14 % Problems at work.
• 11 % Divorce, separation from the partner.
• 11 % Serious illness of a close person.
• 10 % Their own illness.
• 4 % Subsistence problems.
• 4 % Death of an unknown person.
• 4 % Their own car accident.
• 4 % Personal failure.
• 2 % Problems with friends.
• 1 % Family problems.
• 4 % Others.
The list and order of reported traumas shows that traumatic and vulnerability
(pessimal) experiences at school occupy a very important place in the hierarchy. They
are listed at the second place in the list of all the traumas suffered.
We therefore focused especially on these in our research.
The worst experience - men
Death of a close person
Traumas at school
Problems at work
Divorce, separation
Serious illness of a close person
Their own illness
Subsistence problems
Death of an unknown person
Car accident
Personal failure
Problems with friends
Others
The worst experience - women
Death of a close person
Traumas at school
Problems at work
Divorce, separation
Serious illness of a close person
Their own illness
Subsistence problems
Death of an unknown person
Problems with friends
Others
We will not deal with optimal mental stresses but only with pessimal (vulnerability),
limit and extreme types of stress.
Frustration or stress on the verge of manageability which requires extraordinary
adaptation effort and endeavour from the affected person are considered to be experiences
of limit mental strain.
We carried out a research into the problems of psychotraumatic experiences, vulnerability
(pessimal), limit and extreme experiences (causing serious mental or somatic
problems, failures or disorders) originated at school, co-operating with another (second)
group of university students, composed of a total of 151 students.
The continuation of this paper is based upon an action research of the collaborative
focus group (n= 151) of university students (57 men and 94 women), who offered
us their memories of experiences lived in kindergartens, primary and secondary schools
and universities, which might have endangered their mental or social heath and healthy
development of their respective personalities. We opted for the action research because
it is focused on cognition, evaluation and enhancement of the teaching practice (also
educative practice in all school types).
Stressful experiences of students in kindergartens:
• Stress generated by the teacher ……...................24 %
• Being forced to eat non-favourite meal ...............23 %
• Being forced to take an afternoon nap................17 %
• Separation from the mother ........…....................12 %
• Being bullied by classmates .................................8 %
• Serious injury ……...............................................8 %
• Others .........……................................................8 %
(e.g. change of kindergarten; favourite teacher departure; illness; one extra year
in kindergarten)
Being forced to
eat non-favourite
meal
Trauma caused by
the teacher
Separation from
the mother
Being bullied by
the classmates
Serious injury
Others
Being forced to
take an afternoon
nap
Stressful experiences - Kindergarten
Among the causes of being under stress caused by the teacher, such things are
mentioned as: neurotic behaviour of the teacher; teachers shouting at the children;
exaggerated severity and also absence of interest in the children, bullying, inadequate
punishments.
Hereinafter we list the distribution of stressful experiences which students lived
through at primary schools:
• 65 % of the students reported non-adequate (traumatic) approach of teachers
towards students (e.g. unjust evaluation and classifi cation of examinations, motivation
through offending, over-authoritative approach of the teacher towards
pupils (15 %), unjust punishments (21 %), corporal punishments (8 %), increased
neuroticism of teachers, etc.).
• 18 % of the students reported stressful problems (experiences) in social communication
among classmates (e.g. verbal and brachial aggression; destruction
of personal belongings; bullying by classmates; bad collective; problematic classmates
with behavioural problems and disorders).
• 5 % of the students reported non-competent teaching (e.g. wrong manner of
explaining; exaggerated requirements for the pupils ).
• 12 % of the students reported other stressful situations (e.g. wrong school organisation;
departure or death of a favourite teacher or classmate; poor quality of
meals at school; changes to the sitting arrangement of pupils in the classroom;
non-favourite subject; injury suffered at school; illness; dentist treatment).
