Director of Learning
The power of perception
You have to change the way you think in order to change the way you feel.
This week I had the opportunity to attend an information session on managing stress by nutritional biochemist, Dr Libby Weaver. My initial motivation for attending was purely personal, however I quickly came to realise the value of her messaging on a professional level, as so many of her strategies resonated as ideal in meeting the needs of our students. I think we can all agree that it has become a mantra of our contemporary context to express how ‘stressed’ we are in everyday situations; indeed, we hear from students regularly that certain daily activities at home or school are causing them ‘stress’.
The key message that rang true throughout Dr Weaver’s presentation was her challenge that, as individuals, we can control our response to these perceived ‘stressors’ in life. She focuses a great deal of her writing and speaking around unpacking what stress actually is, along with the impact that stress has on our physical and mental wellbeing. What resonated the most with me, both personally and professionally, was her reframing of stress – arguing that if one analyses what we label as stressful, we will quickly come to appreciate that in such situations we are actually acting out of fear. For example, when we open up our emails and find 100 unread messages awaiting our action, or we open our Student Handbook at 8pm on a weeknight and realise we have six homework tasks due the following morning, it isn’t actually stress that affects us, but rather the fear of not meeting our own expectations, or the expectations of those around us.
So, how do we reframe our response to what so many of us perceive as ‘stressful’? How do we change our perception of such situations to move into a space of empowerment and movement? What would Dr Weaver’s response be? That firstly we need to pause, and rethink our reaction. What is causing our stress levels to rise? Is it because of the task at hand, or is it because we are fearful? If indeed we are responding out of fear, then is this fear realistic? Or is it a narrative that we ourselves have told? And so, the challenge lies before us: as we open up the 100 emails that await us, we need to pause and consider what will happen if we don’t manage to respond to all 100 immediately. Will the consequences be as we narrate? Or are we generating that fear ourselves? If we don’t manage to complete all six homework tasks to the point of perfection, will the consequences be dire, will our teachers think less of us, or is that simply our perception? When we reframe our response to these common stressors, and question our own narratives, we are empowered to move into a space where we can mitigate our instinctive responses.
Finally, Dr Weaver advocates for a response of gratitude. She challenges her audience to pause each day to appreciate the opportunities that are presented to us and the space of privilege we all inhabit. As we open up our emails each day, we are challenged to reframe the moment as an opportunity to communicate and engage with those around us. As we tackle our homework and assessment tasks, we need to appreciate these moments as an opportunity to learn and grow. I must concede that this is something I have struggled with; however, I also embrace the fact that there is nothing to lose from moving into the space of gratitude – so it is worth taking the risk and giving it a try. If we all embrace the challenge of changing the way we think, of reframing what our perception may be, there is a very high chance that we will also be able to change the way we feel.
Mrs Kieryn Bateman
Director of Learning