Name it to Tame it this November

Angela Buzan Life in the Classroom, Science

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Probably my favorite thing about Taryl Hansen is the sly way she sandwiches a life-changing sentence in between two anecdotes and then changes the subject. A few Novembers ago, over an Otero Burger in Tubac, she said, “well, it’s like they say: name it to tame it”, and then asked if I was the one who ordered extra pickles.

Turns out this philosophy is a pretty important way to manage stress. Author and psychiatrist Dr. Dan Siegel explains that the phrase “name it to tame it” refers to the rocky relationship between our feelings and our decision-making.

Siegal says the brain is like a two-story house: emotions exist in the “downstairs brain”, while thinking and planning exist in the “upstairs brain”. The two floors are part of the same house, but they’re separated by a solid floor. When you experience a very strong emotion, like stress, the fire alarms of your downstairs brain go haywire and you naturally think, “I GOTTA GET OUT OF HERE”. The upstairs brain hears the alarms and starts planning what to do next, after the panic has already occurred.

The trick is to teach your upstairs brain to engage sooner. The upstairs brain wants to organize, plan, and understand. So let it. Next time you experience a very strong emotion, pause and name the specific emotion, plus any other emotions that might exist. This tiny action will not only help you understand the situation better, it will flood soothing neurotransmitters to the limbic area of the brain to calm you down.

I bring this up because this morning I read Julian Stanley’s blog which claims November is one of the most stressful months for educators. Then I read an NEA article about how teacher stress is contagious—as in, a teacher’s stress stresses kids out. I was pretty amped up by the time I found this article from The Atlantic that claimed stressed American teachers spend more time in classrooms than their international counterparts. I probably would have continued clicking my way into panic, but I was distracted by 45 minutes of text messages about Thanksgiving and then I realized I had two sets of senior essays to grade….


The lesson at hand? Sometimes stress is a combination of emotions that are felt before they’re understood. As you manage your seasonal triggers, let that upstairs brain of yours do some observational work. Stand by—for just a minute or two, to breathe the panic away.

And if a breath isn’t break enough, take fifteen minutes to watch Taryl’s TED talk.


Angela Buzan is a full time English teacher in the Flagstaff Unified School District. She has thirteen years’ teaching experience and has taught all grades seven through twelve. In 2010, she received a Fulbright Teacher Exchange fellowship to Kolkata, India; in 2012 she achieved National Board Certification; in 2014 she earned a Master’s Degree in Curriculum Design and Instruction. Her current challenge is to out-read Gavin, in third period, who typically polishes off three novels a week.

Comments 4

  1. Sandy Merz

    This is great. And thanks for the references. Two things I do, following the name it to tame it strategy are to open up a journal I keep sketch a diagram of all the categories of tasks I have pending work in – my teaching, my Azk12 work, home obligations, and the like. Then I add what the tasks are. The other is just a plain old to do list. Something about having them on paper illustrates their finiteness as well as moving them “upstairs.” Here’s a minute long meditation tool for when stressors like a student or class that’s misbehaving, are still downstairs and emotions – for me, it’d be anger – are taking over. It’s called STOP and I got it from the Buddify meditation app. It stands for SMILE, TOUCH the ground (basically feel the solid ground beneath your feet), Take ONE deep breath, and be PRESENT by whatever means are available. In the stressful moment, as I take each step, I feel the controlling emotion lose its grip and my upstairs mind gaining strength. Now that I think about it, it’s kind of like going up steps.

  2. Jaime Festa-Daigle

    AMEN SISTER! I know this from my family, my stress becomes their stress and then I have seen it in my school. How do we as educators keep our stress from affecting each other and our students. This is so problematic when AZ has been identified as one of the high stress places for teachers to work. I appreciate everything about this from the image to the link from Taryl.

  3. Mike Vargas

    I am home sick ( which my wife says is stress related) and I am reading this article like yep, yep, yep… I do believe that our teacher stress is contagious. I often try hard not to show my stress but you cant hide it.. great article, I enjoyed it very much.

  4. Alaina Adams

    Teachers on my campus are feeling mid-year stress for sure this month – thank you for these resources that I can take with me to help them name it to tame it! (And love the Taryl shout out).

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