As the superintendent of a school district, I am given many opportunities to meet and talk to people from all over. It seems like every time I talk to someone; the conversation eventually leads to how busy their lives are, they are stressed out from the everyday responsibilities, and they just can’t seem to find the time to catch up.
The definition of stress for most people tends to focus on the negative feelings and emotions it produces. Our children are feeling the pressure as well, and view stress as a major component of their lives. It is important for us as educators, parents, and community members to teach our children that even though some situations are hard, there are ways to work through and de-stress.
A 2014 study by the American Psychological Association found that U.S. teens are more stressed out than adults. 30% of teens reported feeling sad or depressed because of stress, and 31% felt overwhelmed. Another 36% said that stress made them tired and 23% said it made them skip meals.
Although these statistics are alarming, there is hope. I recently read an article from the December 2018, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) Education Update that identified the Five D’s of DESTRESSING. These strategies are vital skills that everyone can implement in their lives.
The first strategy is to Distract from It. Stress can instantly trigger fight, flight, or freeze, our bodies naturally want to regulate our hormones and bring us “back to normal.” This is where a distraction can help. Taking a 10-minute walk, engaging in a fun activity, or listening to your favorite music are just a few examples. When we engage in something else, it can shift our thoughts away from the stressful rumination and allow our bodies and brains a chance to regulate.
Deal with It is the second strategy. Although we struggle facing the issue or problem we are dealing with, sometimes it is necessary in order to find peace and relieve the stress. Stress management is defined as taking charge of lifestyle, thoughts, emotions, and the way you deal with problems. By dealing with the stress we can face the problem head-on and find ways to apply conflict resolution and look for a solution.
The third strategy is to Dispute your Distortions. Sometimes a stressful situation is made worse by our thought patterns. All-or-nothing thinking: something is either great or terrible, with no in-between, or letting one bad thought lead to another. Psychologist William James said, “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” If you find yourself in this situation it is important to recognize and reduce biased or distorted thinking.
Discuss It is the fourth strategy. Although it sounds simple, it really is one of the best possible things you can do. Talking with a supportive individual may provide new perspectives and ideas. This year, Sevier School District has hired five mental health specialists to work in our schools. These specialists will be a great resource and avenue for students who are trying to work through stressful situations.
The last strategy is Develop Frontal Control. The human brain is amazing and is built with an emotional control sector. It creates action to help you survive. Your frontal lobe-the logical processing sector- acts as the break pedal. It helps you evaluate your situation and take more rational action. Even though we can’t stop stress responses from activating, we can strengthen our ability to slow them down through deep breathing, mindful meditation, and other calming focus strategies, like counting backward from ten. When we practice these strategies, we are able to activate our emotional “brake pedal.”
Stress is a multi-faceted problem and can’t be entirely eliminated. Everyone including students, educators, parents and community members must acknowledge their role and work together to reduce it. It is vital to develop healthy habits, critical thinking skills, and problem-solving skills so that our students are able to face stressful situations with strategies for stress management and optimism for a bright future.
To stay up to date with initiatives and strategies that we are working on concerning emotional health and support, check out our webpage www.seviersd.org or follow us on social media. My Twitter handle is @CadeDoug.