Category Archives for "Science of Stress"

How Does Stress Affect a Child’s Development and Academic Potential?

Understanding cognitive development and stress in children can add context to systems of education.

Pamela Cantor, M.D. practiced child psychiatry for nearly two decades, specializing in trauma. She founded Turnaround for Children after co-authoring a study on the impact of the 9/11 attacks on New York City school children. She is a Visiting Scholar in Education at Harvard University and a leader of the Science of Learning and Development Alliance.

Cantor, Pamela. “How Does Stress Affect a Child's Development and Academic Potential?” Big Think, 26 Dec. 2020,

Marketing and Design Coordinator

Rachel Wixey & Associates


I chose this video because I think it is important to note the stress that kids, even infants face every day, what it can lead to, and how we can manage it.

Good Stress vs. Bad Stress for Kids

An excerpt from Good Stress vs. Bad Stress for Kids by Jerome Schultz, PhD

At a Glance

      • Not all stress is bad. There’s good stress, too.

      • Ongoing challenges and fears can create stress in kids.

      • Remembering past successes can help your child feel more  confident and in control.

When someone says they’re stressed, it’s usually not a positive thing. But stress isn’t always bad. There’s good stress, too. And it can help kids rise to challenges, resolve problems, and build confidence.

Learn about the difference between good and bad stress, and how each can impact your child.

Types of Stress: Good, Tolerable, and Bad

Nature gave us the ability to spot danger and respond to it. When faced with dangerous situations, our bodies and brains kick into fight-or-flight mode. But we don’t like to stay in that state for long. We like to deal with danger quickly so we can feel safe again.

Our body’s ability to deal with stress helps us do just that. Our stress response system gets our brain and body ready to solve problems and tackle challenges. And when we overcome the problem, our brain “feels good” and remembers our successes.

Good stress happens when we confront a situation we believe we can manage or control. Here’s an example:

A child is coasting down a hill on a bike with just one hand on the handlebars. When she sees a pothole up ahead, she feels stress and instinctively puts her other hand on the bars.

In less than a second, her brain goes in to survival mode. It tells her heart to pump blood to her legs, her vision gets a little better because her pupils open to take in more light, and she’s ready for evasive action. She guides herself around the hole and continues safely down the slope.

In this case, she quickly handled the danger without a problem. It was good stress that helped her meet the challenge, because she believed she could do it.

The brain loves success and will store the memory of this event. The next time this child faces such a dangerous situation, this positive memory will help her deal with it. Good stress makes us stronger, ready to take on new challenges.

Soon, however, she’s faced with a new danger. It suddenly starts raining hard, and big puddles form on the bike path. She grips the handlebars tightly. This time she’s feeling a greater level of stress because the danger has increased and is lasting longer. Still, she believes she’ll make it home safely.

Why is that? She’s been in situations like this before and succeeded. She knows she has the skill to do it again, and that gives her confidence. She’s experiencing tolerable stress. And the next time she faces such a challenge, it’s more likely she’ll be ready for it.

But now, the situation changes again—for the worse. The rain is coming down harder now. Lightning is flashing, she’s having trouble seeing, and she takes a wrong turn.

She’s never ridden in such terrible conditions, so she’s never had the experience of getting through them. She doesn’t feel capable, and she doesn’t feel safe. In fact, she’s overwhelmed by fear.

This is bad stress—and it’s toxic. It happens when we’re in a threatening situation that goes on and on, and we don’t feel like we’re able to get through it.

Bad stress erodes confidence and makes us question our ability. At this point, the girl lets the bike drop in the mud and she runs, as fast as she can, toward her home.

Full Article:

Good Stress vs. Bad Stress for Kids

 BY Jerome Schultz, PhD

Schultz, Jerome. “Good Stress vs. Bad Stress for Kids.” Understood, Understood, 22 Oct. 2020,

Marketing and Design Coordinator

Rachel Wixey & Associates


Stress is often seen as a negative emotion, but it is important to realize that stress can also be a good thing that pushes us forward, depending on the kind of stress and what we do with it. Realizing this gives us more control in our own lives. 

The Science of Adversity

Dr. Pamela Cantor explains the science of adversity and how we can use this information to design better learning environments.

