Educators’ chronic stress has adverse health outcomes, according to study

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Teaching continues to be linked to high levels of chronic stress, according to health researchers from Penn State and the University of Virginia.

Previous research has shown that the physically and psychologically demanding career of teaching creates chronic stress among many professionals within this field. This increase in stress has also caused a decrease in job satisfaction among teachers to a 25-year low, according to MetLife.

This new study, led by Deirdre A. Katz in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at Penn State, examined longitudinal associations between diurnal cortisol secretion at three time points during one year, and self-reported emotion regulation strategies.

Cortisol is a hormone in the body that assists in controlling blood sugar levels, regulating metabolism, reducing inflammation and assisting with memory formulation. It also has a controlling effect on salt and water balance and helps control blood pressure.

The 30 participants in the study were assessed during the fall semester, the spring semester and again in the fall of the following year. Their cortisol analysis was conducted by collecting samples of their saliva at different times throughout the day.

Researchers found that the participants’ cortisol levels were higher in the spring than in the fall, indicating that educators showed blunted cortisol awakening response, an indicator of chronic stress, in the spring semester of the school year. The researchers said this means that physiological indicators of stress accumulate throughout the course of the school year as a result of their work.

Results of the study pointed to the importance of the summer break for educators to recuperate from the stress system dysregulation that they encounter over the school year, which is consistent with previous studies that have indicated teachers experience decreased burnout after summer vacation, weekends and other breaks.

The research team also examined emotion regulation strategies as a means to decrease levels of stress. One of these regulation strategies, called reappraisal, involves recognizing a negative response to a situation and then reinterpreting these negative feelings in a positive way. The use of reappraisal as an emotion-regulation strategy decreased the effects of stress in the spring compared to the teachers who did not use this strategy.

These recent findings add to the mounting evidence that, according to the research team, “Promoting positive behaviors could promote resilience in teachers, and, in turn, prevent attrition, improve health and well-being, and improve students’ experiences in school.”

Other researchers involved in this study include Rachel Abenavoli and Mark T. Greenberg of the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at Penn State and Alexis Harris and Patricia A. Jennings of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia.

This study was supported by grants from the 1440 Foundation, the Institute of Education Sciences and the Penn State Children, Youth, and Families Consortium. These findings were published in the October issue of the Journal of Stress and Health.

Media Contacts: 
Last Updated November 29, 2017