Stress, The Silent Killer In Education
Written by Dr. Jared Scherz, TeacherCoach
When I was eleven, I went on a rock climbing expedition in Boulder Colorado. I paced nervously before the first climb, as the instructors readied the equipment. From a sharp reprimand, I was jolted out of my nervous daydream. “Don’t step on the rope.” the instructor shouted. Befuddled by this command, I wondered how a rope that was nearly as thick as my leg, could be effected by a barely 80-pound kid.
What I came to appreciate that day and has remained with me over the years, is that the integrity of that thick rope could be diminished over time. All it took was a small grain of sand or glass from the bottom of my shoe, and with each twist and pull, the fibers would begin to deteriorate. Nobody would see it happening until it was too late.
This is stress. A silent killer that impacts every aspect of our personal and professional lives, often times under the radar until ‘symptoms’ appear. Instead of recognizing the signs of stress by listening to messages from the body like fatigue and tension, we are inevitably faced with the clustering of these bodily messages, which get diagnosed as disease.
If we can change our mindset to understand the impacts of stress as dis-ease, we may recognize the warning indicators sooner and take action. We start by appreciating how stress is a cause, a result or both for the most insidious problems in education including:
- Mental Health
- Student Behavior
- Addiction (including technology)
When stress is a cause, it needs to be addressed in a proactive manner, which isn’t the same as addressing stress as a resulting factor. Most school districts or organizations in general, neglect prevention and intervention of stress for faculty and students, or mix up the type of help needed.
The stress teachers face which influences the potential for behavioral problems in students for example, is not the same experience as the resulting stress when students misbehave. The causative stress may include feeling powerless, inundated, or despondent. The resultative stress may be feeling frustrated, innefectual, or cautious.
We would address the causative stress by helping faculty feel more influential in their work by improving understanding of systems and organizational dynamics. For the resultative stress, we might help by providing the type of support that helped reduce isolation or influenced expectations.
Both types of stress can impact nearly every aspect of our lives including:
While we may take stress for granted, assuming it’s a natural result of a difficult job, the cumulative impact can erode our wellness.
The simplest way to understand stress is the body’s way of letting us know that needs aren’t being met or are threatened in some way. Here is a formula you can use to understand how this works.
A New Look at Stress
There are three intersecting parts to the manifestation of stress.
Consider the source of tension from one of three discrepancies:
The difference between what we want and what we need
i.e. I want a vacation. I need to save money.
The difference between what is expected and what is possible
i.e. I’m expected to get my grades in tonight, but I’d only get a few hours of sleep.
The difference between what we believe and what we do.
i.e. I would like to tell this parent my opinion, but I don’t want a conflict.
Once we know the source of tension from Part I, we look at the way we are experiencing the tension (i.e. the difference between what we want and what we need).
Our capacity for tolerating the distress is exceeded by the intensity of the duress.
Our capacity for tolerating the distress is equal to the intensity of the duress.
Our capacity for tolerating the distress is greater than the intensity of the duress.
How we act upon or the action we take to alleviate our tension determines whether we compound or alleviate distress.
Our action meets the unmet or threatened need
i.e. I feel lonely so I call a friend.
Our action gives us temporary relief but sustains the problem long-term
i.e. I feel lonely so do some exercise
Our action doesn’t relate at all to our need or adds to the problem
i.e. I feel lonely so I eat
High Stress: Extreme difference within the origin of the tension. Low tolerance for distress. Actions that don’t reconcile the unmet need or add to the problem.
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About: Jared Scherz, Ph.D., M.Ed., ACS
Dr. Scherz is a clinical psychologist, author, and educational consultant, working with educators for over twenty years. He earned his Master’s in Education from Penn State University and went on to be an elementary school guidance counselor before earning his Ph.D. He is the owner of Integrated Therapy Center in NJ, the creator of PsychPro, and the founder of UFeud, the first social networking site to reduce school violence.
In his coaching, consulting, and therapy practice, he helps people appreciate that change is paradoxical, in that a greater understanding of what keeps a person feeling stuck is needed before sustainable change is possible. Jared works with educators to help them feel more peaceful, whole, potent, and on a path toward greater fulfillment.
His vision for TeacherCoach is to provide educators from around the world with a wide range of integrated services around personal growth and professional development.