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While focus in education appears to be on the highest possible test score, one cannot help but wonder how this affects the health of our youth in general. With extracurricular activities taking a backseat, many youngsters may not be getting the daily exercise needed to maintain a healthy body. Then, once leaving school, they are captivated by video and online media that once again do not rely on physical strength as in the past. The focus on high-stakes testing and advancement of technology could lead us into an era where members of society are obese and lack social skills. Much research reveals that the educators’ perceptions of holistic wellness determine how active he or she allows the students to be in the classroom.
A 2006 study revealed that teachers with higher perceptions of holistic wellness were more effective. In other words, healthy teachers practiced holistic wellness and sought out healthier practices for their students. In this study, a 5F-Wel model was found to be a viable tool to measure creative self, coping self, social self, essential self and physical self. Participants in this study were pre-service educators. Results from the 5F-Wel model were compared to teacher effectiveness outcomes as determined by a teacher effectiveness model, Student Teacher Assessment Instrument. Although there was not a statistical significant difference by chance from this study, one could not overlook the collective supporting research from other studies. It is a given that educators across the globe need to become more informed, and in turn make better classroom decisions. Additionally, educators are certainly not immune to the stress of our society and the stress associated with profession.
The notion that citizens in our culture suffer from stress is a given. There is a myriad of stress relief programs conducted by counselors, psychologists, social workers, nurses, physicians and other members of the helping professions, too numerous to name here. The fact that there are so many professionals that help groups and individuals manage and secure relief from stress is a testimony to the need for stress relief and management in our society. In consideration of the prominence of the need for stress management or relief, the researcher may be confronted with some major questions about stress relief and management. A couple of questions which necessarily must be examined first are, “What is stress, and is it all bad?”
Let us consider the notion of homeostasis first in order to begin defining stress. It is indicated that humans aspire to achieve a contented state in which they experience no anxiety. When the balance that compels to exist in this state of contentment is upset, the by product is anxiety. This anxiety serves as a motivator for us to engage in behavior that will return us to this state of contentment. This anxiety or stress is a positive entity that prompts us to seek contentment. If the anxiety is too great, the ego begins to disintegrate and there is no return to a state of harmony for the being. One may extrapolate from this that some anxiety is good, but too much is bad or results in deleterious or possibly catastrophic effects for the individual.
The entity related to bad or catastrophic effect is distress. Entertain the act of proper exercising, specifically weight lifting. When one lifts an appropriate weight for a prescribed number of identical repetitions, he or she stresses a muscle. When the lifter enters the conditioning phase with the proper nutritional intake, the muscle gets stronger and hypertrophies, thus resulting in a bigger, stronger and healthier muscle. When one lifts too much thus exceeding the recuperative abilities of the organism, the muscle may get torn, damaged or weakened.
The researcher likened our human reserves for handling stress and distress like a person with a savings and a checking account. We expend the “money” in our checking account to compensate for the effects of stress and distress, and before we over-draw, we take reserves out of our savings account and deposit them in our checking account. The reality of this phenomenon is that at some point we run out of reserves and death occurs. Before this event takes place, we are able to live happy productive lives by using our reserves efficiently. When we experience distress, that particular situation warrants using our reserves to minimize the negative effects in order not to sustain permanent damage to mind or body.
The experiencing of distress gives rise to two pertinent questions: “How do we know that we are in distress, and then what do we do to counteract it?” What are the signs of being in distress? All humans are individuals and distress affects us all differently, but there are commonalities that exist. Headaches are common to the person in distress. Many distressed persons experience psychosomatic effects such as backaches, other muscle aches and soreness. Many experience extreme anxiety and still others experience depression and lack of vitality. These individuals often times have a depressed immune system and are susceptible to colds, pneumonia and other common diseases including hypertension.
Appetite and sleep disturbances are common. Distressed people may experience a lack of appetite or may overeat when experiencing distress. Lethargy may be the rule rather than the exception. These phenomena may be manifested by lack of effectiveness at work, deteriorating family relationships, tardiness, poor grooming, irritability, cynicism and possibly alcohol and/or substance abuse. All of the above are factors than lead to a poor quality of life and the potential for developing degenerative diseases or other incapacitating maladies.
Many insurance companies are providing health care that pays for educators to work out, and participate in weight loss programs such as Weight Watchers. These companies understand that changing the habits of their applicants can save them money in the long run. While becoming a fit educator, this new focus trickles down into the classroom. Perceptions appear to be the key factor in any successfully program. What does this mean for society? We need to get moving. We need to provide ball parks and fitness programs for our children. Teachers need to model healthy practices. Insurance needs to look at a healthy life style as an investment and provide better options for all. After all, the kids of today are our future.
Authors: Barry Green-Burns, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor at the University of West Alabama. He can be reached at [email protected] Dana Rolison, Ph.D is an Associate Professor at the University of West Alabama. She can be reached at [email protected] Mae Daniel, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor at the University of West Alabama. She can be reached [email protected] Erica King, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor at the University of West Alabama. She can be reached [email protected]