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Research Proposal
Se Rin Lee
Independent Research GT
2015-2016
Title: Anxiety Enigma: 1950s Asylum Patient or Twenty First Century Student?
Introduction and Overview of Research:
The research will investigate the correlation between the rising level of anxiety in high school
students and the degree in which they are affected by the circumstances in modern educational
facilities. Primary data will be gathered by conducting questionnaires among local high school
students. The final product will be distributed in order to raise awareness, inform, and serve as a
catalyst for reform.
Background and Rationale:
Anxiety is the sensation of worry, nervousness, or fear, commonly evoked by an
imminent event or unknown outcome.
It is[...] a series of biochemical changes in your brain and body, such as an increase in
adrenaline (causing your heart to beat faster) and a decrease in dopamine (a brain
chemical that helps to block pain). These changes result in a state of heightened attention
to the source of the anxiety. High levels of anxiety cause your body to prepare to fight or
run away from the perceived threat -- commonly called the fight-or-flight response.
(Understanding academic anxiety, n.d)
Anxiety is composed of cognitions, behaviors, emotions, physiological reactions, and relational
aspects (Headley & Campbell, 2013). Heightened anxiety can affect six major systems of the
human body (The basics on generalized anxiety, n.d.). In the cardiovascular system, it can
increase blood temperature, constrict blood vessels, produce palpitations, headaches, and cold
fingers. In the gastrointestinal system, it can lead to discomfort in the stomach, intestines, and the
anal sphincter (commonly referred to as butterflies in the stomach), as well as spasms,
diarrhea, and/or constipation. In the respiratory system, anxiety may cause hyperventilation,
reducing carbon dioxide in the blood. In the genitourinary system, it may cause frequent
urination. In the musculoskeletal system, an individual may feel tense, experience involuntary
trembling, various aches, or pains. Clinical anxiety differs from the sensation of feeling anxious
based on four factors: stressor, intensity/length, physical symptoms, and impairment. An
individual diagnosed with clinical anxiety may consistently stress over a seemingly insignificant
event, to an extent great enough to interfere with his/her daily activities for a prolonged period of
time. The reaction to the stressor is disproportionate to the stressor itself. There are four
theoretical causes to anxiety disorders: heredity, brain chemistry, experiences, and personality
(Parks, 2011). Particularly among students, counselors have located causes for the increase in
anxiety as stress, pressure, social media, strenuous classes, and divorce (Dwyer, 2014). Academic
anxiety is often characterized by worry, emotionality, task-generated interference, and study
skills deficits. Although anxiety is often used as a stimulant or motivational precipitant, extensive
amounts can lead to poor performance and emotional, mental, and physical distraught. Students
nowadays are experiencing the need to reach a standard of high performance expectations, and
challenged with cases such as test anxiety (McDonald, 2001).

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Anxiety levels have been rising steadily, and have recently been spiking up throughout
the past couple of decades. Alarmingly, twenty first century students experience the same level of
anxiety as institutionalized patients in the 1950s (Twenge, 2000). [Among] U.S. college
students [...] almost half said they felt overwhelming anxiety in the last year, according to the
2013 National College Health Assessment, which examined data from 125,000 students from
more than 150 colleges and universities (Novotney, 2014). According to the American
Psychological Association, anxiety levels have increased 9% from 2007 to 2013, with 37% of
college students reporting anxiety symptoms on college counseling campuses in 2007, to 46% in
2013. It shows an exponential increase while other concerns, such as depression and relationship
problems stayed at a constant rate from 2007 to 2013, with the percentage of students reporting
depression as a main concern staying at a constant 39%, while relationship concerns stabilized at
a 36% throughout. Education has become a priority and pressing concern in the U.S with the
implementation of the Common Core, and the emphasis on standardized testing. The mental
illness crisis has long been a problem since the deinstitutionalization era of 1960, but instead of
distant mental facilities, it has slowly crept into local schools and have been affecting students
at an alarming rate (Torrey, n.d.).
The parallel of modern day students to 1950s mental institution patients poses a clear
warning of a transgressing problem. School may be a key factor that contributes to this
exponential elevation of the mental distress crisis. The physical layout, the scheduling, and the
mental strenuation may all account for this increase. The increasing level of anxiety must be
combatted because if left unhandled, it will continue to increase, negatively affecting several
generations. A specific example that shows the strenuous effects of education on mental health is
South Korea. It has the highest suicide rate globally and a contributing factor may be the intense,
scrutinizing school system (June, 2005). Students are pressed to attend regular public school,
and often proceed with hours upon hours of academy work in various school subjects. The
average student may spend over 12 hours per day devoted to school work. This is an example of
an extreme consequence, and there must be work to combat this rising problem. There is greater
emphasis on education than ever before, and with an enlarging prospect, there must be advocacy
for defined measures to assure the mental health of students. A measure of increased awareness
and the implementation of practical methods is crucial.
Research Methodology:
Research Question: What is the correlation between the rising level of anxiety among high
school students and the intensity of the workload presented to them/ the conditions in educational
facilities?
Research Hypothesis: The constraining, highly competitive nature and the considerable workload
presented to high school students are catalysts towards the increasing level of anxiety among
high school students within the past decade. Factors that may account for the rising level of
anxiety, particular to school systems may be: longer periods (such as hour and a half block
periods), increased workload/ strenuous classes (AP, GT courses), performance activities that
have significant impact on the nervous system (oral presentations and test anxiety, and the
feeling of constrainment (encased classrooms without accessibility to windows).
Research Design Model:
This project will contain mixed-method research of both qualitative and quantitative data. The
researcher will conduct correlational and descriptive research in order to identify the degree of

