Stress has become a daily factor in our children’s lives. There is the pressure to fit in at school; the pressure to excel academically and/or athletically; the strain from bullying; and the real anxiety created from watching news coverage of school shootings.
Sadly, experts say, the effects of too much stress—and the inability to manage it—have dire consequences. One recent study linked extreme stress with poor school performance, exacerbated health issues and a likelihood to abuse drugs and alcohol. In fact, the University of Wisconsin-Madison study concluded that intense and lasting stress alters children’s brain functioning, reducing short-term memory and cognitive abilities.
So What Can Be Done?
Thankfully, Torrance Memorial Medical Center is reaching out to local schools with experts providing tools to help. In fact, last October students at Miraleste Intermediate School in Palos Verdes received a three-day crash course in stress management.
Vickie Hershberger, coordinator of the health and healing program within Torrance Memorial Medical Center’s Community Health Education Department, who educated the 12-, 13-, and 14-year-old Miraleste students during Red Ribbon Week. The stress-management expert showed the children relaxation techniques, including how to “find a safe place” through guided imagery.
“Guided visualization helps lower stress. For the kids, I took them (mentally) down a staircase into a safe place created just for them. I tell them it’s completely safe. I ask them to see what’s there, smell the smells there, feel the air or sun on their skin—use all five senses. I tell them, ‘This place is just for you. No one else can be there. Any time you’re overwhelmed, go there and relax,’” explains Hershberger.
She also spoke with the children about stress in general and how it affects their bodies . “The frontal cortex isn’t working when you go into fear. I explained that you can’t activate all quadrants of the brain [when stressed], because when you’re afraid, you just can’t think.”
To better help identify when they are stressed, Hershberger showed how their breath becomes shallow and faster. She then provided deep breathing exercises to help.
Lisa Larson, the Safe School coordinator at Miraleste Intermediate School, contacted Hershberger in her quest to help students manage stress. She says feedback from families was tremendous. In fact, one mother of a seventh grader wrote to the principal, thanking her for this program that had a “profound effect” on her child.
Hopefully more schools in the South Bay will seek to institute similar programs in the near future.
For more information about Torrance Memorial’s stress management education programs, contact Vickie Hershberger at