Last week I was facilitating a training for high school students at the Youth Advocacy Leadership Conference for the Los Angeles County Office of Education.
I was teaching students about the adolescent brain, stress, and the impacts on learning, behavior, mood and choices. So as to include all voices in the room, I guided them to www.menti.com where they could answer some survey questions and we could see the results in real time.
One of the questions asked students to note what made them feel stressed. Can you guess the number one stressor? School.
I asked students to reflect on these results. What was surprising? Validating? Comforting? Confusing?
One of the students said,
“What’s surprising to me is how many of us said that school is what stresses us out the most. That just seems off. Shouldn’t school be the place where we learn and grow, not get stressed? To have it be the biggest stressor just seems wrong.”
And then I heard the murmur in the room. “Yea, that doesn’t make any sense. It’s so backwards. It’s almost like we should be learning how NOT to be stressed in school.”
Some words shake us to our core when they come out of the mouth of an adolescent. This was one of those moments for me. I’ve been doing this mind-body integration work for over 15 years and something about these students reflections touched me in a different way.
The urgency was palpable. These 125 teenage leaders in Los Angeles were looking at me for answers. ‘How could this be?‘ was written all over their faces. It never felt so obviously wrong.
Stress in our schools (and in our world for that matter) is of high concern. Stress is multidimensional and interdependent on so many variables; and while we need to continue asking the hard questions about what’s causing the stress and how we can help to decrease and prevent it in the first place, we also must ACT TODAY and use the tools we know can help manage our stress RIGHT NOW.
Although there are many ways we can work to manage stress, one of the quickest, most reliable methods is MOVEMENT.
Unlike the days of our ancestors, when stress was life threatening (think tiger coming after you!), today’s stress is usually not life-threatening. Yet, the body responds as if the tiger were coming. The body releases the hormones adrenaline and cortisol to help us outrun the tiger, but if we don’t actually have a tiger to run from, the hormones just build up in the body. They need to be released and this happens through movement.
I took the high school students outside to ‘get away from the tiger’ – we used burpees and sun salutations to get away from the tiger, move through the stress, and increase the feel good chemicals dopamine and serotonin. I told the students that somehow, it doesn’t matter how, but you need to MOVE away from the tiger.
Run away from the tiger.
Dance away from the tiger.
Skateboard away from the tiger.
Ski away from the tiger.
Hip hop away from the tiger.
Box away from the tiger.
It doesn’t matter how, but you must get away from the tiger!
When we came inside to close up our session, I asked students to reflect on how they felt. The responses? Relaxed. Alert. Focused. More awake. Happy. Calm. Peaceful. At one with the earth (that was my favorite!).
One student noted,
“I realize that I need to move more so I can do better in school. I think I can learn more if I feel relaxed, focused and awake.”
Yes, I think so too.
The good news is that sometimes we are working too hard to engage our students, wake them up, talk them through their problems, and help them manage their stress, when often a run, a walk, some dancing and stretching before class can do all of that for you.
The mind and the body are interdependent. Get the body involved in learning – get kids moving and find them awake, energized, happier, and less stressed.
Download this one pager “10 Mind-Body Regulation Practices” you can use tomorrow to help your kids and yourself clear some space for learning and joy.
May you find some joy in moving,