Impact of Stress on Learning and Health
Hannaford names stress, which inhibits full brain development, as the causative agent in many learning difficulties and "behavior disorders." The primary stressors she identifies are: developmental--from lack of sensory stimulation to incomplete reticular activating system activation; electrical, e.g., inadequate water intake; nutritional (this includes decreasing or eliminating simple sugars--she presents a compelling case as to why); medical; TV, computers and video games; competition; and rigid educational systems. She looks in detail at how each of these stressors inhibit learning, and how we can help our children and ourselves avoid situations and influences that inhibit brain development and learning.
Nurturance and protection of the young are the primary roles of every family and... society. But as we look at our children, our schools, and our future, concerns mount that somewhere along the line we have gotten dangerously off track. We may be accepting higher levels of stress than we can possibly mange and dissipate.
Children in situations they perceive as stressful, react with scattered attention, "climbing the walls" and fighting. Hannaford notes that while this is a normal response to stress these children are labeled ADD, ADHD, hyperactive, or emotionally handicapped, and the stressful situation is left unaddressed. She presents compelling reasons for discontinuing the practice of treating hyperactivity and attention deficit disorders with Ritalin and other such drugs, and looks at alternatives, one of these being BrainGym.
BrainGym is a series of coordinated, simple exercises that wake the mind/body system and bring it to learning readiness through simple, integrative movements that facilitate neural growth factors and a greater number of connections among neurons, helping build the hardware for life-long learning. These exercises have proven to be effective for everyone, reducing stress levels and optimizing learning and performance at every level in all cognitive endeavors. The exercises can be done at any time. Hannaford includes the directions for several of the movements, and notes their function in maintaining balanced mind/body learning.
Research shows that our stress response may start as early as womb-time: fetuses can be affected by mothers' adrenalin levels. Infants are highly sensitive to the emotions of their caregivers. If caregivers live highly stressful, disruptive lives, children may imprint that training onto their own nervous systems. Scientific findings show children are highly susceptible to their environment. Witnessing domestic violence or undergoing abuse activates hormones that impair normal cerebral development.
Hannaford emphasizes the importance of caregiver modeling. She asserts that putting more attention on supportive, effective early family relationships and training caregivers to manage stress effectively and control their own behavior, and then teach children these techniques, may do more for learning and behavioral difficulties than anything else. Peaceful and safe home environments help shield children from many of the factors that lead to high stress levels. She finds that these problems do not exist in cultures where every adult is an important caregiver and every child valued as a unique and integral part of the clan.