We need to be realistic. Stress is a part of life. It is essential to learning and healthy development, provides the building blocks of resilience. Things like hunger, thirst, being cold, working out, and big projects are all stressors. However, prolonged stress activation requires a tremendous amount of emotional and physical energy which, in turn, leads to exhaustion. You've probably noticed that you, and others, feel more fatigue, less capable of focus, and more irritable.
So remember to be gentle with yourself and others!
The social and emotional parts of your brain are super overworked right now and interfering with learning and logical, organized thinking.
Your Core Regulatory Networks (CRN) are what control all your stress responses. They constantly monitor everything coming in from outside and everything we think about on the inside. All information goes through them to get to the cortex, which controls your logic and organization skills.
Why do many of us find ourselves or people around us in a state of vulnerability right now?
Continual stress sensitizes the CRN, making what would normally be an acceptable level of challenge become completely overwhelming. This stress can be described as chaotic, severe, prolonged, and uncontrollable.
What we want to be in is a state of resilience, where stress is predictable, moderate and controllable. Where we feel connected and that our work is meaningful. Where we have a secure income, secure housing, cultural connections. Where we feel we have a safe and stable family and community.
Two important things to remember: resilience and vulnerability are neither permanent states nor either/or conditions. There are varying degrees of both and we may move in and out of these states from one day to another. Have you had some small thing happen that ruined your entire day? Where you knew you were over-reacting, but were absolutely powerless to change your response.
How does this knowledge apply to what we see as Covid-19 related distress?
Our capacity to demonstrate resilience is “malleable”. To maintain or build resilience, we need to bring structure, predictability, moderation, and controllability to the stress in our life.
What we have been experiencing is prolonged and severe stress. Signs of this that you might recognize in yourself and others are minimal daily structure, comfort eating, too much media, minimal exercise, emotional isolation, being self-focused, sleep disruption, being overly negative, and being overly ruminative (over-thinking).
This pandemic is taking the most vulnerable of us and making them more vulnerable. And even the most resilient among us are feeling worn out.
We have had to accept that there are many stress factors in our lives we cannot control. But what can we do to navigate our way through this?
The dilemma is that high expectations are getting too much as students and adults are worn out, their mental and emotional states becoming more dysregulated and more disengaged.
We have to learn how to adapt to new situations and recognize that sequential processing is happening (information going through the emotional center first before arriving at the cortex). Our old self-care plans may not be doable right now, so we have to find new ones. We can still do self-care, but in different ways.
Our students need the adults in their lives to be mentally healthy and stable right now. Those of us who have children or are in educational professions tend to put our own needs behind the needs of our children, but we also need to focus on ourselves because dysregulation is contagious! If the adults surrounding young people and children are not emotionally healthy, the kids will sense it and they will feel even more ungrounded and tenuous. They will unconsciously mirror the adults’ stress.
In a calm state, we are able to accept larger doses of stress-inducing information with minimal time in between for assimilating that information. In a state of dysregulation, our attention span and ability to handle new information is much shorter (5-7 minutes maximum) and we need more assimilation time. This means that work and study sessions need to be broken up into shorter sessions.
What can we do to help re-regulate our brains?
Repeated and rhythmic activities are great for adding regulation back into our brains. Maybe you can play a song you love and dance for a brain break, or if you are a musician, enjoy a musical interlude. If those don’t appeal to you, take a short walk, bike, or run. The fresh air and physical activity will rejuvenate your entire body!
Some other suggestions for adding structure and calm to your lives are creating daily routines, having family meals, limiting media time (who needs all that negativity), exercising, reaching out to others, helping others, getting better sleep time, and working to stay more positive and future focused. Instead of thinking about what you can’t do, reframe it as to all of the things you are looking forward to doing again.
Most importantly, help each other to feel safe and regulated. Do your best not to add fear and stress to someone else’s already heavily burdened mind.
For more information as to ways to help yourself and your family members to regulate their stress, visit this site for a free, on-line course with some great ideas.
Haut-Lac School Counselor