Non-competent
teaching
Stressful experiences - Primary School
Relations with
classmates Non-adequate
approach of the
teacher
Others
The following story is an example of stress caused by a classmate:
"On my way back from the summer holiday camp before my entry to the secondary
school, I experienced a feeling of stress, disappointment, helplessness, anger and
hatred. I had my favourite book of quotations in the camp with me. It contained short
wise messages which I used to read while feeling down or on the contrary, when feeling
satisfi ed and happy. In the summer camp, I met my fi rst childhood love, however I sobered
up quite soon.
In the train on our way back home, the boy I was in love with took my beloved
book from me and threw it out of the train window."
Stressful experiences which students lived through at secondary schools were
as follows:
• 60 % of the students reported inadequate (traumatising) approach of some
teachers towards students (e.g. bullying, labelling, dehonestation);
• 11 % of the students reported stressful experiences related to the communication
with classmates (e.g. bullying by classmates; aggression; hostility; bad
collective);
• 9 % of the students reported non-competent teaching (wrong manner of explanation
of the subject to the pupils);
• 8 % of the students reported stress suffered during the studying for the schoolleaving
exam;
• 12 % of the students reported other types of stress (e.g. commuting from faraway
places; inadequate timetable; departure of a favourite teacher or classmate;
fear of dancing lessons).
Others
Relations with
classmates
Non-competent
teaching
Non-adequate
approach of the
teacher
Studying for the
school-leaving
exam
Stressful experiences - Secondary School
To conclude, we list stressful experiences suffered at university.
These are generalised results of interviews with the third group of university
students (5 men and 73 women). Interviews took place in 2008:
41 % non-competent teaching, examining and evaluation of students;
• 26 % inadequate approach and relationship of teachers with students;
• 19 % organisational problems at the university;
• 14 % problems with the Study Department.

Types of Mental Stress
Mental stresses may be of an acute or chronic nature. If these are chronic, they
may have an especially negative impact on the evolution and development of the personality,
its psychosocial stigmatisation, mental and social and somatic health, especially
in mentally labile and predisposed individuals or in individuals with insuffi cient social
supports and pathological self-perception.
Types of stress may also be divided into primary, secondary, tertiary and quaternary.
Another type of a classifi cation may be the division into individual and group
mental stress, which is quite typical for the educational system.
Not just individuals but also complete classes of pupils suffer from mental
stress.
Primary mental-stress experience stands for a situation in which the pupil, student
or teacher her/himself becomes a victim of bullying, corporal punishment (which
Stressful experiences - University
Organisational
problems of the
university
Problems with the
Study Department
Inadequate approach
and relationship
of teachers with
students
Non-competent teaching,
examining and
evaluation of students
could have been designated to somebody else), humiliation, e.g. emotional discomfort
(e.g. anxiety, fear, panic, humiliation, shame), helplessness, failure, dehonestation, hostility
from people around, aversion, feelings of injustice (e.g. rebuke, admonition or
negative classifi cation of one's behaviour), scorning, irony, poignancy, ridiculing, power
manipulation, persecution). Children in kindergartens are often traumatised because of
being forced to eat up non-favourite meals.
Sometimes, a combination of bullying of an individual both by teachers and classmates
occurs. Occasionally, some of the affected pupils had to undergo a prolonged
psychiatric treatment. Out of all the stressful experiences, the primary stressful experience
is usually perceived with the highest intensity. It damages the mental and emotional
welfare with the highest intensity.
Such a stress may be caused purposefully, intentionally, or unintentionally. By
way of example, we mention a stressful experience from kindergarten, which is remembered
by a university student as the worst ever experience of his life.
"One morning, I went to kindergarten. My father took me there. He helped me as
usually to change into my kindergarten clothes in the morning and left for work. Before
leaving, he promised to come back to collect me in the afternoon. However, he never
came back.
In the afternoon, the father of my mother came to collect me, saying my father had
left somewhere. He also told me that I would live with them for some time. It made me
quite happy at fi rst, because I really loved my grandparents. My mother used to come to
see me every day, and when I asked about my father, she told me he had not returned yet.
