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Recognizing & Remedying the Detrimental Effects of Stress

Increasing mental health & wellness in your school can begin by addressing the stress response and teaching three simple habits to recover from it.


In teachers, administrators, staff, and students, the detrimental effects of chronic stress can severely affect success. While we might be able to recognize short-term stress symptoms, it can be more difficult to identify chronic stress as the underlying cause of many SEL and health issues. Recognizing the signs and remedying stress before it leads to more severe issues is key.


Did you know that chronic stress can often manifest with several bodily issues?


  • Stomachaches

  • Diarrhea

  • Fatigue

  • Headaches

  • Jaw pain (tension)

  • Weight gain (storing fuel)

  • Increased appetite (fuel)

  • Increased risk of heart issues

We tend to treat the individual symptoms with a quick fix instead of getting to the root of the problem, which is often stress.


What is short-term stress?

Short-term stress enables the body to respond to outside threats, react in a fight-or-flight way, and then return the body to homeostasis. It’s important to understand how and why the body responds in such a primitive way.


How does the body respond to short-term stress?

Designed to keep us safe from saber-toothed tigers and other outside threats, our stress response shuts down any systems that are not directly needed for fight or flight. As a result, all of that blood flow diverts to our extremities - throw a punch or hightail it out of there! - and adrenaline kicks in. Our digestive system and reproductive systems slow, while our HPA Axis (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenals) kicks into effect to pump out cortisol, enlarging blood vessels and energy storage. But the end-game is always returning to a state of calm.


What does chronic stress do to our bodies?

The problem comes when chronic stress triggers the HPA Axis to keep producing cortisol, and our fight-or-flight continues to react by slowing systems and fueling from fat stores. The HPA Axis is like an engine that keeps our hormones running strong, but when you run an engine too much for too long, you’re going to have a problem. And when you ignore your body screaming at you to slow down - symptoms - it can compound faster than you think.


How can we prevent short-term stress from becoming chronic stress? It’s easier than you think! Teaching ourselves and students to return the body to a state of calm is the goal, even if we’re tricking our brain into calming down. Educating them on the effects of stress and its symptoms will help them recognize the signs of stress and know they need to employ a calming method. Just three simple methods can make a world of difference.


Here are some simple ways to create calm and return to homeostasis:


#1 - Deep Breathing. You can stop at any point in the day and take anywhere from ten seconds to several minutes to practice deep breathing, also called belly breathing or rainbow breathing. It requires inhaling so your stomach expands like a balloon, holding, and then releasing, pulling your stomach in like a string is attached to your belly button, and then holding again. This slow method signals to the brain that you’re not in danger and calms the rest of the body.


#2 - Movement. Any steady, fluid physical movement will help you to regulate your breathing, stretch out tense muscles, and get your blood flow circulating again. Take a walk outside, do yoga or pilates, practice tai chi, take a dance class or have a dance break in your classroom.


#3 - Reframing. Taking the negative and seeing it from a different angle can often help the body to release fear. Realizing that you’re not stuck or trapped can help the body to relax just enough to get your neural connections firing to where you can rework the situation. Practice taking the negative and reframing it from a positive angle in your world and that of students as well.


We can help to assuage the onslaught by making stress breaks a habit in our communities and teaching those around us to not only recognize the body’s signs of stress but also create environments that encourage moments of calm and balance.


Short-term stress enables the body to respond to outside threats, react in a fight-or-flight way, and then return the body to homeostasis. It’s important to understand how and why the body responds in such a primitive way.


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