Transporting students is a stressful job. The physical and mental toll has only been exacerbated by the current COVID-19 pandemic.
But the response largely hasn’t changed, as practicing mindfulness and meditation can help calm resulting anxiety and increase the ability to solve challenges rather than become paralyzed by fear. That was the message delivered by a mental health expert to attendees of a virtual conference presented by the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Service (NASDPTS) on Monday.
The “Federal Forums Plus” agenda concluded its first day with a presentation from Michael Peterson, a licensed marriage and family therapist as well as a former law enforcement officer who is now the executive director of Minnesota-based Community Growth Solutions, Inc. Peterson shared that 33 percent of adults could experience high levels of “perceived” stress. It matters not if the stress is the result of real pressures or those manufactured in the person’s head, he added.
Complicating matters is the stress added by COVID-19.
The results can include acute stress, which he likened to “butterflies” in the stomach felt by a person who is about to engage in public speaking or who is under deadline with an important project. Worse is chronic or repeated stress that builds up over time and can negatively affect our health. He cited headaches, trouble sleeping, muscle pain and tension, digestive issues, changes in sex drive, and high blood pressure as common physical ailments.
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Stress also causes emotional responses such as moodiness, anxiety, lack of motivation, irritability, and sadness or depression. But expectations at work don’t change. He pointed out that professionals, including those who are engaged in or supporting student transportation services, must still meet deadlines, dress appropriately, be courteous and positive, and continue providing safety and security to their customers.
“We become frustrated and don’t know what to do,” Peterson explained. “Even if we can get through it for a little bit with medication, we ruminate over things and get stuck in that pattern. How do we break through it?”
Mindfulness and mediation are the “superpowers” that we can use to overcome stress, a short video, showed by Peterson, from mental health gaming site Happify, suggested. It said mindfulness and mediation have become as vital to mental health as physical exercise has become to our bodies.
“Become more aware of the thoughts you’re feeling right now and how they are affecting you. Stop ruminating over your thoughts and put that on the shelf,” he advised.
He also noted that mindfulness allows for that necessary moment of pause many people need so they don’t feel they need to immediately react to a stressor, which often can create more problems for the person than solutions. Instead, by switching on the person’s “being” mode of mind that is associated with relaxation, Peterson said, the person becomes more aware and sensitive to the needs of their body. Mindfulness also increases emotional intelligence and focus, Peterson concluded.
The NASDPTS Federal Forum Plus resumes Tuesday and is free of charge to attend. The event concludes Thursday.