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Emotional Stress

We’ve discussed at length the negative impact stress can have on brain development and learning.  We know how important this work is.

Today, I want to emphasize how ubiquitous chronic stress can be.  Often, I make the mistake of assuming that children who are growing up with instability are the most likely victims of chronic stress.  Not true.  It’s everywhere.  Merely a few paragraphs into a publication by the Institute of HeartMath, and I was reminded that my assumption is wrong.

Their article, Emotional Stress, Positive Emotions and Psychophysiological Coherence, taught me about the symbiotic relationship between stress and emotions.  Stress can’t thrive without emotions.  In fact, they even renamed stress: emotional unease.

The danger here is that experiencing negative emotions – even in the absence of environmental stressors – can lead to chronic stress.  Feelings of insecurity, judgment, and worthlessness can elicit a physiological stress response (think: increased heart rate, difficulty focusing, fight/flight instincts).

Children, specifically adolescents – your tweens & teens – are especially vulnerable to this type of emotional unease.

Their study states that emotional and cognitive centers in the brain work in tandem.  Info flows from emotional to cognitive and cognitive to emotional.  But here’s the kicker: more data flows from emotional to cognitive than from cognitive to emotional.   To put it simply, we can’t outsmart our emotions.  They run our reasoning.

This means that recuperation of individuals dealing with chronic emotional unease must be focused on emotional rehabilitation, not just techniques which harness positive thoughts.

As teachers, we are not trained to provide emotional healing.  But, we can do one of two things:

  1. Outsource for help – call on those incredible social workers on your team
  2. Acknowledge feelings of insecurity and provide positive feedback with encourages and develops confidence.

Oftentimes helping students to understand how and where they succeed can be the crucial stepping stone to the path of emotional recovery.




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