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It’s no secret that students today are more stressed out than ever before. With the world at their fingertips, they are constantly being bombarded with other people’s successes, the newest trend, and unbridled access to information about anything in the world. This overload can be enough to make anyone go a little crazy, but add to that all the additional stresses of school and teenage life, and you’ll be amazed that students remain as grounded as they are. Why is it that students are so stressed out today? And how can we identify stressed-out students in our schools and classrooms? And more importantly, how can we help them? Here at TCI, we want the very best for all of those in education and their students, so we’ve put together some information and tips on how to improve the lives of your stressed-out students.
Why Are Students Today So Stressed?
Students today have more to deal with than students of any previous generation. With the physical and mental demands of school, the constant bombardment of social media and technology, and the pressure from parents, teachers, and themselves to do better, work harder, and try more, it’s no wonder our students are about to burst with stress. Additionally, the strangely isolating world of social media and technology leave droves of students feeling lonely, undesired, and insignificant, leading to the highest numbers of teenage anxiety and depression in our country’s history. Add to this standardized testing, school safety threats, pressure to succeed, lack of sleep, and various social pressures, and it is incredibly understandable that today’s schools are stuffed full of stressed-out students.
How Does Stress Present Itself?
Older students are more likely to be able to identify stress for what it is. However, younger students, such as those in elementary and middle school, may not fully understand stress or be able to pinpoint it as a certain feeling. Stress can be clearly defined by symptoms of anxiety or depression, or it can appear in more subtle ways. Recurring stomachaches, physical aggression, moodiness, sleep problems, isolation, and general sadness are some other ways stress may manifest itself. Some students may skip classes, turn to drugs or alcohol, seek refuge in unhealthy relationships, experience weight fluctuations, or generally ignore responsibilities. Be aware of the signs of stress and have a conversation with a student, parent, or administrator if you suspect a stressed-out student is in danger of harming himself or others, or if you simply believe he or she needs some counseling or additional help.
How to Help Your Stressed-Out Students
As a teacher, you may feel like you don’t pack a lot of punch when it comes to seriously impacting your students, but you have no idea how big of an impression you can make. Especially if their home life is stressful, discouraging, or just plain hard, school can quickly become a place of refuge, safety and positive growth, and you are the catalyst to spur your students on to greatness. Particularly when it comes to stressed-out students, being there for them and giving them some valuable tools can have a far-reaching impact that lasts years into their future and adult life. Here are some simple but impactful ways you can help your stressed-out students.
Try to Put Yourself in Their Shoes
As adults, we know what “real” problems are, and it can be easy to downplay your students’ struggles and stresses, particularly if you’ve gone through or are in the midst of incredible challenges in your own life. But try to put yourself in your students’ shoes and see their stresses from their perspective. Understand that their world still very much revolves around them, and while their eyes will be opened as they age and mature, the stresses they face can appear catastrophic to them at times. Try your best to meet them where they are and let them know you understand that adults don’t completely “get it” but that you are there for them.
Don’t Brush Off “Small” Stressors
Talking about stress can often take a lot of the power of stress away. Be real with your students about what stresses you out, and ensure them that nothing is too small to be thought of as a silly stressor. Some students may experience severe test anxiety while others worry about what’s going to happen in physical education class, while still others are concerned about their safety at home or school. Some students may be concerned about what many adults may consider “small” stressors, like their appearance or their plans for the upcoming break. But when you minimize things that are important to students, they may think that you aren’t trustworthy and that you don’t see them as a real person with real concerns and struggles. No matter what your students mention as a stressor in their lives, acknowledge it and help them work towards resolving it. It can be as simple as you saying, “Wow, that must be hard for you,” or “I know that can be really challenging to deal with.” Simply showing them you understand and recognize their concern as legitimate will help them more than you realize.
Teach Stress-Relief Techniques
Real-world lessons are always acceptable in the classroom, even if it means pushing back that lesson on adverbs or postponing the quiz on the American Revolution. Teach your students stress-relief techniques, both to be used in the midst of a stressful situation and on a day to day basis to keep their stress levels low. You can research some breathing techniques, mindfulness exercises, and more. You may also have them do some stress-relief activities in the classroom as part of your daily work or on particularly high-stress days, such as on days with exams or standardized testing. Have your students write a stressor on a piece of paper when they walk in the classroom and then drop it in the shredder before they get to their seat. Or have them color something that represents their happy place or safe spot, both as a relaxation technique and as a way to shift their thoughts to more positive ones.
Discuss Time Management & Organization
Another important life skill lesson should include time management and organization. These are two of the biggest struggles for high school students, so the sooner you can teach your students how to improve these skills, the better off they will be both now and in the future. One of the biggest culprits of stress for students is feeling overwhelmed, and this can often be attributed to poor time management skills and poor organizational habits. If you can help your students operate under an organizational system and a schedule, they will benefit greatly and the number of stressed-out students in your classroom will be greatly reduced. Talk to them about prioritizing and scheduling, and encourage them to keep their bedrooms, lockers, backpacks, and workspaces as clean and organized as possible as that will only serve their productivity and time management.
Be Active with Your Students
Increased activity levels have proven to reduce stress, and they’ve also proven to improve academic performance, information retention, and overall mood and happiness. Be a positive contributing factor to this area of your students’ lives. Not only should you encourage them to get involved in sports and stay active outside of school, but you should give them opportunities during class to get up and get moving. This may be as simple as a nature walk or trekking across the baseball field to have class outside, but the more active you are with your students, the more they will see it as an important part of an overall healthy lifestyle.
Keep Lines of Communication Open
Even though older students especially can appear disconnected and uninterested a lot of the time, they appreciate knowing that a trustworthy adult is there if they need one. Let them know that not only do you understand that they are stressed out, but also that you are there to lend a listening ear if they ever need it. Sometimes just talking about what stresses you out is enough of a release to let it go, and that may be all a student needs. You can also have all your students write you a quick update on their lives once a week or once a month, giving them all the opportunity to discreetly request a time to talk with you. Checking in with your stressed-out students regularly will let them know that you care about them and that you are truly there for them if they ever need you.