January 10, 2018

Dear Flint Hill School Families,

Wow! It has been quite a start to the new year. After last year’s very mild and comfortable winter, we have experienced two snow days and two delayed openings in the first six days since returning from break. If nothing else, it all reminds us that Mother Nature is in control. The cold temperatures, schedule changes and driving conditions during the past week were enough to cause stress for even the most easy-going among us, and the topic of stress and how we manage it is what I’d like to cover this week.

Stress is a part of life; there is no question about it. We all experience it in different contexts, and it can be both good and bad. (Here is a link for you on a great talk about how we deal with stress.) Since stress is such a large part of the human condition, it is important to understand it better. It also is a part of our children’s lives, and it has received quite a bit of attention recently in the educational literature. Some of this coverage has focused on questions about the amount of homework assigned at many schools and the impact it has at home. Discussions about the effects of stress from social media and cell phone use have also gained national attention.

Depression, teen suicide, academic pressure, sexual harassment, family discord, drugs, alcohol, eating disorders, and world events can all come together at times to put us under stress. But before we can understand how we confront it, and how we can support our children, we need to understand exactly what is happening. In fact, there are three very distinct stages that we experience whenever we are confronted with stress: alarm, resistance and exhaustion.

Alarm is exactly like it sounds. An “alarm” goes off inside of us when we are suddenly facing a stressful situation. We become alert and focus on what we need to do to prepare for what’s next. I know our students felt it during the recent exam period. Sometimes, they would talk about getting breathless or feeling their hearts racing — all of this is part of the human body’s “alarm” response to stress.

Resistance has to do with how we deal with a potentially stressful situation. When bad weather appears in the forecast as it has recently, some of us find ourselves looking anxiously out of the window waiting for snow to fall. Perhaps you kept checking the Weather Channel or an app on your phone during the past week for the latest update on weather conditions. All of those actions are ways of dealing with or “resisting” stress.

Interestingly, while most people understand and appreciate the alarm and resistance stages of stress, they have never been taught about the third and final stage — exhaustion. That exhaustion can often manifest as simply as a sigh or deep breath when we finally achieve a moment of peace. Do you remember, as a student, turning in a test or a paper and going back to your chair and just slumping there just for a second? Do you wonder why we all saw so many students and faculty coming down with colds and flu symptoms just as we were getting ready for Winter Break? Believe me, it wasn’t just the weather that brought all of that on. A weakened immune system is one of many telltale signs of exhaustion. We may be able to hold the germs off for a while, but they can finally overwhelm us when other aspects of our lives push us to our limits. I personally spent our first few days back in Texas with tissues in hand, constantly sniffling and coughing as we visited our friends out west.

As long we understand these three stages, we can better appreciate how to cope with stress and how to help our children cope with theirs. Next week, I will talk about the four main causes of stress, how they can arise in an environment like ours and strategies for managing those stressors.

I am glad we are all back! I am happy that the weather appears to be on the upswing, and I am happy to have had a “normal” school day today. During carpool this morning, the 28-degree temperature felt downright balmy after what we’ve experienced lately. As I say often, it’s all about perspective. So enjoy the rest of this week, I look forward to working together to confront this great new year ahead.  If we can be helpful in any way, please do not hesitate to call on me.

Best wishes to you!

Sincerely,

John M. Thomas
Headmaster