Our ancestors didn’t evolve in a constant stress environment. Back then, stress came quickly and was over quickly, it didn’t grind on and on like the stress of modern education. Stress was originally just a short term biological response to danger, however the constant stress of modern education rarely lets up. It’s long term, at least ten years and usually more. Prolonged stress can overload the brain with cortisol; this is a chemical that promotes impulsive and reactive thinking designed to get the individual out of danger.Recent research has shown that the neurological/chemical response to stress is the same response that is found in depression. It appears that depression may very well be a stress response that has simply gone on too long.
So, what’s the solution? A number have been proposed, including but not limited to the following.
1. Make sure that kids get exercise.
Exercise expends energy that would otherwise build up in the stress response and could cause physical and mental problems.
2. Teach relaxation exercises.
Allowing the mind and body to relax cuts off the stress response and reduces the neurological fatigue that constant stress induces, enabling the individual to recover at least somewhat.
3. Paying attention to thinking.
The Buddhists would call this mindfulness and the fancy Western term is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. It’s simply training the stressed out student to pay attention to his or her own mind to a point where he or she is sufficiently aware to shut off the stress response when necessary.
Of course, there’s a logical answer to the problem. Just rearrange our teaching methods to encourage, rather than suppress, the natural curiosity and joy in learning that we are all born with. This would eliminate the stress and probably cut learning time in half. Now there’s an idea!
Author’s Bio: Dr. Tali Shenfield is a Clinical Director of Richmond Hill Psychology Center. She holds PhD in Psychology from the University of Toronto and accredited by the College of Psychologists of Ontario and Canadian Psychological Association. You can read more from Dr. Shenfield in her psychology and parenting blog here.