|1. Students will learn about how the
body reacts, physically, to stress.
2. Students will evaluate the long-term affects
of stress on those whose lives have been impacted by disasters and national tradegies.
3. Students will evaluate
and discuss the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and apply this concept to situations
in their own lives.
From the day humans are born they experience and are impacted by changes in
their environment. Babies may startle or cry if they hear a loud noise, or have
a physical reaction to even a subtle change in room temperature. As toddlers learn
new sounds, like thunder, can happen again and again, they may develop a fear
of the sound. Children who fear being chased by large dogs could be caught off
guard by the sight or barking of any kind of dog, and have a physical reaction,
such as an urge to run.
People have what a psychologist named Maslow called a hierarchy
of needs, and at the base of this pyramid, just above the need for food, is
the need for safety and security.
When people get older, our need for security
does not go away entirely, but we develop strategies and skills to disguise fear
or insecurity in order to get through what we need to do in a day. Routines, rules,
and familiar people and places help us to manage stressors such as changes, because
when we know what to expect, we feel that everything will be all right.
Adults also have learned from experience that usually, things will be fine.
Most dogs have better things to do than bite a person, thunderstorms end, and
a dramatic change in temperature can usually be addressed by changing clothes
(or changing locations.) Having a better understanding of how things work
can also help adults to understand unexpected stimuli, such as a popped balloon,
or a light bulb burning out. Knowing you have the power to reverse the situation
(buying another balloon, or replacing the bulb) also helps people to cope with
So what happens when the Earth moves under our feet, people
we know are missing, and the sounds, scents, and even the air we breathe is different?
people with highly developed coping skills are likely to have a strong reaction-fear.
people show immediate signs of stress, such as crying, shortness of breath, and
an accelerated heartbeat.
Physically, our bodies produce a "fight or
flight" response when under extreme stress. The adrenal glands, located just
about the kidneys, release hormones called adrenaline and non-adrenaline in the
blood stream. The body responds by showing what we recognize as signs of
stress, such as an increased heart rate, high blood pressure. A message is sent
to the brain, or a neurotransmission, to let the body know that there is danger.
as a reference).
When his happens, sensations that are less critical for
immediate survival, like hunger pangs, are suppressed, so the body is prepared
for “fight or flight.” This means the body helps a person not
to think about a photo album in the basement if they need to leave a home that
is one fire, or worry about dinner plans as their work place is flooding.
is another hormone released by the adrenal glands, which helps to regulate many
systems of the body, but it also makes mammals more sensitive to adrenaline and
non-adrenaline by increasing blood pressure. The message to release this
hormone comes from a part of the brain called the hippocampus, which a part of
the brain responsible for long-term memory and spatial navigation. During
a disaster, cortisol helps the brain to develop “snap shots” of what
has happened, so we learn to avoid the things that put the body in danger.
Cortisol also helps to regulate critical systems of the body after the disaster
The long term affects of “too much” cortisol
could include learning difficulties, insomnia, depression, fertility issues, and
Step 1: Have students list, as a group or at their seats,
consider and discuss the tasks of daily living, such as shopping, playing sports,
On the worksheet attached, a Venn diagram, have
the students write the activities in the appropriate circles. The goal is to see
how each part of their life could be impacted, and where there is overlap. For
example, if they volunteer for school credit, and were too tired to keep up their
commitment, that activity would involve their community as well as their school
life. This worksheet could be given as homework.
Step 2: Explain
to students that for those who survive national tragedies, disasters, such as, hurricanes, floods
and earthquakes, and even those who provide services during these events may experience
mental health issues months after the event. Since those hormones kick in during
a crisis override the fear or anger responses, in order to give your body the
"boost" it needs to, essentially, be brave.
often have to overlook something that would seem gory in a movie to save a life.
Even recovery workers offering assistance to victims may receive angry responses
from survivors and those who feel frustrated or helpless. Since disasters impact
both the people in a community the infrastructure (roads, ports, railways) those
who are in a position to provide services may find it impossible to deliver them
with the same quality if resources (bandages, water, vaccines, fuel, or food,
for example) are not accessible, making them feel frustrated, or even guilty.
The December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Conn. that resulted in the death of 20 students and 7 adults, left the country in shock. How do communities deal with these types of random acts of gun violence? How can they begin to heal from these tragedies? .
The 2010 earthquake in Haiti is an example of a community that was living
in financial poverty and then devastated by a disaster. The limited access to
airports slowed the delivery of medical supplies, potable water, or generators
needed to run appliances used as diagnostic tools, such as x-Ray machines.
during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the geography of New Orleans and other towns
along the Gulf Coast made bringing supplies in by car or truck, as residents used
those same roads as evacuation routes, nearly impossible. Helicopters and boats
were required for many rescue missions, and as the supply of critical items decreased,
the demand became so great that people took extreme measures to get food, water,
diapers, and items that they needed as they waited for support that took days,
and sometimes weeks to arrive. Many families were relocated to cities like Houston,
TX a cities and towns much further out, like Washington, DC and New York, NY.
Five years later, about 80% of residents have returned, but after such an experience,
few would say they are the same.
Step 3: Have the students
view the two videos of life after a tragedy, and ask them to think about the
previous assignment. Ask them to compare issues immediately after a national tragedy or disaster,
such as the need for food and medical care, with needs such as a sense of safety
and finally, higher level needs, such as the need to be creative, understand who
you are (self-actualization) or to have strong self-esteem. As they view
the videos, ask students to think about things that are still obstacles to having
these needs met, months or years later. You may choose to distribute the transcripts
to the video clips, so they can follow the text as they view the clips.
- 'It Breaks My Heart:' Students React to the Newtown Tragedy
- Action is Path to Healing for Many in Newtown
Ask students to discuss, or write a journal entry, about whether or not
mental health services should be treated as a priority when plans are in place
to rebuild after a disaster or national tragedy. Include the following:
What are signs
of stress that could require immediate attention?
What are long term affects
of stress on the human body? On families? On communities?
or techniques can a person use to minimize long term the impact of stress? (Connect
with friends and family, sleep, exercise, eat well, drink water, so body will
recover from the release of hormones released during stressful times).
could one person do in your community if they, or a friend, are experiencing mental
health issues? How is this similar or different to the resources in communities
impacted by gun violence, floods, tornados, earthquakes, or other disasters?