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Jan 19

Dec 13/Jan 14 Stress

Dec 2013/Jan 2014 Monthly Ed Tip - Stress

Welcome to the most wonderful time of the year, with the kids jingle-belling, and everyone telling you to "be of good cheer." And I’m sure that your heart is light because from now on all your troubles will be out of sight?

At least according to our popular Christmas songs, at this time of the year we’re supposed to be joyful, merry, dreaming of a white Christmas, and rocking around the Christmas tree at the Christmas party hop.

Is that you this holiday season? No, then why not?

All too often, the holiday season brings unwelcome guests — stress and depression. And it's no wonder. The holidays present a dizzying array of demands — parties, shopping, baking, cleaning, and entertaining, to name just a few. In addition, given today’s continued economic uncertainty, the holidays have the potential to create additional challenges this year. Families are cutting back, people are worrying about job security or unemployment, and seniors are concerned about their retirement.

“The chief and primary cause of the very rapid increase in nervousness is modern civilization which is distinguished from the ancients by these five characteristics; steam power, the periodical press, the telegraph, the sciences, and the mental activity of women.” George M. Beard.

Beard is talking about the start of the Industrial Revolution and the social change that accompanied technology change. The same is true today-we are living in an exceptionally stressed out society.

Let’s face it, not much has changed, - stress isn’t going anywhere. It’s been plaguing us since the dawn of humankind. Stress is the body’s response to danger or the fear of danger. Back when our ancestors lived in caves or roamed the East African savannahs, they feared stressors like a saber-tooth tiger, not the demand of the holiday season.

A 2012 survey showed that many Americans report feelings of high stress, and more than 20% rate levels between 8 and 10 on a 10-point scale, according to In the same study, 39% of adults said their stress has increased over the past year.

Chronic stress may lead to high blood pressure and a weakened immune system, as well as contributing to anxiety, depression, and sleep problems. A recent review of research reports that high stress people are more likely to develop heart disease.

“We’re entering the dawn of the super-stress era,” says Ann Mack, global director of trend spotting at JWT, an ad agency that picked “super stress” as one of 2013’s most highly charged trends.

Writing in USA Today, Bruce Horovitz notes that in 2012, 7 in 10 Americans said they regularly suffered physical symptoms due to stress, and 67% said they regularly experience psychological symptoms, reports the American Psychological Association. The APA reports the top 3 causes of stress are money, work, and the economy.

Hans Selye, a Hungarian endocrinologist who died 1983, was the first to use the word stress about 75 years ago. Hans’ definition of stress was “the non-specific response of the body to any demand.” The medical term for stress is cardiomyopathy.

The stress response is designed to protect us. In times of stress, the body’s defense system releases adrenaline and cortisol, the so-called “stress hormones,” that activates a built-in immediate response to a serious but passing danger. Here in the 21st century, our stressors aren’t as dangerous as the one’s our ancestor faced, but our responses to them - like a racing heart – are. We don’t have to fight off saber tooth tigers, but our bodies act as though we do when we experience stress.

When we experience stress, the human body goes into a fight–or–flight mode. Our ancestors, when suddenly faced with a stressful situation had three options: run for their lives, fight and kill the beast, or fight and be killed. Whatever the outcome, their stress was burned through their emergency response – as a result, early man didn’t suffer from ulcers or have to take blood pressure medicine.

So, if stress is beneficial by helping us survive, why and how does it cause the myriad of detrimental effects of stress? Take into account that most of the survival issues our ancestors faced in the first few million years took minutes to settle. They are designed to get our muscles moving as quickly as possible and out of harm’s way.

But today with our hectic work and home schedules, teenagers, and money problems, our stress is measured in hours, days, months, and sometimes even years. Our system isn’t built for that. Over time when high levels of stress are not properly managed, the body’s responses can range from anxiety disorders, migraines, immune system disorders, joint problems, and heart disease and stroke.

Our bodies react to stressful situation in ways you can feel. Stressors cause our body to release excessive levels of adrenaline and cortisol, which increase heart rate, blood pressure, and rate of breathing and that, over time, damage health.

In fact, prolong stress can damage your brain. Cortisol has an immediate and negative impact on the hippocampus, which is critical in the formation of memories, the consolidation of information from short-term memory to long-term memory, and spatial navigation. The hippocampus is loaded with cortisol receptors, making it particularly responsive to stress signals. Cortisol directly affects the hippocampus by damaging the cells of the hippocampus, and at the very least, hampering the ability to learn and remember. Cortisol also stops neurogensis, the birth of neurons, in the hippocampus. And quite literally, under severe conditions, stress hormones cause brain damage by killing hippocampal cells.

