October 31st, 2018
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one-third of adolescents report feeling anxiety to a significant degree, and the prevalence of stress and anxiety in America has been exponentially rising over the past decade. While there are common challenges that can promote “good stress,” severe stress has the ability to impede academic success, compromise mental health, and increase chances of physical health-related issues like high blood pressure. So, how can educators and students themselves combat the negative effects of “bad stress” in the classroom?
When a person is exposed to stressors, he or she may experience physical, emotional, behavioral, and/or cognitive reactions. Common short-term reactions may include:
In a “fight or flight” situation, stress can trigger a response from the part of the brain called the amygdala, which is responsible for processing memory, decision-making, and emotional reactions. Consistent stressors can further cause long-term effects:
Stress can especially demotivate adolescents; with an abundance of academic and social pressures during a vulnerable time period of physical and emotional changes, young adults are at a higher risk of overreacting to these stressors. In the chart below, it is clear that students become less behaviorally, emotionally, and cognitively engaged from their early middle school years to the time they reach high school.
To prevent negative effects of stress, it is crucial for educators to recognize the significant impact stress has, and to respond accordingly. At Selwyn, we have our students’ success at the center of all we do, which is why we are both research-based and experiential. As an independent school, we have the flexibility to respond to the newest research and adjust our teaching models accordingly. With stress at the forefront of recent findings, we are working to create a learning environment designed to promote resiliency while minimizing the occurrence of “bad stressors”.
Our Middle School Academy program focuses on the unique challenges of the early adolescent experience, followed by our Upper School program that teaches 21st century skills like critical thinking and collaboration. If we keep students consistently engaged through our project-based, experiential curriculum while integrating emotional intelligence, they will be less likely to lose interest and develop stress-related reactions.
Though resiliency can prevent overreactions to certain stressors, there are of course unavoidable challenges in life that cause negative responses; but how do we ensure students don’t overreact? Studies show that both nature and meditation can reduce the short-term effects of stress. By explicitly teaching mindfulness and supporting an outdoor education program, Selwyn is addressing these concerns as early as possible. We can create a healthy mental and emotional environment that allows each individual to reach their full potential and make sure that our students stay engaged in learning.