November is the beginning of the holiday season, and for some, this can be a stressful time of year. The first Wednesday of November is National Stress Awareness Day which aims to bring awareness to reduce the stress factors in our lives. Everyone has stress. Stress can help us respond to changes in life and can be the body’s way of protecting itself from harm. However, too much stress can cause harm to our health and relationships. Chronic stress causes the body to stay in a constant state of alertness, despite being in no immediate danger. Prolonged chronic stress can disturb the major systems in the body (e.g., immune, digestive, cardiovascular, sleep) and can increase risk for psychiatric disorders and some physical disorders such as cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. As schools begin reopening following the COVID-19 pandemic and stay-at-home orders, we may be seeing the impact this event has on the stress of the students and families we serve.

Students and staff may be experiencing stress-related symptoms. Physical reactions, such as chronic fatigue and exhaustion are the most frequently reported. Difficulty paying attention, confusion, hypervigilance, headaches, stomachaches, or muscle tension may also be felt. Emotional symptoms can include excessive worry or anxiety, disconnection or numbing, feelings of anger, compassion fatigue, demoralization, or resignation. Recurrent crisis thoughts or distressing dreams and even some confusion and difficulty making everyday decisions can occur. Some people may experience sadness, depression, hopelessness, and/or suicidal thoughts. Social or interpersonal signs can include difficulties in relationships at home or work, irritability, outbursts of anger, social withdrawal, or isolation. Excessive use of alcohol and other substances can also be warning signs of stress or secondary trauma.
Within our schools and communities we should encourage taking a break without feeling like we will be seen as weak or a failure. We should encourage open communication around feelings of stress and create a dialogue about coping with stress or asking for support when it is needed.

Blog Post written by Lindsey Schumaker