Can stress really make your hair fall out?  Yes, the more stress you fell, the lower the testosterone, and lower testosterone puts you at higher risk for hair lost.  Your body instinctively treats stress as a threat to your survival, and it will do anything to support its ability to balance stress hormones-including sacrificing sex hormones like testosterone.  Basically, your body choose survival over sex. (Source: Esquire 2013).

Enough about the effects of stress, the important question is what can we do about it? Below are a few strategies that may reduce stress

Stress & Exercise: The number one strategy for successfully alleviating stress is exercise. Plato had it right when he wrote some 2,400 years ago, “In order for man to succeed in life, God provided him with two means, education and physical. Not separately, one for the soul and the other for the body, but for the two together. With these two means, man can attain perfection.”

“If you don’t have a physical output for stress, it stays in the body, the symptoms don’t go away, and they lead to more permanent health problems,” says Nora Howley, manager of programs at National Education Association’s Health Information Network. If you’re not a runner, experiment with other forms of exercise. Try a Pilates, a Karate class, or take dance lessons. Go for a bike ride, or, at the very least, take a walk.

Stress & Yoga: Control stress with an early morning seven-minute yoga exercise routine, meditation, or relation exercises.

For those who are unable to be more physically active or if your personality does not lend itself to exercise, undertake meditation and relaxation exercises to minimize stress. Proper breathing from the diaphragm and visualization are proven ways to lower your heat rate.

By the time you’re 50, your heart has beaten about 2 billion times – a lot of wear and tear. Yoga can repair some of the damage by helping lower your heart rate. It also relaxes your blood vessels and reduces stress, which is especially important as you begin your day. One recent study found that there are 36% more heart attacks on Mondays – just when people are heading back to work – than there are on Sundays. Source: AARP Magazine, December 2011.

Want proof that early morning yoga or meditation works?

I’m not talking about chanting “om” or repeating mantras. Instead, it is about being present in the moment and paying attention to thoughts and emotions without passing judgment. A study in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity suggests that mindful mediation may help reduce feeling of loneliness in older adults and cut the body’s inflammatory response to stressful emotions.

Deepak Chopra, famed 66-year old holistic health guru, says he never feels stress. He wakes at 4 a.m. daily and meditates for 2 hours. Then, he writes for an hour before going to the gym. Chopra takes no medicine, has never had surgery, nor has never been hospitalized. “This is embarrassing, but I don’t get stress,” he says.

“You can’t buy un-stress just like you can’t buy love. Unstressing is easy and inexpensive – sit still for 10 minutes every day and breathe. It will do wonders,” says Robbie Blinkoff, managing partner of Context-Base Research Group in Baltimore.

Chopra agrees. He says that simple meditation, which costs nothing, can be the best way to distress. He notes, though, that many people prefer to be held by the hand and led there, even though they could get there on their own for free.

There are literally billions to be made from yoga: Yoga is a $6 billion business that ranks as one of the 10 fastest-growing industries, according to IBISWorld Industry, a market research firm.

Stress and the Holidays: Take steps to prevent the stress and depression that can come during the holiday season. Learn to recognize your holiday triggers such as personal demands. With a little planning and some positive thinking, you can find the peace and joy of the Christmas season.

Don’t accept every invitation; choose the events you really want to attend. Set priorities and let go of impossible goals. Don’t try to do everything at once. Don’t over-schedule yourself; leave some unplanned time to relax and be at home. Don’t abandon health habits; get adequate sleep, eat regular meals, stick to your exercise routine. Source Philadelphia Archdiocese, December 9, 2012.

Stress and a Furry Friend: Research suggests that when it comes to managing stress, pets may be just as, if not more, soothing than your favorite people. One study found that when people are asked to perform tough math problems, those in the company of pets had significantly lower heart rate and blood pressure, and made fewer mistakes.

Stress and Sex: research suggests that sexual intercourse will help you respond better to stressful situations. It also has been shown to reduce blood pressure. A little cuddling has a similar effect: a quick hug and 10 minutes of hand-holding with a loved one can reduce physical effects of stress, says one study. Source:, December 21-23, 2012.

Stress controlled by writing: Expressive writing – or “written emotional disclosure,” as it’s known in academic circles – has been found to improve physical and emotional health. Developed by psychologist James W. Pennebacker, the first experiment on the health benefits of expressive writing was published in 1986. Since then, well more than 100 randomized controlled studies have demonstrated the benefits of expressive writing across a wide range of health outcomes, including asthma, immune system function, smoking cessation, and many others.

