In Module 5 of the Brain Story Certification, three types of stress are explained. The first, called positive stress, is beneficial because it prepares the brain and body for stressful situations later in life. The second, called tolerable stress, is triggered by more serious events, however support from caregivers can buffer the severity of the stress response, help keep stress levels regulated, and should not cause any lasting damage to the child’s brain and body. The third type of stress is toxic stress which occurs during repeated exposure to bad situations, like abuse. If there are no supportive adults to help buffer the stress response, the hormone levels in the body stay dangerously high. Toxic stress can cause serious health problems later in life such as an increased sensitivity to stress, increased levels of inflammation, and glucocorticoid resistance.
Students bring varying levels of stress to school every day. Teachers notice when a student is behaving differently than they usually do, and in my experience, this is usually an indication that the student has some underlying stress in their life. Research has proven that negative, stressful experiences can weaken brain architecture. Teachers and schools provide safe spaces for students and it is essential that schools continuously work to maintain a caring learning environment because even extreme stresses will be tolerable stresses if they are adequately buffered by supportive caring adults. This starts with forming positive relationships with students so that they feel confident to let teachers know that they are struggling. In my classroom, I have a Mental Health check-in poster where students can privately indicate how they are doing from, “I’m great!” to “I need a check-in”. This has been very effective for my students and for me as I can keep a pulse on the stress levels in my classroom and can offer support or referrals to services that they may need such as counselling. Relationships are formed and strengthened and I believe that I am able to buffer at least some of their stress.