STRESS Affects Learning - STRESS Affects Living

September 6, 2017

Stress is a catch-all messenger. If you or someone you know is “stressed out” the feeling you are experiencing usually masks one or more specific and real reasons for stress. Underlying contributors to stress are the real culprits negatively affecting a person’s learning, school performance, work performance, and relationships. You may notice stress as physical, behavioral, and mental symptoms. These stress symptoms may also be adding to mental and physical health problems.

The real reasons for stress must be identified and treated to lessen the negative effects of stress. Just for starters consider that relationships, school and work performance, and being healthy become more difficult if one or more of the following factors, or others factors not on the list, are affecting you or affecting someone you care about.

Look over this list or common stress factors and note which factors you think might be one of a number of reasons for you or someone you care about feeling stressed.

  • Depression
    • In children/adolescents depression is often shown as high irritability or reclusiveness among several other symptoms.
    • In adults depression is often recognized as decreased or increased eating or sleeping, decreased interest in interests/activities that used to be enjoyed, and loss of energy and effectiveness.
    • Other forms of mood conditions may display as over-the-top behavior (e.g., irresponsible, talking too much, engaging in risky behavior, busy to the point of too little sleep).
  • Anxiety is a broad category of conditions and shows up in many forms but often avoidance or fears are involved in some way.
  • ADHD – Core symptoms, distractibility, impulsivity, disorganization, and/or hyperactivity, are usually present as well as numerous other behaviors that interfere with performance. However, these symptoms may also have other causes.
  • Learning disability often displays as problems with reading, math, writing, and/or understanding. Learning disability often contributes to disorganized processing of information that is heard, watched, or read, or a person’s speech or written output is disorganized or rambling.
  • Memory processes and general information processing problems are shown by difficulty retaining or recalling information that is heard, seen, or read. You may feel like you can’t keep up as well as others in conversations, or when hearing or seeing information.
  • Hearing problems come in many forms, some are subtle. Hearing problems can be detected with a full hearing evaluation. However, some listening problems are more about the brain processing what is heard.
  • Developmental factors might include seeming to be behind others of the same age and education for learning, displaying clumsiness or poor coordination, speaking or communicating differently, and/or finding it difficult to understanding social meaning and social behavior. Other signs of developmental differences include being under or over sensitive to textures, sounds, or tastes. There may be too much focus on particular interests that makes it hard to break away and do other things that need to be done. Developmental differences often include anxiety or worry and may restrict a person from doing things that most people enjoy.
  • Family problems for any number of reasons is usually stressful. A person may restrict what he/she says or does to avoid aggravating a family member. There may be anxiety about others finding out about family problems and being seen as flawed. Abuse, money or addiction problems may be among the many factors that show up as family problems.
  • Work problems, worry about work, bullying or exploitation at work are stressful.
  • Recent major changes in life, such as moving, changing schools or job, loss of a family member, separation / divorce, a traumatic experience, a significant illness, a blended family, and other major life events, drain a person’s coping resources.
  • Living with a parent, spouse, significant other, or close family member with a mental health or developmental condition, substance use or other addiction problem, behavioral problem, or medical condition that requires a lot of support also puts a strain on the person who has to cope with those circumstances.
  • Having a chronic mental health or medical condition with difficult to manage symptoms or a condition that is under treated or untreated can feel overwhelming.
  • Living in an abusive situation requires that you seek help! Call 216-391-4357 in Cleveland. Tell someone you trust, a doctor, teacher, minister, etc.
  • Sleep disturbance negatively affects essential brain and body functioning.
  • Personal traumatic experience(s) real or felt as life-threatening or life-threatening to someone you love, exposure to disaster, war experiences, extended deprivation, or living in a dangerous location may be high stress contributors.
  • Of course there may be other reasons for stress.

Why should you or an adult you care about, or your child, or college age student who is stressed be assessed? An assessment is the most direct method to identify the real reason for stress and identify the most productive solutions. Left unaddressed, stress tends to increase and become more and more problematic.

  • Ask? Do you want your life or that of your child/adolescent to be reasonably satisfying?
  • Ask? Do you want to maintain your motivation to learn and use skills as a parent, spouse, or at work?
  • Ask? Do you want to help your child/adolescent be motivated to learn and use skills to deal with everyday challenges at school, at home, and with friends?
  • Ask? Do you want to acquire skills or want your child/adolescent to acquire skills to be effective and successful even in difficult situations?