The Science

There is a connection between adversity, stress and academic performance. Children often endure stress from adverse experiences, such as exposure to violence, loss of a loved one, racial discrimination and homelessness. Unfortunately, most schools aren’t designed or equipped to address the impact of stress on learning.

Adversity doesn’t just happen to children, it happens inside them.
Stress gets inside their brains and bodies with risks to health and learning. The good news is the brain is malleable. We can use science to address what stress does to children and to schools.

The Science of Brain Development

Not all stress is bad − in fact, stress is a necessary and important factor in human development. But chronically high levels of stress, without buffering, derail healthy brain development and impact how children perform in school.

The Antidote to Stress is Trust
Science offers reasons for optimism for schools struggling to educate children facing adversity. Genes are chemical followers − DNA changes in response to the environments and relationships children experience.

Trust is fuel for healthy brain development. When children experience a consistent and supportive connection with a trusted adult, it can alter their brain chemistry. Positive relationships can reduce cortisol, a “stress hormone,” and increase oxytocin, a “love hormone.” But trust doesn’t just happen, it has to be intentionally built. For some children, school may be the only place where they receive this kind of support. When children are in a safe, calm, supportive environment, they can learn the skills and mindsets that are requisite for success in school and in life. By understanding and addressing the impact of adversity on learning, we can put all children on a path toward healthy development and academic achievement.

Full Article:

The Science of Adversity

 BY Dr. Pamela Cantor

Cantor, Pamela. “The Science.” Turnaround for Children, 3 May 2018,

Marketing and Design Coordinator

Rachel Wixey & Associates


I think that when we think about the education system, we often overlook the challenges of life outside of the classroom, which can effect the brain and the way kids retain information. Of course, we can not fix every issue for every child, but when we bring those things into account, we can help create a learning environment that will help ease those outside stressors.

How Toxic Stress Derails Healthy Development

The future of any society depends on its ability to foster the healthy development of the next generation. Extensive research on the biology of stress now shows that healthy development can be derailed by excessive or prolonged activation of stress response systems in the body and brain. Such toxic stress can have damaging effects on learning, behavior, and health across the lifespan.

Learning how to cope with adversity is an important part of healthy child development. When we are threatened, our bodies prepare us to respond by increasing our heart rate, blood pressure, and stress hormones, such as cortisol. When a young child’s stress response systems are activated within an environment of supportive relationships with adults, these physiological effects are buffered and brought back down to baseline. The result is the development of healthy stress response systems. However, if the stress response is extreme and long-lasting, and buffering relationships are unavailable to the child, the result can be damaged, weakened systems and brain architecture, with lifelong repercussions. It’s important to distinguish among three kinds of responses to stress: positive, tolerable, and toxic. As described below, these three terms refer to the stress response systems’ effects on the body, not to the stressful event or experience itself:

Positive Stress Response

A normal and essential part of healthy development, characterized by brief increases in heart rate and mild elevations in hormone levels. Some situations that might trigger a positive stress response are the first day with a new caregiver or receiving an injected immunization.

Tolerable stress response

This activates the body’s alert systems to a greater degree as a result of more severe, longer-lasting difficulties, such as the loss of a loved one, a natural disaster, or a frightening injury. If the activation is time-limited and buffered by relationships with adults who help the child adapt, the brain and other organs recover from what might otherwise be damaging effects.

Toxic stress response

This can occur when a child experiences strong, frequent, and/or prolonged adversity—such as physical or emotional abuse, chronic neglect, caregiver substance abuse or mental illness, exposure to violence, and/or the accumulated burdens of family economic hardship—without adequate adult support. This kind of prolonged activation of the stress response systems can disrupt the development of brain architecture and other organ systems, and increase the risk for stress-related disease and cognitive impairment, well into the adult years.

When toxic stress response occurs continually, or is triggered by multiple sources, it can have a cumulative toll on an individual’s physical and mental health—for a lifetime. The more adverse experiences in childhood, the greater the likelihood of developmental delays and later health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, substance abuse, and depression. Research also indicates that supportive, responsive relationships with caring adults as early in life as possible can prevent or reverse the damaging effects of toxic stress response.

