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What’s the Difference Between a Stressor and a Stress Response?

Last month we talked about recovery, and this month let’s dive into the experience of stress a little more. It’s helpful to distinguish between stressors – the external (or internal) events that may lead to a response from us, and our own individual stress response.

Stressors at school may include preparing or proofing reports, a challenging relationship with a team member, and/or supporting specific students presenting with a range of needs. 

Our stress response is often made up of both the interconnected neuro-biological (stress hormones and neurotransmitters) and psychological (our emotional response and beliefs kicking into action) as we assess, interpret and respond to the stressor, whatever it may be. 

As Stuart Shanker*, the Nagosky sisters, and many others have taught us over the years, it’s helpful to be conscious of the impact both of these groups (stressors and stress responses) have on our wellbeing.

Addressing stressors may lead us to problem solve (if it is an issue we can influence) or manage our thoughts and emotions to cope  (if it’s an issue that we can’t influence).

Addressing our stress response can be in the moment, using relaxation and mindfulness strategies to activate our parasympathetic nervous system; and recovery over time, including wellbeing strategies like movement, sleep, and social support. These allow us to process our stress responses and return to balance, rather than staying in a state of chronic stress or hypervigilance (the latter are no good for our physical health).

During the holidays, take time to reduce those stressors where you can, and increase wellbeing strategies – try and build a habit or two in for the term ahead too!

* Shanker, S. (2020) Reframed, Self-Reg for a Just Society.

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