If you answered YES and want these improvements in your life or in the life of someone you care about then you should begin the assessment process. You will gain understanding, gain greater control, and move forward proactively. The assessment process connects you to effective ways to manage stress now and for a lifetime.

Child Stress:

Children often report STRESS in vague ways such as worrying, stomachaches or headaches, or by acting out, or withdrawing. However, many parents are not really aware of just how much worry their child is experiencing or the reasons for the worry/anxiety. It is important to know that stress is announcing a problem(s) that is too big to manage by oneself. You need some insight, direction, and support to take charge. (See link to source information about child stress at end.)

Even if a parent(s) is aware of their child’s distress they often don’t understand the most effective ways to help. The help they may be offering may actually be adding to the child’s stress. When parents ask about a child’s worry and stress, the child may be unwilling to talk about it or feel even more insecure. Children often are not able to identify the real reasons for their worry and stress. However, the child/adolescent may give clues such as saying “I’m stupid!” or “I hate myself!” or “No one likes me!” or “You don’t understand what it’s like for me!” Many parents may suspect a reason(s) for their child’s/adolescent’s stress, but may not realize there may also be more than one reason or hidden reasons why a child may be distressed. That is why a thorough assessment is needed especially if several factors need to be addressed to achieve the greatest benefits.

College/University Student Stress:

Almost a third of college/university students report STRESS. The college/university student’s stress is an indicator for unidentified or poorly accommodated/treated conditions (See earlier list). In particular, bright students who are stressed because of poor academic performance have reached the limit of their ability to cope. There may be an undiagnosed/untreated condition contributing to felt stress. In a misguided effort to decrease the stress feeling the student may engage in behavior that directly and negatively impacts their learning, achievement, and physical and mental health. The student may miss class, not finish or turn in assignments, increasingly use alcohol and other substances, engage in distracting activity (e.g., video games; parties), engage in unsafe sexual behavior, etc. According to the 2014 National College Health Assessment, many U.S. college students develop mental health problems (e.g., anxiety; depression, etc.). Student stress often leads to sleep difficulties, weight gain, eating disorder, poor self-esteem, self-injurious behavior, etc. The student may go to elaborate lengths to mislead parents about their distress. (See links to source information at end.) They may struggle through the first semester and do even more poorly in the second semester. Students often don’t have functional skills to manage stress. Also, adolescent and young adult years are the time in life when genetically related mood conditions can first start to appear and cause problems.

Adult Stress:

Many adults report that they feel stress that negatively affects their mental and physical health. They don’t know as much as they should about skills that reduce stress. There may be problems with money, work, family responsibility, relationships, and health problems that are also contributing to stress. (See link to source information at end.)

A thorough interview with a skillful diagnostician can reveal sources and levels of stress and the underlying reasons for the stress so that targeted sources of help can be recommended. For instance, many adults live with ADHD and have not been diagnosed earlier or were misdiagnosed with some other condition and the treatment isn’t working so well. Women in particular are often not diagnosed with ADHD when they do indeed exhibit it, until they are adults. Adults may struggle with mild mental health problems for years and then, when life stress increases, the symptoms quickly worsen. The person may not know many effective ways to manage those symptoms and to feel better and function more productively. (See link to source information at end.)

Dr. Schaerfl's Personal Comment:

Based on my professional experience working with all ages of clients, I find that identifying the reasons for a child’s, adolescent’s, or adult’s stress symptoms is usually experienced by the person as a relief. When their condition(s) are accurately identified and explained, insight and hope increase (even for a child). An assessment also reveals a person’s strengths! A thorough discussion of the assessment results leads to understanding. Then informed choices lead the person or family to connect with appropriate interventions. By accessing science based interventions and learning science based skills a person and their family members become pro-active instead of remaining discouraged or helpless. I have often had a child tell me that finally someone showed that there were reasons for not being able to do everything that was expected of them. I’ve also had parents tell me that the assessment results helped them understand their child better and improved the relationship. Adults have told me that knowing the reason for their symptoms helped them feel like they could really make positive change.

Links to source information:

Link child stress
http://www.apa.org/monitor/2010/01/stress-kids.aspx

Link college student stress
http://www.acha-ncha.org/docs/ACHA-NCHA-II_ReferenceGroup_ExecutiveSummary_Spring2014.pdf

Link adult stress
http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2015/snapshot.aspx

Do a quick check of symptoms. Download and complete the SNAP-IV form under my website tab Clients & Contact.

Thanks for reading my blog!

Caroline A. Schaerfl, Ph.D., M.Ed., LSW

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