Once during lunch in the kindergarten, a day came which I will never forget.
When I did not want to eat up my soup, the headmaster came running from somewhere,
saying that if I did not eat, I would end up just like my father and I would die. At fi rst,
I did not understand at all what she was telling me, but when the other children began to
tell me that I would never see my father again because he had died, I started crying, of
course. After such an experience, I ran away from the kindergarten and went to see my
mother. My mother, when she realised I knew everything, told me the truth."
A stressful experience, which evolved into a prolonged mental trauma, was suffered
by one of the university students during her studies at the primary school in the
music education class.
"In the fourth grade of the primary school, I was asked by the teacher to sing
the national anthem of the Czech Republic in front of my classmates without any music
background. Of course, I could not refuse, so I stood up in front of the backboard and
started singing. Already when singing the fi rst strophe, I began to have problems. My
classmates laughed, the teacher frowned, shutting her ears.
When I fi nished singing the national anthem, I kept standing in front of the blackboard
and during several minutes, the teacher was describing in details how horrible
my singing had been. Finally I could return to my seat, "good" being marked in my
record book. I can still remember how much I cried at home. Since then, I have been
feeling a sort of aversion towards singing. Sometimes, I would like to sing along with
my friends at a campfi re, or to hum a melody when I am alone, but, unfortunately, my
mental barrier does not allow me to do so. It is surprising how little may do so that
a child loses its self-confi dence."
At the university, one of the students described her primary stressful experience
as follows:
"Professor, a middle-aged woman, makes an impression of a severe and cold person.
She provokes feelings of apprehension in others and nobody dares to get too close
to her, and I am not referring just to students, boys and girls. She is a type of a person
who keeps her distance from the others. Since the very fi rst lesson, she implemented
certain rules which had to be observed without any exception, and if somebody was not
up to such demands, s/he simply had a bad luck. In her lessons I often felt like at the
primary school, where I had to be a nice obedient girl, or else the teacher would become
angry and it would be bad.
Recently, a partnership relation between a teacher and pupil has been enforced
and I think that especially at a university such a partnership should exist; however, the
relationship in the above-mentioned case was very far from being a partnership. If in
practical lessons we made a mistake in an exercise, when we failed in something, we
had to listen to a rather long speech about how it was possible for somebody with such
poor knowledge to be admitted in university and if our performance would not improve,
we should better go selling vegetables at the greengrocer's, as a university was not the
right place for us. I was almost shocked by such words. However, everybody was silent.
Many times, when we were looking at her aghast, she just asked whether we had any
problem, saying it in such a tone that everybody preferred to say there was no problem.
She really treated us repeatedly as if we were children whom she tried to re-educate, and
not adults who should be respected."
Secondary stressful experience is a situation in which pupils, students or teachers
are not directly exposed to the stress themselves, they are not direct victims, but
they have witnessed a direct stressing out of somebody whom they feel close, e.g. a
classmate, friend, relative or colleague. They perceived socially their stressful experiences
which had a negative impact on their own feelings and mental discomfort; they
also experienced a mental shock. Such a shock, however, is usually less intense than the
primary stressful experience.
I had one stressful experience at the secondary school, when the teacher of physics
told in front of the whole class to our classmate, who wanted physics to be part of his
school-leaving examination, that he had never ever seen such an idiot. I trembled with
fear that he would examine me as well and humiliate me in the same manner as he did
with my classmate.
