My Experience With Invisible Stressors

Friday was our PD Day, and we started the day with an activity where we used Yammer to share our thinking on some questions about inquiry. As the activity ended, some people were still finishing their final contributions to post to the Yammer group. Our principal, Gerry, has notifications on his phone and others have them enabled on their iPad. Each time that a post came through, a beep sounded. Then people around me had their phones set to vibrate, so each text message and/or call led to a buzz. The library was like a cacophony of beeps and buzzes, and coupled with the bright overhead lights and crowded tables, I was going crazy. I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t hear anything besides cell phones and iPads. I was about to present to the staff, and I had no idea how I was going to do so. On Friday, I thought of our Self-Regulation Foundations Course, and what invisible stressors could be. I was experiencing some (i.e. these noises, lights, and crowded places) in the midst of this PD Day session.

Thank goodness for self-regulation. I took a few deep breaths because they help me calm down. I even closed by eyes for a moment and focused back on our learning for the day. And then I saw that my principal had pulled up my presentation and turned down the lights around the room. He asked if that was okay. Okay?! I told him that I loved the calmer lighting, and if he could eliminate the cell phone and iPad beeps and buzzes, that would be even better. ๐Ÿ™‚

I made it through my presentation on Friday and through the PD Day sessions, which I loved. Many people may not have known that I was dysregulated. I’m an adult, and one with a growing understanding of self-regulation, so I handled the problem relatively quietly. But what if this was a student in your class or a child in your home? How would he/she respond? Would we see his/her response as behaviour or would we look for the possible stressors?

It wasn’t until I was looking around the library on Friday that I realized that what was bothering me had almost no impact on anyone else. Maybe I’m like that one child that acts out in the classroom, and maybe it’s not to get attention or cause problems, but because of a stressor that is oh so prevalent to me … and only me. Friday reminded me again of the “self” in self-regulation and just how different we can allย be. How are we addressing these differences in our homes and schools? How are we creating environments where everyone can feel “calm?”


12 thoughts on “My Experience With Invisible Stressors

  1. Dear Aviva,

    Thank you so much for writing this and sharing it.

    This resonates with me so much – I have the same reactions to some of these stressors. Especially repetitive sounds like beeps and buzzes (in my case, one of the reasons is my chronic migraines that have rendered my ears and head sensitive to such noises), or the murmur of crowds and too many people (one of the reasons I generally avoid very crowded places, as in the past I have had a couple of panic attacks).

    At a very big conference last year (about 3,000 people), I had that stress even before I got there. How would I react? Would a river of people walk against me and stress me? Would it be too noisy in the hall with the stands and exhibitors, at the coffee spots? I told a very close friend I was there with (also an educator) and had lots of support and reassurance. I think in these cases it is good to share our feelings and reactions to stressors with peopel we trust, as they can help us. Here in Switzerland, it is usually my sister who works as my balance when I cannot handle it myself. I should remember the deep breaths for myself that you mention: very important to slow down.

    That is also what I tell my kids who may be “that kid” in the room: there a r e times when I think they are acting up. However, many times, I really look at it very closely because I know from myself what could be happening. I go close to them and tell them to close their eyes and think of something or someone they love. I know adults who feel the same way and we discuss it as well (I teach adults too, they comprise about half of my students).

    It is good to stop and think when someone has a reaction like this – often, we may think they are seeking attention but I am happy you point out that it is something we should consider. It is a good reminder for myself as an educator and aunt : )

    Thank you so much AViva,

    • Thanks Vicky for your comment and for sharing your experiences! I’ve never heard of the solution that you tend to use with your students (adults and children), and I’d be curious to know how it works. Does it make them feel calmer? Are you able to get to what’s causing the stress?

      Friday was a good reminder for me that sometimes we see the child as acting out or seeking attention, but in fact, it’s a stressor that’s causing the problem. I wonder how often this is the case.


  2. Sometimes they are so worried that it doesn’t work – I help them by speaking really softly and slowly drifting into silence. I think they need to feel the reassurance first and then the silence.

    Then when they feel better (and I prefer if they are alone when they share it – my groups are from one person to five maximum in my own school, and up to twenty in the local college where I teach part-time), they talk to me about it. I am happy when they trust me and do that, because we can work on it together. I share my experiences with them too and they feel safer and better when they know someone else feels the same way : )

    • Thanks for sharing, Vicky! I’m glad that they do talk to you, and you’ve obviously created this feeling of trust with your students. I can’t help but think about what I’ve learned in my Self-Regulation Courses about the power of connections, and you’ve definitely shown that here. Your students — adults and children — are lucky to have you!


  3. We had chatted about this briefly but I experienced what you and Vicky were describing in a different setting last night. As you know, Aviva, you had started an extremely volatile private conversation and invited me to it so I got a notification every time someone posted. My problem was the notifications can from my phone which was in my inside coat pocket. One of my hands was occupied with holding the leash as Jaimie and I were walking through the Navy Yard at the time. I just decided to try to ignore as the solution to the problem involved taking off a mitten, unzipping two zippers, having the dog sit, etc. Needless to say, it was the most distracting walk I’ve had for a long time. Finally, we exited the park and had to stop at a street corner where I did take the time to mute you and your conversation. I didn’t quite have Vicky’s headache but it was a tad embarrassing with all the notifications coming from me as we passed other walkers. What would normally have been a nice, calm moment with my dog was actually quite stressful!

    It’s an interesting take because I, myself, was “that child”. I enabled the stressful situation with what could have been a relaxing stroll in the park. I could kick myself – have I become so reliant on the technology that I let it ruin a walk?

    As I think back now, I should have kicked myself in the pants and just turned the stupid thing off.

    • Wow Doug! I totally get you. I always have my phone and tablet on vibrate (in classes they are both on silent). But don’t we all do that? Don’t we leave our phones on in case someone needs to call us?

      I am sorry you had a stressful walk with Jaimie. I guess if I were out walking I would have had it on too, in case someone needed anything.

      Hope the walk after that made up for it!

      • Great points, Vicky! I must say that I always leave my phone off. In class, I also turn off my volume on my iPad, and I opt out of notifications when possible. The noises drive me crazy, and I find them hard to ignore. I feel terribly being responsible for this stress of yours yesterday, Doug, and like Vicky, I hope that you had a better walk after that!


    • Thanks for the comment, Doug! I’m so sorry! I feel absolutely terrible being the person that resulted in you being “that child.” You just described here the reason that I turn off the volume on my iPad all the time in class, and I never have notifications enabled. The sounds drive me crazy, and I can’t resist the urge to check on the messages, which just further perpetuates the problem.

      I wonder how many other people have experienced similar situations before. While I wouldn’t want to cause this situation for anyone — and feel horribly that I did for you — I also wonder if we all need to experience something similar to understand “that one child” that might be seeing/experiencing things differently than the rest of us. Does that help give us a better understanding of the “self” in self-regulation, and the need to meet all of these different “selves?”


      P.S. I chuckled a bit when you said that you had to “mute” me. I wonder how many other people have felt the same desire before? ๐Ÿ™‚ (Sorry! Couldn’t resist this comment. ๐Ÿ™‚ )

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