Full Article:

Toxic Stress

BY The Harvard Center on the Developing Child

Harvard University, Center on the Developing Child. “Toxic Stress.” Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, 17 Aug. 2020,

Marketing and Design Coordinator

Rachel Wixey & Associates


I chose this video because realizing the difference between Positive, Tolerable, and Toxic stress can be the difference between a healthy and unhealthy lifestyle. Sometimes even every-day stress can make you feel like the sky is falling, but when you have the tools to properly identify your stress, it makes it easier to fix take control of it.

Techniques to Counter Chronic Stress

An excerpt from Understanding the Stress Response by Harvard Health Publishing​​

Many people are unable to find a way to put the brakes on stress. Chronic low-level stress keeps the HPA axis activated, much like a motor that is idling too high for too long. After a while, this has an effect on the body that contributes to the health problems associated with chronic stress.

Persistent epinephrine surges can damage blood vessels and arteries, increasing blood pressure and raising risk of heart attacks or strokes. Elevated cortisol levels create physiological changes that help to replenish the body's energy stores that are depleted during the stress response. But they inadvertently contribute to the buildup of fat tissue and to weight gain. For example, cortisol increases appetite, so that people will want to eat more to obtain extra energy. It also increases storage of unused nutrients as fat.

Fortunately, people can learn techniques to counter the stress response.

Relaxation Response

Dr. Herbert Benson, director emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, has devoted much of his career to learning how people can counter the stress response by using a combination of approaches that elicit the relaxation response. These include deep abdominal breathing, focus on a soothing word (such as peace or calm), visualization of tranquil scenes, repetitive prayer, yoga, and tai chi.

Most of the research using objective measures to evaluate how effective the relaxation response is at countering chronic stress have been conducted in people with hypertension and other forms of heart disease. Those results suggest the technique may be worth trying — although for most people it is not a cure-all. For example, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital conducted a double-blind, randomized controlled trial of 122 patients with hypertension, ages 55 and older, in which half were assigned to relaxation response training and the other half to a control group that received information about blood pressure control. After eight weeks, 34 of the people who practiced the relaxation response — a little more than half — had achieved a systolic blood pressure reduction of more than 5 mm Hg, and were therefore eligible for the next phase of the study, in which they could reduce levels of blood pressure medication they were taking. During that second phase, 50% were able to eliminate at least one blood pressure medication — significantly more than in the control group, where only 19% eliminated their medication.

Physical Activity

People can use exercise to stifle the buildup of stress in several ways. Exercise, such as taking a brisk walk shortly after feeling stressed, not only deepens breathing but also helps relieve muscle tension. Movement therapies such as yoga, tai chi, and qi gong combine fluid movements with deep breathing and mental focus, all of which can induce calm.

Social Support

Confidants, friends, acquaintances, co-workers, relatives, spouses, and companions all provide a life-enhancing social net — and may increase longevity. It's not clear why, but the buffering theory holds that people who enjoy close relationships with family and friends receive emotional support that indirectly helps to sustain them at times of chronic stress and crisis.

Full Article:

Understanding the Stress Response


Publishing, Harvard Health. “Understanding the Stress Response.” Harvard Health, 6 July 2020,

Marketing and Account Associate

Rachel Wixey & Associates


I chose this article because understanding where stress comes from is crucial in determining how to deal with it. 

Stress Management to Navigate the Holidays

An excerpt from Managing Stress During the 2020 Holidays by Frank Kim, PhD​​

Depending on your circumstances, how one navigates the pressures and stresses of the holiday season will differ, and would look different for different people. Know yourself, and how you are impacted by stress. We are living through difficult times, and as a consequence we are supposed to be under duress. Acknowledge how you feel, and then do what you can. Be creative and flexible! If you are not able to be present with loved ones, do what you can to connect with them. This can include frequent phone/text communication or Skype/FaceTime. One can even encourage frequent use of social media.

While perhaps not ideal, it is important to create new ways to connect and celebrate traditions. We may not be able to be face-to-face with loved ones and friends, but we are not alone. Perhaps find ways to share experiences and activities over Zoom, such as joint exercise or craft projects. Allow conversations to flow as they would if you were in the same room together. When we participate in shared experience, this becomes part of our personal and relational history, which increases the sense of connectedness.

