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Countless studies have found that stress is ravaging the lives of teens in America and that teens are more stressed today than ever before. One survey done by the American Psychological Association even found that teens reported higher stress levels than adults. Additionally, stress is affecting the teenagers of today in significant ways, leading to more mood disorders, depression, and anxiety diagnoses for this age group that at any other time in history. Schools are challenging teens more nowadays, family financial concerns are affecting teens more significantly now, and work and relationship stressors have a big impact on the lives of teenagers today.
At the same time, adults may have a lot bombarding them and causing them stress as well. Teachers especially are constantly under the scrutiny of schools and parents, they’re being asked to be creative in the classroom but still adhere to the standards, and they’re regularly pressured with the need to do well on standardized tests and boost school scores.
It’s no secret that people today—teens and teachers alike—are stressed to the max. Knowing this is beneficial because simple awareness can make a huge difference when it comes to combating an issue like stress. But how else can you reduce stress? How can teachers, students, administrators, and parents work together to promote healthy, positive learning environments that don’t stress everyone out?
Know What’s Causing the Stress
Pinpointing the stressors in your life is the key to overcoming them. If you feel anxious, take an inventory of the things going on in your life and figure out why you feel anxious. Maybe it’s an impending project, an unpleasant conversation you have to have, or a financial struggle. Once you pinpoint the root cause of your stress, you can deal with it accordingly. If it’s not something you can deal with immediately, remind yourself that it is out of your control for now and do your best to not think about it. Oftentimes, our primary stressor is something controllable, and when we take action steps to resolve the issue, our stress will dissipate much more easily than we realized possible.
Get Enough Sleep, Eat Right, & Take Care of Yourself
One of the keys to mental health is good physical health. If we’re constantly exhausted, feeding our bodies nothing but overly processed, high-sugar foods, and not practicing any sort of self-care, we’re bound to experience more stress. Teens typically need between 9 and 9.5 hours of sleep each night, but most of them only get about 7. Adults generally need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night, but many adults get as little as 4 to 5 hours of sleep each night. At the same time, eating a nutritionally dense, well-balanced diet is important for proper focus, brain and body function, and positive attitudes and outlooks that minimize stress. Additionally, people who practice self-care and regularly make time for themselves to unwind, relax, and do something they enjoy are more likely to have lower stress levels and be able to cope better when extremely stressful situations arise.
Encourage Physical Activity
It can be hard to get your students moving during each class period, but there are some things you can do to integrate movement into your lessons and also encourage physical activity outside of the classroom. First, try to offer centers around the room where students can complete specific tasks. This may be reminiscent of early elementary school, but students will enjoy the opportunity to move between tasks and enter into a new working environment. If you can’t do an active lesson in the classroom, try to get outdoors occasionally. Even though recess may be long gone for your middle school or high school students, they still love to have class outside when possible. You can also add in a few stretch breaks during class time. Have everyone stand up and reach their hands as high as possible, bend down and touch their toes, and then repeat. Getting the blood flowing will improve their focus and it’s a nice mental break for them to reduce some stress and relax for a minute or two.
Minimize Homework Overload
We know this can be hard when you have standards and tests to think about. But try your absolute best to maximize your time in class and minimize the amount of homework you assign your students. Share with them that you want to give them as little homework as possible, and if they participate in class and show that they understand what they’re learning, you won’t have to assign as much homework. That will likely keep them more engaged during class and will help lower their (and your!) stress levels.
Keeping communication open with your school’s administration, your students, and their parents will lower stress levels because nothing is hidden or secretive. Be clear about your expectations, discuss any problems immediately, and report any concerning behaviors as quickly as possible. Be honest with your colleagues and your students and their parents, and you will reduce everyone’s stress levels, including your own.
Teach Real-Life Skills
We know you have to teach for standardized testing and we know you have standards to follow. But you also have a responsibility to teach your students real-life skills, and that is especially important when it comes to reducing stress. Every person is going to face stressful situations in their lives, and the better equipped they are to handle it, the more successful they will be at overcoming it. Teach your students real-life skills when it comes to directly relieving their stress (see below) and teach them things that will just contribute to an overall less stressful life. Things like knowing how to budget, knowing how to manage their time, knowing how to stay organized, and other general life skills will help your students minimize the things that stress them out.
Instruct Students on Stress-Relief Techniques
Minimizing stressors is important, but so is learning how to relieve stress in the midst of an overwhelming moment. Whether it’s in the middle of a test, after they’ve received bad news, or simply in the midst of a busy time of life, knowing stress-relief techniques will help students improve their wellbeing and reduce stress. Teach students how to practice controlled breathing, encourage them to count to ten while breathing deeply, learn about meditation and mindfulness together, and explore what types of music help them to relax.
It’s always good to cut loose and enjoy yourself a little. Laughter can have a huge impact on overall stress levels, and doing something enjoyable can often put things into perspective and help you realize that things that seemed huge a few minutes ago may not be so important. Have fun with your students in class, talk about your and their hobbies, and encourage them to do things they enjoy, even when they’re busy, to help keep their stress levels at bay.