One of the university students described her secondary stressful experience as
follows:
,,In one of the seminars, we discussed the topics of our bachelor works. Everybody
had to explain in which manner s/he prepared the practical part. The fi rst one
to speak was a girl whose bachelor-work topic was Dancing Therapy in Physically
Handicapped Children. It was one of the most diffi cult topics, as there is little literature
available on such a topic. Our colleague designed and prepared the individual lessons
of dancing therapy for her hobby group, the members of which were physically handicapped
pupils who decided on their own free will to be part of the group. In her work,
our colleague was inspired by an available literature on dancing therapy; she also used
her own experience which she had obtained as a member of a dancing group, and the
individual lessons were adapted to the individual capabilities of the pupils. In my opinion
it was a very time-consuming work and the implementation required courage, creativity,
responsibility and good organisational capabilities. Our colleague told us that her
dancing lessons were regularly, voluntarily and with quite an enthusiasm attended by
several physically handicapped pupils, some of them handicapped quite severally. Our
colleague did with her pupils different physical activities to music, free bodily expression
of music, group dancing and music relaxation.
When our colleague presented and described her project, the teacher started
evaluate very negatively everything what she had done. He told it was very improper
to apply dancing therapy to the physically handicapped. He criticised our colleague
saying that she surely had frustrated her pupils too much, as the physically handicapped
never could dance and move to the music aesthetically, and that it surely had to be a
knock to their self-confi dence. He refused her project declaring it to be nonsense. He
did not react to her arguments that the pupils attended her lessons with enthusiasm and
out of their free will, because they enjoyed dancing, it was new to them and it was not
about aesthetics but about the joy of moving to music and rhythm, and it was a certain
type of relaxation. The teacher kept enforcing his subjective opinion and tried to convince
our colleague to accept that her work was a mistake. I think he even did not realise
how insensitive his attitude was. All this was quite stressful, sad and demotivating.
There was a tension in the classroom, everybody disagreed silently, however, we did not
dare to protest. After such an experience, we better did not discuss our bachelor works
with that teacher."
Tertiary stressful experience is such a situation when pupils, students or teachers
are direct witnesses of the stress of people they did not know before and did not
have any personal relationship with, however, they feel mental discomfort when being
witnesses to their stress. The intensity of a tertiary stressful experience is usually less
intense than that of the primary and secondary ones.
My task was to take a class-register book to a classroom where a nervous teacher
had an art education lesson. When I entered the classroom, the teacher was beating one
of the pupils in his head by a metal box of aquarelle paints. The teacher was shouting
and calling names the whole class. I got scared of her; I put the class-register book on
the table, leaving as fast as I could. I felt happy that such a teacher did not teach the
class where I belonged.
Quaternary stressful experience is such a situation when pupils, students or
teachers are post facto informed verbally or visually (e.g. movie) of a stressful experience
of other people. In a sensitive or even hypersensitive individual, such a presentation
of a stressful experience of other and unknown people may have a negative impact on
her/his mental comfort. However, its intensity is usually lower than that of the primary,
secondary and tertiary ones.
My friend at the secondary comprehensive school told me crying that her mathematics
teacher invited her parents for a personal meeting, because my friend was to fail
the maths. It was a written invitation sent by post and my friend had not known about it
before. When she arrived home, there was lots of shouting, investigations and explanations.
My friend could not understand at all what was going on, she was shocked and
defended herself saying that her resulting mark in maths was good.
I sympathised with my friend; I also felt tense, waiting impatiently for the result
of the meeting of her parents with the teacher. The outcome was quite surprising: the
teacher told the parents that their daughter's results were not that bad, that she had sent
the letter just to scare the girl and make her study more thoroughly.
Symptoms of Stress of Pupils, Students and Teachers
Hyperarousal, hyperexcitation, hypervigility, i.e. overexcitation, hypervigilance
and activation to hyperactivation, mental tension, excitation, alarm, bewilderment,
continuous expectation of danger, confl ict, new stress and frustration are the fi rst and
more frequent manifestations of stress, which may be only situational, short-term or
also long-term.
It seems that in some teachers, due to their personality or temperament disorders
or professional bias, such reactivity is permanent and typical for their behaviour and
conduct. Pupils and students usually say that such teachers´ behaviour is "choleric"
or that they have choleric temperament accompanied by a tendency to shout, insult,
ridicule, be ironic, arbitrary, apply corporal punishments and dehonestation of pupils
and students whom such a teacher considers problematic.
