How to Handle Back to School Stress
POWER to transform Back to School STRESS into Success
by Bethlyn Gerard
Depending on the age of your child, ‘back to school’ may land somewhere between elation and dread. We parents know all too well that the student isn’t the only one feeling the pressure of the transition from summer to school days.
Big or small, the start of another school year involves adjustments for the entire household. Routines including eating, sleeping, dressing, shopping, packing and traveling are impacted. With all the forms to sign, supplies to gather, shots and physicals to get, cubbies and lockers to find, it may be difficult to imagine how a person could juggle what needs to get done without feeling stressed.
There is no universal measure or definition of stress because what wigs me out may be calming for you. Even though what triggers a person feeling challenged, stretched, vulnerable, overwhelmed, intimidated or unsure may be different, the human body’s reaction known as the ‘stress response’ is universal. When the body responds to stress, a part of the brain (amygdala) starts screaming about danger. Even mild stress can cause a substance called dopamine to be released excessively. Too much dopamine floods the part of the brain (prefrontal cortex) responsible for the types of behavior expected in the classroom. Like a car engine with too much gas, the prefrontal cortex can’t use the extra fuel efficiently. Other important signs of acute stress: digestion and elimination stop. That means we can’t benefit from our food and waste backs up. The breath gets shallower and faster. The blood needed in the brain to reason and make decisions gets diverted to large muscles.
If the stress is caused by a threat that is a single event – an experience that has a beginning, middle and end, then a healthy body can go back to eating and releasing what’s no longer useful. When the body relaxes, the brain can return to focus and learn. If the stress is chronic – as in the way we repeatedly feel or think about a situation -the stress responses meant to help us fight or flee, start to interfere with behavior, growth and our ability to cope.
Talking or writing about anxious feelings can reduce stress by shifting the activity of the amygdala to the forebrain through the use of the brain’s language functions. When we aren’t able to articulate our stressful reactions, the body speaks through symptoms.
Some headaches can come from an injury, tension, misalignment, or hormones. Vision impairment can also contribute to head pain. Experiencing stress releases a cascade of chemicals into our bloodstream. Headaches can be an indicator of stress.
Digestion and bowel movement are reduced during stress. The physical severity of the stress response is directly impacted by our attitude toward change. Excitement – whether positive or negative – alters bowel motility. Serotonin is a ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter produced in the gut. We have neurons in the abdomen highly sensitized to report the influences of our environment. For a variety of emotional and physical reasons stress is commonly felt in the stomach area. Cramping can occur when the natural activity called peristalsis is trying to move solids through the colon. Too little water and too slow a transit can result in blockages. Boys can be especially disrupted by the time constraints schools place on bathroom breaks. Help your kids understand the body’s stress responses so you both can recognize the symptoms, address the causes and create solutions for relief before they get sick.
The American Medical Association has attributed at least 85% of illnesses to stress. A stressed brain can’t learn well. Though some people react to stress by freezing, the majority of stressed bodies find it difficult to stay still. That’s why the media has often described the stress response as ‘fight or flight.’
Since back-to-school transitions can feel stressful, here are 5 letters to help you reduce the harmful effects stress can have on you and your family’s health: P-O-W-E-R.
P – Protein. Eat early and often. The developing brain works better in a body fueled by protein. Mood highs and lows associated with sugar even out with protein. The next time you or your child is having a meltdown try eating a few almonds (brainfood), a cheese stick or some humus. Protein can be a mighty tantrum stopper for all ages. The sooner the stress stops the sooner the health starts.
O – Oxygen. Learning to control the rate and depth of breathing is one FAST way to reduce stress. The body needs to take in oxygen. It also needs to release toxic, depleted gases. Matching the length of each inhale with the length of each exhale for longer than a 12 count signals the vagus nerve to relax reducing stress in the body. The extended breath and expanded lung capacity increase the availability of oxygen.
W – Water. The body can go weeks without food by only days without water. Pick up the skin on the back of one hand with the thumb and finger of your other hand. Release the pinched skin and notice how long it takes for the skin to return. If it releases slowly, the body needs more fluids. Most kids find it difficult to carry or drink enough water while at school. Consider drinking a cup immediately upon waking as well as in carpool to help replenish the moisture necessary for resilience.
E – Energy. Empty calories waste the body’s efforts because the body has to exert energy to determine whether to use or excuse the food and drink we put in it. Exercise increases endorphins – the feel good juices that improve our mood. Learning how energy enters, circulates and leaves your body helps you notice when you feel drained or energetic. Noticing when you feel your best helps you select activities and foods to build stamina and energy.
R – Rest. The quality and quantity of sleep influences the body’s ability to repair and replenish itself. Our central nervous system communicates using electronic impulses. EEG and EKG machines show us our electrical activity. Televisions, phones, computers in close proximity to the brain, especially during sleep, may disrupt the body’s attempts to communicate with itself. Maybe that is why people go to places like the mountains and the beach for restoration. Places we consider restful often have less access to electronics. Consider making your home your sanctuary by removing as many man-made electrical signals from the areas where you and your children rest. We need different amounts of sleep at different ages. For more information check out www.sleepfoundation.org
You have the power to raise your body’s tolerance and increase your flexibility. Resilience and adaptability help us minimize health risks when we encounter stressful situations. May this be the year we return to school with fun and ease!
Bethlyn Gerard integrates biofield sciences into healthcare. Her energy sessions assist parents, kids, schools and companies. She teaches how to promote health during challenges. You can find free resources and contact her at www.5starhealing.com or call the Living Well Dallas Center: 972-930-0260. www.livingwelldallas.com