Based on data collected during the COVID-19 pandemic from students in five Montreal high schools, adolescents report troubling displays of performance anxiety, generalized anxiety, social anxiety, and depression.
On the other hand, anxiety related to COVID-19 seems to be less present: among the 432 third and fourth year high school students who answered a questionnaire during the years 2020 and 2021, only 6% said they were very anxious about the pandemic, while 19% said they were moderately anxious.
This is what emerges from the research work carried out by the doctoral student Gabrielle Yale-Soulière, in the Department of Psychology of the Université de Montréal, under the direction of Professor Lyse Turgeon.
However, COVID-19 anxiety is moderately associated with more pronounced symptoms of depression, generalized anxiety, and social anxiety. We also observed a weaker relationship between COVID-19-related anxiety and academic performance, according to doctoral student Emmanuelle Ayotte, who also contributed to this study..
Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety, Social Anxiety and Depression
Gabrielle Yale Souliere
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In this study, 37% of the students surveyed reported severe symptoms of generalized anxiety, while 46% experienced moderate symptoms.
Generalized anxiety is characterized by worries that are difficult to calm down and is accompanied by various symptoms such as difficulty concentrating, fatigue, muscle tension, and sleep disturbances.
In addition, 32% of the young people surveyed said they felt great social anxiety and in the same proportion this anxiety was moderate.
One in two students (52%) reported experiencing symptoms of depression; these symptoms were high for 26% of them and moderate for the others.
Finally, performance anxiety associated with school performance was felt strongly by 15% of the young people and moderately by 18% of the respondents.
“Our results also indicate that the problems described above are about twice as common in girls as in boys. In addition, the manifestations are more vivid among students who do not identify with any gender”, says Gabrielle Yale-Soulière.
Anxiety related to school performance: a poorly documented phenomenon
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The preliminary results of this study are part of a larger research project led by Gabrielle Yale-Soulière and supervised by Lyse Turgeon. This project focuses on anxiety related to school performance in high school students. He is one of the first to examine the problems in Quebec.
“We wanted to identify the tools that could help reduce performance anxiety in the school setting and we realized that this phenomenon is very poorly documented; therefore, we oriented our study in this direction”, underlines Gabrielle Yale-Soulière.
However, there were many pitfalls. In fact, the successive waves of COVID-19 forced the team to recruit participants remotely.
“Initially we wanted to survey 2,000 students, but the pandemic had the effect of overloading our partners in the five schools, the doctoral student testifies. So getting consent from all 581 interested parents remotely was not easy.
The PASTEL project to alleviate performance anxiety in schools
Along with the first of the three phases of the study, Gabrielle Yale-Soulière became interested in how it might be possible to reach young people suffering from performance anxiety.
In collaboration with the Boscoville organization, which is also a psychoeducator, it works on the development of the PASTEL program to reduce anxiety related to school performance among adolescents. An evaluation is being carried out with 48 young people.
“This is a turnkey kit that includes six one-hour workshops for groups of 4 to 12 young people selected on the basis of performance anxiety manifestations, explains Gabrielle Yale-Soulière. During these workshops, we share strategies for cognitive restructuring, problem solving, exposure, and organization and study strategies so that you can act on your performance anxiety, whether it is at the time of ‘studying or taking a test’.
“Given the number of participants in our study and certain limitations inherent in the questionnaires used, our results cannot be generalized to all high school students in Quebec,” concludes Ms.me Yale-Souliere and Ayotte. However, they offer us avenues of exploration for future studies and, above all, confirm the importance of helping young people who need it to lighten the emotional burden that weighs them down.
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