It might be said that teachers with fi xed hyperexcited behaviour consider such
a behaviour and conduct to be a useful fear-inducing adapting technique which reduces
an important portion of hyperactivity, assertiveness and aggression of active and selfconfi
dent pupils and students, because such behaviour produces reactions of anxiety or
even fear of the teacher.
Intrusive behaviour and feeling is the second most frequent symptom of a stressful
experience; such behaviour is typical of annoying, persistent, obtrusive and obsessively
recurrent feelings or tendencies to repeatedly live through such a crisis or stress
again. Such a repeated imagining of the stressful situation and thinking about what
happened is usually accompanied by so-called fl ashbacks, re-living through the situation,
experiencing similar feelings as those which were provoked by the original real
situation.
The third most frequent feature of the stress is so-called psychological constriction,
a certain inner mental contraction, constriction, a sort of a mental immobilising
constriction, narrowing, which may have not only acute but also chronic character. This
is a deformed perception of a passive defensive adaptive mechanism. This also has an
anaesthetic effect against the stressful situation which is being experienced. It is an
avoidance reaction.
Pupils and students often mentioned the following psychosomatic effects (symptoms)
of the stressful experience:
Reduction of their own self-confi dence and self-reliance when they have been exposed
to ridiculing of their intelligence or appearance, looks, weight or clothes;
Aversion towards the teacher and her/his subject;
Blocking of logical thinking and reasoning;
Disorders of attention and memory;
Chronic fear of the behaviour of the "choleric" teacher;
Fear up to phobia of examining and unjust evaluation;
Emotional excitement and affective lability;
Subdepression up to depression;
Headache;
Sleep disorders;
Stomachache, vomiting;
Intestinal problems;
General sickness up to unconsciousness;
Generally increased neuroticism.
The Level of Mental Vulnerability in Pupils, Students and
Teachers
Neither children nor adults have the same level of mental vulnerability; everybody
has her/his own level of and predisposition towards mental vulnerability, being such
a vulnerability current, long-term (chronic) or permanent.
Some individuals are well-balanced, more resistant and unassailable, more resilient
against traumatic stressful experiences.
Others are more sensitive or abnormally hypersensitive and the traumas and
stresses have negative impacts and more or less accentuated inner or external effects
and isolated or global effects on their mental state and personality.
A sensitive personality lives through a mental trauma her/himself if s/he accidentally
and unwillingly stressed somebody.
Especially such people are vulnerable to stress who show increased biological
or psychological vulnerability, diathesis, predisposition to vulnerability, tendency and
disposition to suffer stress with such an intensity that it causes psychosomatic problems,
mental or somatic failures or disorders (especially functional disorders).
Vulnerability is broken down into primary vulnerability (functional, genetically
inherent, acquired in an early development phase), and secondary vulnerability acquired
as late as during the course of life and manifested in a form of disposition, susceptibility,
tendency to the development of psychosomatic disorders, especially functional failures
and disorders e.g. due to pessimal mental strain, chronic frustrations or diseases.
Especially in education such a fact should be taken into account. Such people
are more prone to suffer stressful experiences who are sensitive up to hypersensitive,
exhausted after diseases or injuries and operations, people with reduced self-confi dence
and self-reliance, little mentally integrated.
To a certain grade, this may be an inherent, genetically conditioned issue.
However, resistance against stress, personal resilience, resistance and hardiness
should be trained and developed.
Phases of Experiencing of Stressful Experiences
According to H. Selye (1966), the fi rst phase of the adaptation syndrome is an
alarm, alert, emergency phase. It is manifested through strong excitation, hyperarousal
and arousal.
Resistance is the second phase of the adaptation syndrome (resistance, adapting).
The organism wishes to get used to, to become adapted to being traumatised.
However, obsessions and intrusions frequently appear in such a phase.