Expressive writing is personal and emotional writing without regard to form or other writing conventions like spelling, punctuation, and verb agreement. Expressive writing literally comes from our core. Expressive writing pays more attention to feelings than the events, memories, objects, or people in the contents of a narrative.

Pennebaker's research project has been replicated hundreds of times with positive outcomes. The writing prompt developed by Pennebaker is often referred to as the Pennebaker Paradigm. If interested, use the link below for The Pennebaker Writing Prompt from John F. Evans in Write Yourself Well.

Easing stress: In a 2013 study, researchers played either classical choral music, sounds of rippling water, or nothing at all for three groups of subjects before making them speak and do arithmetic in front of an audience. Those who listened to the water before performing stayed the calmest, producing the lowest amount of cortisol, which has been associated with type-2 diabetes and heart disease. Source: Parade Magazine, October 13, 2013.

Stress and Eating: Stress affects each of us differently. Some people lose their appetite when they’re upset; others eat more. Research suggests the way we react to stress is affected by the amount of the hormone cortisol in our body. When we’re stressed, the adrenal glands make more cortisol, increasing appetite and the storage of body fat. Those who produce cortical will tend to eat more when they are under stress. Source: “Her Health,” published by Doylestown Hospital, Summer 2004.

Stress and how caffeine affects men and women differently while working on a stressful task: When it comes to working together on stressful tasks, caffeine impairs men’s performance but boosts women’s, according to a study lead by Lindsey St. Claire, of the University of Bristol. St. Claire notes the need for further investigation of men’s tendencies to “fight or flee”: under stress while women “tend and befriend,” and of whether caffeine somehow intensifies those behaviors. In addition, serving caffeinated drinks at business meetings might “unintentionally sabotage” the collaboration needed to resolve the issues the meetings were meant to settle, especially in male-dominated environments. Source: June 2011, US Airways Magazine.

Stress controlled by drugs: Propranolol is used to treat hypertension, anxiety, and panic and was the first beta-blocker developed. Propranolol is often used by musicians and other performers to prevent stage fright and has been taken by surgeons to reduce their own innate hand movements during surgery. They diminish the effects of adrenaline and other stress hormones, and helps mediate the “fight or flight” response.

Propranolol is available from Astra Zeneca and Wyeth under brand names Inderal, Inderal LA, Avlocardyl, Deralin, Dociton, Inderalici, InnoPran XL, Sumial, Anaprilinum, and Bedranol SR.

Stress and Alzheimer’s: The chemical hormone corticosteroid, which the body releases into the blood steam in response to stress, has been shown to be two to three times higher in Alzheimer’s patients than in those without the disease.

In a study conducted by Domenico Praticò, Temple University School of Medicine, stress was initiated by injecting corticosteroid into a study group harboring amyloid beta and the tau protein, two causes of brain lesions that could contribute to Alzheimer’s. Among that group, researchers found significantly higher levels of tau protein. They also found that the synapses, which play a key role in learning and memory, were either damaged or destroyed.

“This was surprising because we didn’t see any significant memory impairment, but the pathology for memory and learning impairment was definitely visible,” Praticò explained. We believe we have identified the earlier type of damage that precedes memory deficit in Alzheimer’s patients.”

Previously, he and his team showed that elevated levels of a brain enzyme (5-lipoxygenase) can increase tau protein levels in areas of the brain controlling memory and cognition, disrupting neuronal communications and contributing to Alzheimer’s disease. The enzyme also increases the levels of amyloid beta, which forms plaques in the brain and is thought to be the cause for neuronal death.

Praticò says the corticosteroid causes an increase in 5-lipoxygenase, which in turn increase the levels of the tau protein and amyloid beta. “The question has always been what upregulates or increases 5-lipoxygenase, and now we have evidence that it is the stress hormone,” he says. “We have identified a mechanism by which the risk factor – having high levels of corticosteroid – could put you at risk of having the disease. Corticosteroid uses the 5-lipoxygenase as a mechanism to damage the synapses, which results in memory and learning impairment, both key symptoms for Alzheimer’s,” Praticò states. Source: Domenico Praticò, Temple University School of Medicine, Published in the journal Aging Cell.

Don’t let stress and depression ruin your holiday season. Know and actively combat your stressors by utilizing some of the techniques mentioned.

And so in closing, I'm offering this simple phrase, to kids from one to ninety-two, and although it's been said many times, many ways, Merry Christmas to you, and best of everything in a less stressful New Year.


“If we can control the attention of the child, we solve the problems of education.” Maria Montessori

This month Ed Tip will examine how to improve students' learning by activating their attention.