Dealing with Student Stress

Chasing those ephemeral moments of peace

Student stressors are always present. These days, especially if your students or their families are members of a vulnerable population, stress is skyrocketing.

And as far as we adults and educators go? The numbers are in on that, too, from the American Psychological Association:

To better understand political stressors and assess any potential for long- term e ects, APA commissioned an additional survey in early January
2017, asking Americans again to rate the sources of their stress, including the political climate, the future of our nation and the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. This new survey found that between August 2016 and January 2017, Americans’ overall average reported stress level rose from 4.8 to 5.1 on a 10-point scale.

In addition, in the January 2017 survey, more than half of Americans
(57 percent) report that the current political climate is a very or somewhat signi cant source of stress. Two-thirds (66 percent) say the same about the future of our nation, and nearly half (49 percent) report that the outcome of the election is a very or somewhat signi cant source of stress.

How do we deal with this? There are certainly times when taking direct action is the way to go, as Eva can attest. But what can we do when the burnout creeps in, life throws a few more stressors your way, and your entire family gets sick all at once (see: Emily)?

We’ve collected some resources that may be helpful in those burnout moments–some that can be done with students, and others that might be helpful to take on yourself.

From Edutopia, courtesy of Glenview Elementary School in Oakland, California, is a fantastic PDF resource chock-full of stress reduction exercises aimed at an elementary school aged population. (Though don’t let that limit you–can’t promise that we haven’t already tried out the Animal Charades.) This resource is beautifully laid out and easily accessible.

From the introduction:

…young people, like adults, can benefit from learning and practicing stress management skills. Students who develop stress reduction skills learn how to feel and cope better without hurting themselves or others. Identifying and acknowledging the causes of stress and expressing feelings about them are usually the most effective tools students have to reduce stress, in addition to learning practical stress reduction skills.

The attached classroom activities are designed to teach students a variety of practical and fun stress reduction techniques. These activities may be used to address a stressful situation in the moment (such as: during a lockdown, before and/or after a morning full of testing, or following difficult transitions). It is important to practice these skills prior to the onset of a stressful event (for example: incorporate as part of health lessons, use as an activity for morning circle/carpet time).

Love to Know has a list of ten stress reduction techniques for children, and we especially appreciated the instructions for Progressive Muscle Relaxation:

  • Face – Ask your child to scrunch up her nose and forehead like she smells something stinky, and then have her relax her face. Repeat three times.
  • Jaws – Ask your child to clench her jaws together tightly like she’s a dog hanging on to a bone, and then have her release that imaginary bone and let her jaw go completely loose. Repeat three times.
  • Arms and shoulders – Ask your child to stretch her arms out in front of her, and then raise them above her head and stretch as high as she can. Have her drop her arms and let them hang loose. Repeat three times.

Don’t let the Comic Sans get in the way of reading this next activity. Creative Counseling provides a great balloon game that can be played with people of all ages to help physically vanquish some stress. The best part? They guarantee laughter.

For educators, Everyday Feminism has an article on identifying and dealing with activism burnout. If you’re new to political engagement of this sort, or if you’re just extra-burnt-out from everything that’s been going on, this is a calming read.

Burnout isn’t something that you either have or you don’t. Rather, think of it like a thermometer.

In order to gauge where you are on this scale, ask yourself some simple reflective questions: What are you feeling? How intense is it? How well are you able to manage those feelings?

From Activist Trauma Support, a quick handout on Sustainable Activism and Avoiding Burnout is well worth your time. This one is easy to print and distribute as well.

Screen Shot 2017-04-04 at 12.47.47 PM

And from Truth Out, an article on dealing with burnout when also dealing with anxiety and depression. The article is from 2013, but the introductory paragraphs describe life for a lot of us today:

As a committed feminist and social justice activist, I am constantly in touch, in communication, online, on alert, engaged. There is rarely a moment where I am away from my computer or iPhone for longer than 30 minutes – what if something is happening right now that needs my attention? – and my social media accounts serve not only as a lifeline to other activists, but as a central part of my own activism. To say that constant connection gets exhausting is an epic understatement.

If you are involved in social justice activism in any way, you likely know of “activist burnout,” the feeling of sheer mental (and often physical) exhaustion that catches up with you after spouts of perpetual tuned-in-ness. But for activists like me, this burnout is magnified by an ever present undercurrent of chemical forces beyond our control: my burnout is coupled with my depression and anxiety.

It’s fair to say that the work people are doing in opposition to this administration is having an impact, and that now is not the time to call it quits. It’s also fair to say that we all deserve a day off once in awhile, inasmuch as it’s possible. Wishing everyone at least a moment of peace–and if it’s easy for you to come by, here’s to helping someone else in your community find it, too.



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