Exhaustion is the third phase of the adaptation syndrome, which stands for a
complete, holistic failure of adaptive and regulatory mechanisms of the organism. Such
a situation may result in a serious endangering of one's health and life.
Therapy and Prevention of Stressful Experiences at
School
Psychosocial and Educational Support and Aid at the Detection of an Acute Stressful
Experience
First of all, it is necessary to provide the mentally traumatised person with comprehensive,
especially psychosocial support and enable the defusing, i.e. a possibility
to spontaneously unbosom her/himself and release (partially, at least) accumulated and
retained explosive emotions in a conversation.
This includes also a non-professional social support from non-professionals, friends,
classmates, fellow-workers or relatives. Child or adult who has experienced an acute
mental trauma, should have the possibility to cry, shout, complain, swear, vent her/his emotions,
relax. It is not advisable to convince such a person that s/he is brave, able to overcome
the problem without complaining and crying and without the help of the others.
Further suitable procedure is to assure for the affected individuals a possibility of
debriefi ng, i.e. a single offi cial professional consultation (often group consultation) in
which immediate professional analysis of the traumatic experience will be performed,
verbal and possibly printed information will be provided, and adequate antitraumatic
intervention or remedial specialised care, support and aid will be proposed, in order to
reduce inner mental tensions in the affected individuals and to raise a subjective feeling
of control over the situation. For such a purpose, roles and positions of the individuals
in the team of supporters must be clearly defi ned.
Sometimes it is necessary to provide professional and specialised intervention.
This means a prolonged specialised counselling or psychotherapeutic care, provided
by school, counselling or clinical psychologists or psychiatrists and specialised
and social educators, members of so-called supporting professions (Baštecká, B. aj.
2005; Preis, M. - Vizinová, D. 1999). Such a care includes e.g. gradual reduction of inadequate
irrational and dysfunctional strategies of managing a stressful situation and
reduction of pathological symptoms.
First, immediate impacts and effects of traumatising are being resolved, and then
long-term impacts and effects are being addressed. The family of the affected individual
is usually also included in such a comprehensive therapy.
An intervention in the school and sometimes the change of class or also school
may be the right solution for pupils and students.
Primary Prevention of Stress at School
Teachers and parents should be informed in an adequate manner of the possibilities
of the prevention and impediment of the occurrence of defects and disorders
of mental health of pupils and students and also teachers, and of the manner of developing
a healthy lifestyle and social communication skill. Education is important which
promotes healthy lifestyle and which reduces negative thinking, feeling and inferiority
complexes.
Secondary Prevention of Stress at School
This topic covers a correct diagnose of defects and disorders induced by mental
traumas suffered at school and the treatment of these; an in-time detection of alreadyexisting
psychosocial problems is a condition for an adequate remedy of these. It is
recommended to adequately apply debriefi ng and crisis intervention, consultancy and
psychotherapy. Adequate defensive reaction and mechanisms which are not always fully
conscious, may be supported e.g. by compensation, fantasy abreaction, rationalisation,
substitution, resignation and sometimes even repression. Non-disturbing support, especially
informational, emotional and instrumental support should be provided.
Tertiary Stress Prevention
Worsening of an already developed defect or disorder should be prevented, bearing
in mind the fact that a complete recovery is either very diffi cult or impossible. Selfcare
should be emphasised (care which non-professionals, non-healthcare professionals,
provide in a responsible manner to themselves or to each other, e.g. within family or
at work: self-care includes, e.g. fi rst aid, drug administration and psychosocial care),
resocialisation and sociotherapy.
Quaternary Stress Prevention
Within such a prevention, a developed and chronic defect or disorder should be
identifi ed; such a problem is usually impossible to eliminate completely, however, some
of its effects may be at least mitigated. In such a prevention, professionally informed
self-regulation, self-education, self-care, relaxation and autosuggestion training and
supportive social communication play important roles.
 

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