June 21, 2013

Stress and the Brain

I was going to wait until I finished reading Brain Rules, then post my review.  However, the material I read today is so compelling that I just had to talk about it.  I was especially intrigued by the chapter on stress. 

Chronic stress is so toxic!  Brain Rule #8 is “Stressed brains don’t learn the same way.”  Dr. Medina’s evidence suggests that the more accurate rule is, “Chronic stress causes brain damage!” It is unbelievable how much damage stress can do to the body.

Brain Rules relies on a three part definition of stress.  1) There is measurable physiological response.  2) The stressor is definitely not wanted by the person.  3) The person has no feeling of control over the stressor.  When all three are present you have stress.

A little stress when you need a shot of adrenaline to get away from danger, or lift a car off your trapped baby is helpful.  The real problem comes in when the stress lasts for too long.  The stress hormones build up and cause problems.  It can lead to heart attack, stroke, and a depressed immune system.  It can also short circuit the ability to learn.

According to Medina, “Stressed people don’t do math very well. They don’t process language very efficiently.   They have poorer memories, both short and long forms.  Stressed individuals do not generalize or adapt old pieces of information to new scenarios as well as non-stressed individuals.  They can’t concentrate.  In almost every way it can be tested, chronic stress hurts our ability to learn.” 

This further convinces me of how important it is to be sure that kids feel safe and are in a loving environment, at home and at school.  I think it should be a wake-up call for all educators. Dr. Medina is careful not to give prescriptions because his research has not tested various remedies.  That is what educators need to work on.  How can learning environments (at home or school) be as stress free as possible?  Are there ways that schools or other organizations (churches, medical groups, etc.) can come alongside families and help them create less stressful homes?

As a parent, I was struck by the evidence that a conflicted, stressful marriage creates chronic stress for kids.  Dr. Medina sites Dr. John Gottman, who has done extensive research on what patterns lead to stressful marriages (and ultimately divorce) and has developed interventions to help.  He has also evaluated the effects of marital conflict on the stress levels of the children (as measured by stress hormones in their urine –very scientific.)    The evidence naturally leads to the conclusion that improving marital stability and overall peace in the home will help children learn better (and be healthier and happier).   I think I have to read John Gottman’s book, Why Marriages Succeed or Fail…And How You Can Make Yours Last.  I may also look at Brain Rules for Baby to see what Dr. Medina has to say about parenting.

No comments:

Post a Comment