10 Tips to Help Students Manage Anxiety and Stress During the Holidays

While holidays can be a welcome break from assignments and school, this year’s holiday season will look different due to the pandemic. Many families won’t be able to travel or meet in large groups, holiday traditions will be altered, and students may not get to spend time with loved ones. The pandemic has also caused many hardships on families, including financial stress and food insecurity.

Unmanaged stress can lead to anxiety, depression, and can cause harmful physical effects. It can also increase students’ risk of dropping out, substance abuse, and suicide.  However, educators can help students learn how to effectively manage and reduce stress..

As an educator, you are in a unique position to provide stability and support to your students and their families during the holidays and these uncertain times. One of the best ways you can help students is by looking after their social-emotional health.

Here are 10 ways to help your students learn effective stress management.

1. Help students understand what is happening.

A simple and age-appropriate conversation about what is going on and why the holidays might look different this year can help alleviate students’ anxiety and stress. Ask students how they are feeling. Listen to them and validate their feelings by telling them it’s ok to feel sad, disappointed, or angry. Send home talking points to help parents talk to their students about what is happening in a constructive way. If you have a school or class web page, keep it current with the latest information about your district’s holiday plans and available resources.

2. Promote a growth mindset.

Research shows that a growth mindset can help students maintain a sense of control over their lives and address the cognitive causes of stress within the brain. Growth mindsets allow us to see the world through a lens of growth, which means we have the power to turn our thoughts from a negative focus induced by stress to a positive focus striving toward improvement. Help students develop a growth mindset by teaching them to focus on the positive and view challenges as opportunities for growth, rather than threats. Here are some fun, winter-themed activities to help students develop a growth mindset this holiday season.

3. Teach through games.

Games are a fun and interactive way to teach students social-emotional skills like self-management, which can equip them to work through stress. Here are a couple of our favorites:

  • Coping Skills Bingo: This free game teaches students how to manage anger and cope with stress in a fun, interactive way.
  • Stress Management Escape Room: Students engage in hands-on, interactive puzzles that explain the biological stress response and how to manage stress by getting organized, doing exercises or yoga, relying on social supports, etc.

4. Host morning meetings.

Morning meetings are an important way to stay connected (during in-person and virtual learning) with your students and address any issues they may be having. Spend some time at the start of the school day to check in with students. This can be a time to address any issues they may be facing, talk through their feelings and emotions, and practice social-emotional skills. Morning meetings can strengthen student-teacher relationships, increase social awareness and self-efficacy, and reduce stress. Prioritizing these meetings in the weeks leading up the holidays can give students time to process the fact that things are going to be different this year.

5. Teach mindfulness.

We can help students reduce the negative effects of stress through mindfulness. Mindfulness is an awareness of your thoughts, feelings, and body sensations and how they can impact your actions. This framework has been proven to help students recognize triggers and changes within their bodies, which can help them calm and regulate their emotions before they act on a trigger in a negative way.

Teach students how to practice mindfulness. Our partner, Move This World, has a terrific guide to teach mindfulness to students. Click here to access their Calm Down and Mindfulness Strategies.

6. Encourage students to get enough sleep.

Younger children need 10-12 hours of sleep each night and high school students need around eight to nine hours. Talk to students about why getting enough sleep is important for their physical and mental health.

7. Encourage students to be smart about social media.

We are realistic — we know that no matter what adults tell students, there is little chance they will stay off of social media. But we can teach them to be smart about using it. We can help them understand that too much media exposure (especially on social media) can increase stress and anxiety. We can teach them how to access reputable news sources like the Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization to get accurate information. And we can teach them to be safe online. Being smart about using social media can keep students safe and grounded and reduce negative effects like stress and low self-esteem.

8. Practice deep breathing.

Deep breathing works just as well for students as it does for adults. It can have a powerful physical effect in reducing tension and relaxing the body — and it can have immediate results. Clinical research shows that regular deep breathing exercises affect the heart, brain, digestion, and the immune system. They can have immediate results and can also be used to reduce the production of harmful stress hormones. Teach students deep breathing techniques to calm down and reduce stress.

9. Teach visualization.

Daydreaming in class is sometimes ok! Visualization involves using mental imagery to achieve a more relaxed state of mind and can be an effective way for students to de-stress. This free lesson plan guides students through the process and has them use visualization to improve reading comprehension.                                                  

10. Be a listening ear.

Some students don’t have an adult at home who they feel they can turn to in times of need. Encourage students to talk to you about their feelings so you can work through any concerns they may have. Keep the communication going during remote learning through email, online chat, or virtual meeting spaces. If possible, continue your outreach during the holidays so students have someone to turn to if they need help.

Our students’ resiliency has certainly been tested this year. The holidays will bring a new set of challenges, but you can help your students work through these stressful times by teaching them effective stress management skills. We hope these de-stressing tips are helpful to keep you and your students happy and healthy this holiday season!

If you’d like to read more about the relationship between stress and social and emotional learning, download our whitepaper, Reducing Educator and Student Stress with SEL, by filling out the form below.

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