April is Stress Awareness Month, a good reminder to pay attention to our health. It is also an opportunity to help your students learn about the effects of stress and explore how they can effectively manage their stress.
Just like with adults, if students’ stress goes unmanaged, it can lead to anxiety and depression and can cause harmful physical effects. It can also increase students’ risk of dropping out, substance abuse, and suicide.
Take some time this month to teach students about stress and how to identify stress triggers. Help them explore different techniques for managing stress so they can find strategies that work for them.
Here are three common myths about stress to keep in mind.
Myth 1. Stress feels the same for everyone.
Fact: Stress is a very subjective experience. People feel — and also cope with — stress in different ways. At the same time, what is stressful for one person may not be stressful for another. People also deal and cope with stress in very different ways.
Myth 2. You can always tell when someone is stressed.
Fact: While many experience common symptoms of stress, such as social withdrawal, anger, and mood swings, there are many other symptoms that are internal and may not be noticeable. Symptoms like anxiety, depression, and excessive worry are may not be apparent.
Myth 3. Only major stress symptoms need attention.
Fact: Minor and major stress symptoms need to be addressed. Minor stress can quickly become more severe and lead to chronic stress. Additionally, stress hormones (which are present even during minor stress) can have a negative impact on a person’s memory, learning, and wellness.
Here are 10 ways to help your students manage their stress.
1. Host morning meetings.
Morning meetings are an important way to connect with your students and address any issues they may be having. Spend some time at the start of each 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 and emotional skills. Morning meetings can strengthen student-teacher relationships, increase social awareness and self-efficacy, and reduce stress.
2. Teach through games.
Games are a fun and interactive way to teach students social and emotional skills like self-management, which can equip them to work through stress. Here are a couple of our favorites:
- 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.
- Coping Skills Bingo: This free game teaches students how to manage anger and cope with stress in a fun, interactive way.
- Coloring, Jigsaw Puzzles, and Word Scapes: Research shows that these types of activities can help folks calm their minds and relax. You may want to devote time during the day to give all students a chance to do one of these calming activities. Or, you could create a quiet corner where students can go to work on a jigsaw puzzle, color, etc. during times they feel particularly stressed.
3. Promote a growth mindset.
Having a growth mindset helps students rise above negative thoughts and perceived limitations. Growth mindsets allow us to see the world through a lens of growth and encourages perseverance and determination. 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 10 fun activities to help students learn about and develop a growth mindset.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
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. 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.
9. Help students get services they need.
Some students may be experiencing high levels of stress due to housing or food insecurities, or because they need more intensive services, like mental health support. Teachers can do a lot to help, such as helping identify students in need; connecting students with appropriate school services; partnering with school wellness or school health advisory committees; and advocating for their students within their schools, districts, and communities.
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. If needed, keep the communication going through email, online chat, or virtual meeting spaces.
Helping students find ways to manage their stress will be a skill they will use throughout their lives. We hope these de-stressing tips are helpful as you teach students about stress and help them learn strategies that work for them! 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.