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the relationship between two variables: tertiary schools in the United States and the increased
level of anxiety in the student population, and examine the phenomenon.
Data Collection:
In order to collect data to support the thesis, the researcher will conduct a series of questionnaires
and surveys to 50-100 Mt. Hebron High School students. This will enable the researcher to gain
information about the characteristics of a population and gather a sample of respondents based
on his/her attitude, behavior, examples, and/or opinions. In the survey, there will be a series of
open ended as well as close ended questions geared towards locating the frequency and severity
of anxiety related symptoms. The survey will consist of a list of symptoms that ask the
respondent to check off whether they have experienced those symptoms, either physical or
mental, and then explain the frequency through a numbered scale of 1-5, one being the least
frequent and five being the most frequent. The researcher may also incorporate the STAI method
to characterize state anxiety (how one feels at the moment) and trait anxiety (how feels
generally), relating state anxiety to how one feels during school. The survey will also include
different factors that may attribute to greater anxiety- inducing environments (i.e accessibility to
windows vs. non accessibility to windows, elongated periods, compact vs. sizable classes, the
vigor/level of the course, and high pressurized testing) and ask the respondent to check off on a
scale of: strongly disagree, disagree, no relation, agree, and strongly agree. Finally, the
respondent will be asked an open ended question and be given the option to elaborate further
thoughts and/or concerns at the end. The survey will enable to researcher to conduct primary
research, generate and analyze data to explain a phenomenon. The literature will be the
foundation for data connection, and will serve as background information to inform the audience.
Product Objectives:
The final product will inform and raise awareness among students and teachers in the
community. A display board and presentation will serve as the basis, in addition to either a short
film, or a brochure. The options will be narrowed down as it reaches time to create the final
product. Ultimately, the researcher will try to convey the seriousness of the issue by making it a
more personal and empirical matter to create lasting impact. The primary data conducted and the
analysis will suggest that change will need to be made, and possible methods of improvement
will be suggested, such as educating staff about mental illnesses, providing professional
counselors in schools, teaching students about recognizing symptoms, and cognitive behavior
therapy. The researcher will also work with the Active Minds club within the school to further
raise awareness over the course of the next several years. A brochure would be a suitable and
convenient way to reach a broad audience and will be a tangible reminder. A short film also has
this advantage, and viewers can refer back to the video if necessary. The products will be
distributed alongside the final presentation. The brochure will be distributed in the media center
and counselors office. The short film will be uploaded in order to reach a greater audience. The
targeted audience of students will be able to connect personally with this issue, as it affects the
population directly. Informing teacher will lead to quicker recognition, which may be followed
up by intervention to solve the issue. Spreading awareness about this issue will serve as the first
step in resolving this issue, instead of leaving matters to digress over time.
Logistical Considerations:
In order to distribute the surveys among students at Mt. Hebron High School, the
researcher will have to obtain permission from the school principal by providing a sample of the

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survey and gaining approval. The researcher will also have to obtain approval from the library
staff and counselors in order to distribute the final product. Resources needed for the
project/product are a group of approximately 50 to 100 high school students that range in
demographics and grade, to provide a range of data and prevent bias. The Active Minds club will
have to be consulted to allow for further advocacy. In order to distribute brochures, print
materials will have to be collected.In third quarter, a timeline will be added that outlines the data
collection, product development, and audience distribution.
Approval:

_____________________
Student Signature

___________________________ ________________________
G/T Resource Teacher Signature
Advisor Signature

References:
Dwyer, L. (2014, October 3). When anxiety hits at school. Retrieved December 2, 2015,
from The Atlantic website: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/10/whenanxiety-hits-at-school/380622/
Headley, C., & Campbell, M. A. (2013). Teachers knowledge of anxiety and
identification of excessive anxiety in children. Australian Journal of Teacher Education,
38(4). Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1014052.pdf
June, D. (2005). World suicide rates by country [Table]. Retrieved from
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/world/suiciderate.html
McDonald, A. S. (2001). The prevalence and effects of test anxiety in school children
[Abstract]. Educational Psychology: An International Journal of Experimental
Educational Psychology, 21(1), 89-101. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01443410020019867
Novotney, A. (2014, September). College and university counseling center presenting
concerns [Infographic]. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/monitor/2014/09/coverpressure.aspx
Parks, P. J. (2011). What causes anxiety disorders? In Diseases and disorders:
Anxiety disorders (pp. 35-47). San Diego, CA: Reference Point Press.
The basics on generalized anxiety. (n.d.). Retrieved from Anxieties website:
http://www.anxieties.com/116/the-basics-on-generalized-anxiety#.Vm2Wc0or LIU
Torrey, E. Fuller. Out of the Shadows: Confronting Americas Mental Illness Crisis. New
York City: John Wiley & Sons, 2005. PBS. Web. 26 Sept. 2015.
Twenge, J. M. (2000, December 14). Studies show normal children today report more
anxiety than child psychiatric patients in the 1950s. Retrieved September 16, 2015, from
American Psychological Association website:
http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2000/12/anxiety.aspx
Understanding academic anxiety [PDF]. (n.d.). Cornell University Center for Learning &
Teaching. Retrieved from
https://lsc.cornell.edu/Sidebars/Study_Skills_Resources/anxiety.pdf