The Circle of Stress

Tamara Fyke

Although we are entering into Year three of pandemic life, there have been some hidden blessings. One is the rising awareness of mental health. From social media to the morning news, everyone is talking about it.  Mental health impacts our overall well-being because it encompasses how we deal with stress, how we relate to others, and what choices we make. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the number one mental illness is anxiety. Approximately 18.1 percent of American adults (42 million people) deal with anxiety.

Stress and anxiety often go hand-in-hand. Stress is our bodies’ response to an external challenge or demand which can cause emotional or physical tension. The positive stress of a workout helps our bodies become stronger. The positive stress of an upcoming musical performance can drive us to practice our craft.  However, the negative stress of a traumatic event, such as a car accident or physical altercation, or the prolonged stress of food insecurity or homelessness can hurt our bodies. It is that ongoing stress that can cause anxiety. Symptoms of anxiety can include excessive worrying, feeling agitated, restlessness, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, panic attacks, and more. 

In our schools, we are living in an endless circle of stress.

A December 2021 Newsweek article speaks of the recent resignation of superintendents across America as “The Great Exodus.” Administrators have been overwhelmed by the impact of the pandemic, social issues, and staff shortages. Therefore, many are retiring early. 

Likewise, teachers are feeling the weight of the pandemic. The challenges of online learning coupled with the uncertainty of schedules due to variants cause incredible strain. Not to mention the fact that many teachers are working for lower wages than their corporate counterparts. 

Families are also feeling the heaviness of working from home…and schooling from home. Their daily routines have been upended for the past several years, leaving many parents at the end of themselves. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reports that families are reporting serious financial problems, lack of medical care and joblessness. 

Our children are paying the greatest cost which is exhibited by increased anxiety, depression, and other mental disorders. One in seven have been impacted by lockdowns while 1.6 billion children in the world have suffered some loss of education (Unicef). The estimated loss to economies is nearly $390 billion per year.

The bottom line is that we are all dealing with stress. Often when we are feeling stressed or anxious, it can be difficult to empathize with others around us. We are caught in our own circle of stress. However, it is imperative that we find a way to step out of our own orbit and attend to the needs of others, especially as leaders in schools and communities. But how?

First and foremost, we must take care of the children. Providing safe places where they are seen, known, valued, and loved is of utmost importance. That may be at home, at school, at afterschool programs, or even at weekend services. Offering meaningful interactions for social and emotional growth through stories, conversations, art, and play instills hope. 

Simultaneously, we as caring adults need to take care of ourselves. Just as we are told on an airplane, we must put on our air mask before we can place it on our children. 

Here are some suggestions for dealing with stress:

  • Keep a journal. – Write and process your thoughts & feelings.
  • Exercise. – Move your body each day.
  • Eat healthy and regular meals. – You are what you eat. 
  • Adhere to a sleep routine. – We need 7-8 hours per night for maximum functioning.
  • Avoid caffeine. – Too much caffeine can give you the jitters.
  • Think positive thoughts. – Speak life over yourself and your family.
  • Spend time with family and friends. – Laugh and play together.

Teach these skills and habits to the children in your care. Together we can defeat stress and live in peace with ourselves and each other.


About the author

Tamara Fyke is an educator and social entrepreneur with a passion for kids, families, and urban communities. She is the creator and author of Love In A Big World, which provides mental health, SEL, and wellness curriculum and content. During quarantine, Tamara created MusiCity Kids, an online educational show for kids ages 6-12 that addresses health, movement, character development, STEAM, and more.

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