Is Stress Your Enemy or Friend?

There doesn’t seem to be a day that goes by where I don’t feel stressed about something: Deadlines, meetings, marking, planning units, learning new things to make my lessons exciting, family, bills, money. It seems to be endless. Sometimes I think as teachers, we create stress for ourselves. We all have that perfectionism quality or desire to be great weighing on us. We take on students problems as our own. We fill our minds with worries, concerns, doubts, questions, and thoughts.

I believe when it comes to stress that there are two kinds of people:
#1 The one’s who you know are stressed out! It’s apparent, visible all over their face, their reaction, and everything they do.
#2 It isn’t apparent, and instead is kept deep down inside, faking that everything is ok.
How do both of these types of people manage stress? What strategies are place to help us?

I have always thought that you need to find that one thing for you that works. Whether it be reading, listening to music, meditating, something that allows you to let go and relax. But recently, my thoughts have changed slightly. I still believe you need these strategies in place, but perhaps the way you think about stress could change how you react to it.

The other day, a colleague of mine passed on a great video about stress and how to handle it. Not thinking I had enough time (due to all my other stressful situations!), I just watched it this evening. It’s a Ted Talk by Kelly McGonigal, who is a health psychologist, and if you can spend the 15 minutes watching it, it is well worth your while. If not, I’ll summarize it here.

We have always been taught that stress is the enemy. It’s the thing that eats away at us, causing mental and physical problems. But what would happen if you change the way you think about stress? After following some studies, Kelly McGonigal summarizes her findings with two main points:

#1: If you rethink your reaction to stress, it can in turn become helpful in creating a biology of courage.
We are always going to experience stress and the signs of stress. Usually these signs are equated with anxiety, but instead think of it as a way that your body is becoming energized and preparing to meet a new challenge. If you change the way you think, your body will believe you and change its reaction as well.
#2: Stress makes you social, and choosing to connect to others via stress is a way to create resilience.
The hormone oxytocin is released when you experience a stressful moment, however, this hormone creates the desire to crave physical interactions and contacts, and increase your empathy through supporting the people you care about. The stress forces you to be surrounded by people who care and motivates you to seek that support you need.

So next time you’re faced with a stress moment, still use those strategies you have for yourself, but maybe reconsider how you think about stress. Have enough faith in yourself and your body that you can handle it, and change that trained way of thinking, but also be willing to seek support and not face it alone.

Extracurricular: How Much is Too Much?

extracurricular

Checking my students’ agendas before they left for the day I came across a note in one that said, “Do homework first, watch t.v. after.” I asked the student if her dad had written the message as a reminder and she said no, that she had for herself. I questioned why and she replied that she needed the friendly reminder to help her out, as every night of the week, except one, she has an extracurricular activity that she participates in. Monday and Wednesday she goes to karate, Tuesdays and Fridays skating.

All of this had me thinking about one thing: What is the purpose of extracurricular activities? To socialize kids with others? To develop leadership skills? To give your son/daughter opportunities you didn’t have? To increase self esteem? To teach children about time management and prioritizing? I think the list could go on and on.

How much is too much? If a child has only one day a week to relax at home and enjoy life is that enough? Does it create a stressful life? I read an article online from Psychology Today, titled “Are We Pushing Kids Too Hard?” and here’s a valuable snippet from it:

Even in ordinary situations, stress is not always bad. Hans Selye, M.D., one of the pioneers in stress research, believed that moderate amounts of stress are actually good for us. He described two kinds of stress: eustress and distress. Eustress is the pleasant stress we feel when we confront the normal challenges of life. A child who enjoys soccer, for example, may thrive on the pressure associated with practice and games. Distress, on the other hand, occurs when we feel overwhelmed. The same child who thrives on soccer may become overwhelmed if he is also involved in four or five other activities.

Recently, it seems as though having a constantly busy and on the go life is the norm. If people aren’t busy, they feel something is wrong. I often find myself feeling this way on the weekends. When I have down time, I almost feel guilty that I’m not doing something. This seems to be the way society is heading, but is it healthy? Should we be raising our children this way? Don’t kids need time to be kids? Although I believe good intentions are always there, I think it’s important that there is a balance in children’s lives. Life is hectic and they need down time just like we do. They need that time to play, to build relationships with their family members, and to develop self awareness. They need time for themselves. They need time to be a child.