There are three 6th grade sections at the school where I currently teach. These sixth graders have an enlightened and passionate Science teacher who makes study of the brain their main focus throughout the year. Among the many topics explored, she guides the students to learn about how they learn – metacognition in real time! She invited me to do a session with each section about stress and relaxation. Below are my notes.
If anyone has suggestions for improving this session, please leave a comment. Thanks!
Room Setup – this was done in the Science classroom where all the furniture was movable. We moved the tables to the perimeter of the room and placed the chairs in a semi- circle (a large C shape) on the inside of that perimeter, facing the board. We tried to have equal room between the chairs to facilitate movement activities. My chair was part of the circle and near the board for easy access.
The movement portions were accompanied by music played on my laptop using external speakers.
How’s everyone feeling? Introductions
Talk about how there are butterflies in my stomach due to: not knowing any of the students and being excited to teach a topic of huge interest to me. Further note that, due to nervousness and excitement, I will likely not remember everyone’s names.
Nonetheless, to try and help me recall names, please introduce yourself and tell me something about you. (Depending upon the time – for the first two groups we had 45 mins, for the third group we had 90 mins – have the kids also make a movement with their arms or body as they introduce themselves.)
Synovial Joint Warmup to music (Wade in the Water – about 4 mins)
- toes & ankles
- gentle neck roll – avoid dropping head back
- wrist rolls
- squat knee circles
- hip circles
- empty coat sleeve twists
- hokey-pokey right arm, then left arm
- hokey-pokey right leg, then left leg
- mouth & eyes
- whole body
What happens inside your body when everything is pretty much feeling fine?
- HOMEOSTASIS (homeo = same; stasis = stable) – a fairly stable balance in your body between the energizing & calming chemicals inside you
- the SYMPATHETIC (activates “fight or flight”) & PARASYMPATHETIC (activates relaxation response) nervous systems are in synch with one another
Stress, anyone? What happens in your body when you fall out of homeostasis? i.e. out of balance –> you experience STRESS
- “fight or flight”
- release of CORTISOL
- a sense of learned helplessness
- a sense of feeling threatened
What’s the deal with CORTISOL?
- a little bit is helpful for energy
- helps enhance long term memory, i.e. learning
- LIMBIC system is the Drama Department of your brain – memory & learning are enhanced when there is an emotional component
- however, too much emotion in either direction results in more cortisol, which is detrimental towards learning b/c too much cortisol can kill neurons in the hippocampus, which is a major player in forming memory i.e. in learning
- insufficient sleep can increase cortisol
Long-term effects of too much cortisol include:
- decreased immune system, i.e. more likely to get sick
- reduces memory ability, i.e. ability to recall existing memories & form new memories
- impacts social skills & creative skills
What can cause stress? (below is a generic list –> rather than share these, do the BALANCE ACTIVITY listed below)
- lots of excitement
- deadlines (school work, being late)
- intense competition
- hectic environment
- really fast music
- strong feeling of impending failure
- being held accountable
- feeling out of control
- trying to accomplish something but not having what you need
- an unusual challenge
- insufficient sleep
Positive and Negative Stress – BALANCE ACTIVITY
- talk about the Balance Scale (like the scales of Justice – one cup on either side of the center) – discuss what the balance represents
- hand out index cards to each person and have them write down the negative stressors in their lives and the feelings associated with those stressors
- ask the kids to each share one item from their list, and explain that it is quite possible that some kids will have the same or similar stressors
- have the kids come up and place their Negative Stressor index cards on one side of the scale – what happens to homeostasis?
- leave the cards in place on the balance and hand out a second set of index cards to each person – have them write down the positive stressors in their lives and the feelings associated with those stressors
- ask the kids to each share one item from their list
- take the negative stressor index cards off the balance and place them to the side – have the kids come up and place their Positive Stressor index cards on the other side of the scale – what happens to homeostatis?
- kids will often quickly comment that the negative stressors need to return to the scale in order to return to a balance – discuss what this means in terms of themselves
How to deal with stress (below is a generic list –> rather than share these, do the SUGGESTIONS ACTIVITY listed below)
- exercise (but not if it’s 4 hours or less before sleep)
- eat a light, non-spicy dinner
- get sufficient sleep
- drink plenty of water –> there’s more water in your brain than anywhere else in your body (followed by muscles, then kidneys) and the stress response kicks in if access to water is restricted; within 5 mins of drinking water there is a noticeable decline in corticoids
- lack of water is #1 reason for daytime tiredness –> hits your muscles and your brain
- and try these relaxation techniques (we did a yoga session that includes various poses, breathing techniques and guided relaxation AFTER we did the SUGGESTIONS ACTIVITY noted below)
Dealing with Stress – SUGGESTIONS ACTIVITY
- go around the room and have kids share what they do to destress
- keep a running list on the board
- do not judge the ideas (for instance, if they resort to eating comfort food that is filled with sugar)
- using the list of kid-generated destressors as the basis, discuss positive ways to deal with stress
- go further into the LIMBIC system
- lead into a discussion/lesson on the Teen Brain