There are other more general ways to manage the holiday stress. Take time for self-care. This can be as simple as enjoying your morning coffee, or noticing the sunlight streaming through a window. Mindfulness—being in the present moment—even for short periods of time has been shown to be good for one’s mental health. Exercise and hobbies are great ways to feel better. Similarly, deep breathing and muscle relaxation are great ways to reduce the impact of stress

"Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare."

- Audre Lorde -
Feminist Poet and Activist

Remember to Breathe

If you are feeling tense, try this: Rate that tenseness on a scale from 0 to 10, with 10 being extremely tense/anxious. Then, take several deep breaths and rate the tenseness again. You should notice a decrease, but if you don’t, then do another set. You don’t have to go down to “0” to feel better, but if you build this into your routine, you will notice that it becomes increasingly more effective.

Stressors like the pandemic, racial violence, intolerance of differences, the systemic oppression of marginalized populations, poverty and environmental injustice can significantly impact the lives, livelihood and mental health of individuals, groups and communities. Being aware and taking action can help to mitigate the deleterious impact of these stressors. This might take the form of developing support systems, education or political activism. If feeling overwhelmed, limit exposure and seek support. It’s ok to hit “pause,” take time to breathe, move and find gratitude.

Full Article:

Managing Stress During the 2020 Holidays

 BY Frank Kim, PhD

Kim, Frank. “Managing Stress During the 2020 Holidays.” CU Denver News, 17 Nov. 2020,

Marketing and Design Coordinator

Rachel Wixey & Associates


I chose this article because as much as I personally enjoy the holidays, I know that it's not always a joyous time for all. Even for those who do look forward to them, all of the craziness can be incredibly draining, so it is important to take time for yourself and your mental health.

How to Bring Mindfulness Into the Holiday Season

An excerpt from How to Bring Mindfulness Into the Holiday Season by Jennie Mason

Though it’s only taking up a two-month timespan, the holiday season has turned into a year-round mindset. It seems that stores put up decor earlier and earlier each year, and Thanksgiving can barely enjoy its five minutes of fame before the lights are up and trees are decorated. While I’m all for the spirit this time of the year brings, I can feel my cortisol levels rise in October when Christmas deals start popping up.

I’ve already touched on how the holidays can be a stressful time, whether it be family drama or spreading yourself too thin. However, another big component of making sure you are OK during the holiday season is by practicing mindfulness. defines mindfulness as “the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.” At first glance, that sounds a bit complicated. Modern escapisms like cell phones, drugs, alcohol and streaming services are turning into avoidance crutches. How can we be fully present in this day and age, let alone the holidays?

Turning inward and focusing on mindfulness practices are where most researchers start. Research on mindfulness meditation has seen a huge surge since the ’90s. Currently, Harvard researchers are working on finding if mindfulness meditation is a viable treatment option for depressed patients in conjunction with cognitive behavioral therapy and/or medication. If recent studies suggest that mindfulness meditation can ease psychological stressors like anxiety and depression, wouldn’t it be worth a shot to implement into your daily routine?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, winter episodes of seasonal affective disorder (aka SAD) are the most common. During what is already a hectic time of year, your mental health being in a bit of limbo is not the exciting holiday news you want to hear. Mindfulness practice has been shown to help everyone from adults to children and adolescence. I think it’s time we hop on this train, especially during what should be the most wonderful time of the year. Here are some ways to get started:

Engage in Gratitude

It’s likely the person you’re feuding with is one of your blessings. Practice being consciously grateful by writing down each morning five things you are grateful for. It can be a person, your health, pet, home, whatever and then, end the day by writing five things you are grateful for. 

Eat Mindfully

Practice the 5 S’s next time you eat, which are:

Sit Down
Slowly Chew

Practice Self-Love

By honoring yourself and allowing yourself to feel loved, you are opening up your ability to spread the holiday cheer to people you care about. It can be as simple as getting a full eight hours of sleep or exercising once a day.

