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Stress In The Learning Environment and Its Impact On Learning

April 19, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 226

Stress is our modern society's silent predator. It creeps up on us all unawares until one day, we have a melt down and the doctor says: "Take a holiday, distress - you're carrying too much stress". A friend of mine thought he was having a heart attack - he had all the symptoms - but it turned out that he was just highly stressed and didn't know it... Scary huh?

Unfortunately, we adults aren't the only ones prone to carrying too much stress. Our children carry more stress then we realise, their young lives are filled with stress inducing situations.

How Stress Builds

Stress is our body's response to adrenaline and cortisone in our blood stream. These two neurotransmitters are released when we perceive ourselves to be in dangerous or threatening situations. Sometimes these situations are life threatening - like when a bush fire is raging near our home, or we are in a car accident.

Other times (and more commonly) the situations are ones we would term stressful because we need to perform at a high standard under public scrutiny. For example, the athlete at a track meet, the public speaking you need to do at the next team meeting, meeting your boy/girl friend's parents for the first time, going on a blind date...

Stress is a useful thing in small doses. It builds, we perform in a heightened state of awareness, it leaves and we feel drained but pleased by our performance. Problems begin to creep in when we don't fully discharge the stress. When we move from stressful situation to stressful situation and don't have the explosive charge of energy that releases the pent up feelings created by the release of adrenaline and cortisone into the blood stream.

We become irritable, edgy, restless. Not massively, but just enough to not be fully comfortable. It's a vague sense of "something isn't right", and most of us have crutches that we use to mask it. Things like coffee (in large amounts), TV (shows we MUST see...), computer games (I need to play for 3-4 hours so that I can unwind), sex, alcohol, cigarettes, food... All of these and more. The crutches we reach for when we are feeling stressed, overwhelmed or under the weather...

The crutch masks the feeling for a short while but doesn't actually do anything to release the feeling. When our crutch wears off, we feel much the same as we did before and so we reach for it again...

Over time, as more stresses build (job, things we view on TV, things we hear on the radio, or talk about at our coffee breaks, our home life situation, relationships with spouse, children, bosses, family and friends) and we don't release that stress, it becomes an ingrained habit. It affects our body posture, the way we hold ourselves; even when we are "relaxed". Muscles are tensed and held in tense anticipation of sustained effort; except we don't follow through with the action.

Think about it for a moment. When you are stressed, do you tense your shoulder muscles? Clench your jaw? Tighten the muscles in your lower back or buttocks?

For the majority of people, that is all they do. Tense the muscles and soldier on. Muscles get locked in contracted positions and the ache we first felt gets ignored. Over time we become desensitised to the stiffness and tension. Until eventually, we have a major catastrophe.

Where Do We Store Stress?

As mentioned above, stress is stored primarily in our muscles. Most notably, lower back, middle back and shoulders. How many people do you know complain about a sore back? Or stiff neck? If you are anything like me, you know plenty.

How does this affect us?

Have you ever noticed people who walk hunched over? Their shoulders are collapsed and their chin is tucked in... Do these people seem vibrant and open to learning? Not really. More often we would say that they were depressed, had the weight of the world on their shoulders, looked sad etc.

Stress does that to a person. The more stress we have carried and desensitised to, the more our body shows it. In the case of lower back pain, we carry ourselves stiffly; no longer do we have a full, swinging gate. The hips are blocked and our natural rhythm is restricted. We look tense!

So, how does this relate to our children?

Have you ever noticed your child coming home from school with a similar body posture to the one described above? Their little shoulders are hunched over, their head is tucked in and their back almost seems to bulge out... They shuffle in and head for the fridge, TV or computer game... Ask them how their day was and you get a single word answer as they disappear from sight. Chances are, your little one is carrying a large amount of stress that they don't know how to deal with.

Or, your child comes home "in a mood", comments from yourself or their siblings result in a snarling, angry, defensive response. They are like little kettles - always on the verge of "going off". You step carefully around them, not sure what will set them off.

So where does all of this stress come from?

Stress In The Learning Environment and Its Impact On Learning...

Stress for our children often begins right from the moment they get up (and according to some experts even while they sleep). In most families, the TV is one of the first electrical appliances to be turned on of a morning - so that the parents can "catch up on the news"...

However, the images that are on most morning programs are violent, depressing, scary and horrific. They instantly increase the body's production of cortisone and adrenaline because the human mind cannot differentiate between it's happening to them and it's happening to me when we are viewing it on a TV screen!

Most TV producers know this. They know that the shows which increase our production of cortisone and adrenaline are the ones we become addicted to. They provide us with our "fix" - the fix of heightened awareness. That is why shows need to become more violent, more dramatic and scarier in order to keep their audiences spellbound and the ratings high.

So stress is beginning before the day has really started... Then there is the food they eat for breakfast. Most kids catch a hurried meal of some "nutrient enhanced" cereal. Not only are the ingredients used to create these so-called healthy breakfasts suspect, most kids have a difficult time digesting wheat and dairy products.

This kind of stress is called environmental stress - stress created by external stimuli in the environment.

Then, our already stressed child hits the school playground. Most kids with a learning difficulty live in fear of being picked on by others. Fear rises as they approach the school gate; stress rises as they imagine what might happen that day at school...

Class starts, and our stressed student begins to struggle. Their Learning Profile comes into play and depending on which senses are limited, their day continues to deteriorate. The teacher, their peers and themself all become frustrated and stressed.

Lunch time rolls around. The natural reaction to stress is to move - explosively, with force and with little regard to the well-being of others. Uh oh, here comes the teacher on playground duty! Run, duck, hide, nope caught. Stress levels climb again.

Or worse still. Lunch time detention. No outlet to release the stress that has been building all morning. Forced to sit still with a teacher that has the expectation that you are going to be "bad" or " naughty"- after all, you wouldn't be in detention if you were one of the "good" students.

Afternoon session rolls around. Yay, it's fun activities such as sport or art or music. Except no one wants to pick you for their team, or sit beside you or share their art supplies because you're bouncing off the walls with excess energy - energy caused by the adrenaline and cortisone in your body. So more stress rises as you realise that no one likes you and the teacher is getting very frustrated with you and it's likely that this afternoons' behaviour is going to result in detention or some form of punishment tomorrow...

Then it's home we go. For some kids there is a punishing round of sport and extracurricular activities that are meant to enhance our chances of success in life. For others, it's home to the afternoon cartoon and kids shows on TV (which are filled with violence, danger, excitement and drama) or computer games that are again based on violence, competition, or drama of some kind. Usually accompanied by soft drinks, convenience foods such as chips, lollies, chocolate etc.

At some point, parents raise the subject of homework, which reminds our stressed child of all the negative, stressful things that occurred during the day. At this point, homework becomes a battleground and often the parent retreats in defeat or forces the issue which creates more stress and a feeling of ill-will between parent and child...

Diana Vogel

Diana Vogel is known by many parents as "The Kid Whisperer" because of her amazing ability to diagnose learning issues of children within the first 20 minutes...

Diana is a sought after speaker, specialist tutor, parent educator and author who is passionate about teaching parents and their dyslexic children the life skills they need to maximise their chances of success. The mother of 2 wonderful boys, one of which is dyslexic, Diana has seen both the positive and negative sides of the dyslexia coin.

To learn more about Diana and the work she does, go to

Source: EzineArticles
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Learning Environment


Stress Rises


Environmental Stress


Store Stress


Body Posture







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