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Self-Reg Definitions Series

by Stuart Shanker

We Are All Experiencing Stress

Ever wonder why parents and guardians seem to have a ton on their plate? Picture this: they’re getting everyone ready for the day, sorting out meals, helping with homework, and juggling work stuff—all while dealing with serious things like money, health concerns, and even making sure everyone is safe and getting along. It’s a lot, right? Some families have even more to handle, and it’s not like the TV shows where everything gets fixed in 30 minutes. Nope, real families deal with real stuff. And the stress is overwhelming for so many families right now.

And let’s not forget that this isn’t just happening in homes. Think about those incredible early childhood educators—they’re the ones navigating not just the world of learning, but also managing different little personalities, handling unexpected behaviours, and ensuring every child feels secure and has their needs met. 

Then there are our schools, complex communities with educators juggling lesson plans, addressing diverse learning needs, and guiding students through various challenges. It’s a lot, just like at home. Some kids might need extra support, others might be adjusting to new environments, and teachers are working hard to ensure everyone feels included. Especially right now, educators are facing unique challenges, dealing with heightened behaviours, and managing the ever-changing dynamics of the learning space. 

So, before we dive into figuring out how to help, let’s talk about what we mean when we say “stress” in these places.” 

What is Stress?

A stress is any stimulus, internal or external, that triggers physiological processes whose function is to maintain homeostasis. Walter Cannon gave the classic example of how cold weather is a stress that activates thermoregulators in the hypothalamus. When body temperature drops two or more degrees, this triggers a cascade of neurobiological and physiological processes that maintain a stable internal temperature.

The New Science of Stress

These physiological processes can expend an enormous amount of energy. The function of the stress-response is to meet this demand. The stress-response is triggered by a dense group of neurons in a tiny structure located in the hypothalamus, called the Paraventricular Nucleus (PVN). When these neurons are activated, they release corticotropin releasing factor (CRF). This peptide initiates a hormonal wave that ultimately provides the energy needed for the physiological processes that have been activated. CRF causes the adrenal system to release ACTH, which in turn triggers the release of cortisol in the adrenal neocortex. Cortisol mobilizes the energy stored in our fat cells that is needed to maintain homeostasis. 

If you would like to learn more about the science of stress, see my #ShankerTalk webinar: Deep Brain Terrain.

The 5 Domains of Stress

Graphic illustrating the 5 domains of Self-Reg: biological, emotion, social, pro social and cognitive.

There are five broad domains of stress:

How to Help: Learn More About Stress & The Shanker Method

Shanker Self-Reg® gives us the framework for understanding stress and the scientific grounding to create our own tools and strategies to tackle stress head on. Take the first steps on your Self-Reg learning journey today, as thousands of others have.

Here are some places to start:

  • Do you know what a Stress Detective is? Would you like to become one? Take our Framework 101 Course for individuals or teams, where we explore each of the 5 Domains of stress: biological, emotion, cognitive, social & prosocial
  • Defining stress in your context can be hard. Here are some example stressors in each of the 5 Domains, to kick start your Stress Detecting.
  • Checkout this TOOL for helping us identify our own or another’s stressors
  • Let’s take this a step further. Learn the scientific underpinnings of Stress and how to apply this learning in your community to enhance the wellbeing of those in your care. Join our Self-Reg Foundations Certificate Program or our Early Childhood Development Program.

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