Be Open to Both Yours and Others' Emotions

Check in with loved ones and see how they’re doing this time of year. By being attentive and receptive to their feelings, you’re opening up the ability to connect and empathize.

Be an Active Listener

Mindfully take a step back and realize that these people in your lives need someone to talk to. Remove any agenda you have with this person and focus on the present.

Practice Self-Love

We often act like our phone is an extension of our bodies and put its needs before ours. That email or text can wait. Nothing is urgent on social media. Take advantage of the collective break this time of year offers. You’re not better for being a workaholic.

Full Article:

How to Bring Mindfulness Into the Holiday Season

 BY Jennie Mason

Mason, Jennie. “How to Bring Mindfulness Into The Holiday Season.” The Chill Times, 2019,

Director of Strategic Communications

Rachel Wixey & Associates


I usually approach the holidays with a varying mixture of excitement and stress. Thankfully I’ve got a practice that helps me keep my emotions in check. This article offers a few of my go to‘s.

How to Explain Mindfulness and the Brain to Children

An excerpt from Mindfulness and the Brain by Chris Bergstrom at Blissful Kids

The amygdala is like the brain’s super hero, protecting us from threats. It helps us to react quickly when there is danger. Sometimes it’s good to react—when there’s a real physical threat, like when you see a football coming your way. The amygdala simply decides that there’s not enough time to think about it and makes us react quickly: you move your head away from the path of the football. In this way, the amygdala can decide whether we get to think about the information our body gathers through our senses or not.

But there’s a problem. The amygdala can’t see a difference between real danger and something stressful. You could say it’s jumpy and that it makes mistakes.

When we’re angry, sad, or stressed the amygdala thinks there’s real imminent danger. We then simply react without thinking. We might say or do something we regret immediately. We might even start a fight or just freeze when we’re offended, or supposed to take test, or speak in front of the class. Fear and stress shuts down our thinking in this way.

The part of our brain that helps us make good choices is called the prefrontal cortex, or PFC. You could call it the smart one, as it helps you make smart choices and decides what is stored in your memory.

To make good choices, the PFC needs to get the information our body gathers through the senses—sights, sounds, smells, and movements. The questions is: will the amygdala allow the PFC to analyse the information early enough?

Remember: the amygdala, the jumpy superhero, often times hinders the information from going to the prefrontal cortex and we make rash choices. This can happen when we’re angry, sad, negative, stressed, or anxious.

What we want to do is to help the jumpy superhero calm down. But how?

Here’s the trick.

When we’re calm, the amygdala is calm and sensory information flows to the prefrontal cortex and we can make better choices. Even our memory improves when we’re calm and happy. We’re able to remember better and make new, lasting memories.

So, how do we calm down so that the PFC, the smart one, has time to get and analyze all the information for us so that we make better choices?

Mindfulness helps us to calm down, and this, in turn, calms the amygdala so that it allows the information flow to the prefrontal cortex—that part of our brains that helps us make good choices. When we’re calm, we can more easily be mindful and make good choices.

Scientists have figured out that the prefrontal cortex is more activated following mindfulness training and our high-level functions like the intention to pay attention, emotional regulation, body regulation, our communication skills, empathy, and our ability to calm and self-soothe are more available to us.

Pretty cool, right?

The more we practice mindfulness the more we’ll experience calm moments, even if we weren’t trying to be mindful.

When you feel overwhelmed, stop for a moment, take a few deep breaths and exhale slowly. Name the emotion you are experiencing.

Focus on your breath for five breaths. See where you can feel your breath most easily—your stomach, your chest, or your nose.

Control your breathing for a short while. Do deep belly breathing for five breaths. Put your hands on your belly and feel how it expands as you breathe in.

Multiple short mindful moments per day trains your brain to become more mindful even when you don’t try to be mindful. In other words, the more you train, the easier it will be to be mindful and self-soothe when you’re actually in a stressful situation.

Full Article:

Mindfulness and the Brain - how to explain it to children

 BY Chris Bergstrom

Bergstrom, Chris. “Mindfulness and the Brain-How to Explain It to Children.” Blissful Kids, 11 Feb. 2018,

Marketing and Design Coordinator

Rachel Wixey & Associates


I chose this article because I thought this article would help open the author did a wonderful job of bringing science into an analogy that kids will understand and enjoy! It also shows how the part of the brain work together to accomplish each task, so taking care of your brain makes everything run smoother. 

