The Science of Stress Part 1: Where Does Stress Come From?

The Science of Stress Part 1: Where Does Stress Come From?

This is part 1 of a 3 part series on stress management and mental health care for teachers, specifically identifying, managing and eliminating our stressors. 

First Some Science

Stress is a neurological and physiological experience that occurs when a threat is encountered or perceived. When stress occurs, your heart beats faster, blood pumps harder, and blood pressure increases. Your muscles tense, and sensitivity to pain diminishes. Your memory shifts to better remember experiences and knowledge most relevant to the threat. And here’s the real kicker: your digestion, immune/reproductive functioning, growth, and tissue repair ALL SLOW DOWN!

Stress exists to keep us from getting eaten by animals like saber-tooth tigers. Since they died a long time ago and our minds don’t really have any gigantic ferocious beasts to save us from, our helpful brains have turned their collective radars to things like work, family drama, cultural norms and expectations, discrimination, money, etc. As teachers, we also deal with violence or the threat of violence, student fights, school shootings, abuse in students’ homes, student homelessness, a demanding workload, unmet expectations, and the idea that we are supposed to give our entire soul to the profession for the sake of being a “team player” and that “it’s for the kids.”

Then There’s the Negativity Bias-

The negativity bias is an evolutionary cognitive bias that results in adverse events having a more significant impact on your psychological state than positive events. That one kid who won’t stop disrupting the class and irritating you is more likely to have a lasting impact than the 29 students who are engaged, learning, and drawing you cute pictures. It’s how humans process and use positive versus negative information. Humans are far more attentive to and much more influenced by negative stimuli rather than positive.

This was great when we were hunter-gatherers and needed to stay away from a certain lion’s den or avoid eating a type of plant. But again, those times are over, and now our brains turn to our everyday experiences such as negative social interactions, traffic jams, unpleasant emails, and a ridiculous, never-ending workload.

So, your brain is sensitive to threats, perceives everyday harmless events as threats, and is also wired to pay more attention to and remember these threats. This leaves you at a huge disadvantage when it comes to trying to be less stressed. BUT if you know what is happening and why it’s happening, you will be better able to manage the stress. You might even be able to actually practice that “self-care” everybody is always talking about.

Part 2-

Learn how to identify the root of your stress so that you can actually address and solve the problem. Click HERE to go to Part 2.


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