Emotion, Stress, and Health: Crash Course Psychology

In this episode of Crash Course Psychology, Hank discusses stress, emotions, and their overall impact on our health. 

Table of Contents: 

  • How Emotions Work 00:00
  • Two-Dimensional Model of Emotional Experience 03:29
  • How Anger, Happiness, and Depression Affect Health 4:52
  • Stress, the Nervous System, and Chronic Stress 6:36

The Crash Course team has produced more than 32 courses on a wide variety of subjects, including organic chemistry, literature, world history, biology, philosophy, theater, ecology, and many more! 

Yale, Kathleen. Emotion, Stress, and Health: Crash Course Psychology #26. Performance by Hank Green, Youtube, 2014,

Marketing and Design Coordinator

Rachel Wixey & Associates


I chose this video because the creators of this channel have a great way of using examples, graphics, and charisma to explain difficult topics in a digestible way. It is incredibly important to understand how the science of stress affects the way we feel and act towards others.

The Science Behind Student Stress

An article from Edutopia by Youki Terada

A new study finds that when students experience an academic setback such as a bad grade, the amount of cortisol—the so-called stress hormone—in their bodies typically spikes. For most students it drops back down to normal levels a day later, but for some it stays high. These students remain fixated on the setback and have difficulty moving forward.

The researchers analyzed the stress levels of students at two high schools in central Texas during an especially stressful time—the transition into high school. Students completed daily surveys asking about the stress they experienced, and daily saliva samples were collected to measure their cortisol levels.

“A majority of these students—68%—experienced a drop in grades in the first semester and reported feeling stressed as a result.”

In how they handled that stress, two clear groups emerged. Students who believed that intelligence can be developed—a growth mindset—were more likely to see setbacks as temporary, and not only had lower overall cortisol levels but were able to return to lower levels shortly after a setback. Students who believed that intelligence is fixed, on the other hand, maintained high cortisol level for longer, said researchers—a stress response that tends to depress problem solving and intellectual flexibility.

“Declining grades may get ‘under the skin,’ as it were, for first-year high school students who believe intelligence is a fixed trait,” explains Hae Yeon Lee, the study’s lead author. 

“But believing, instead, that intelligence can be developed—or having what is called a growth mindset—may buffer the effects of academic stress.”

The researchers speculate that students with a growth mindset may be more likely to seek out "resources to help them cope—such as talking with teachers, peers, or parents about how to study more effectively."

Stress isn’t always bad. Cortisol increases blood sugar, metabolism, and memory function, providing a temporary boost to physical and cognitive ability, and positive stress—called eustress—can boost motivation and decision-making, helping students achieve goals. The stress experienced over an upcoming test is a reminder to study, a way of raising the stakes so that students recognize the importance of being prepared.

But with chronic stress, high cortisol levels can instead impair brain functioning and suppress the immune system, causing long-term damage. During childhood, the neural circuits for dealing with stress are malleable, and chronic stress can rewire the brain to become overly reactive or slow to shut down when faced with threats. So too much stress can disrupt normal brain development and increase the risk of diseases even into adulthood, according to a 2014 Harvard report.

What can schools do to help? “For many young people, the transition to high school can seem like the start of a stressful, seemingly endless marathon,” the researchers write. They recommend that in addition to helping students develop a growth mindset, schools pay closer attention to the demands that students face in ninth grade, and provide more academic and emotional support during this transition year.

The takeaway
: Stressed-out students aren’t thinking about solutions. If you want students to learn from their mistakes and overcome obstacles, think about ways to encourage them to adopt a growth mindset.

Full Article:

The Science Behind Student Stress

BY Youki Terada

Terada, Youki. “The Science Behind Student Stress.” Edutopia, George Lucas Educational Foundation, 24 Aug. 2018,


Rachel Wixey & Associates


II love the well-explained down and dirty on what’s happening in the brain and body when we are under stress. Understanding the science of it helps normalize the experience, as I think everyone can relate to what’s described here.

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