Stress Management for Students: The Importance of Stress Management in K-12 Classrooms

Trauma and stress affect people of all ages, especially children. One 2014 study by the American Psychological Association showed that many teens experience even higher stress levels than adults. 

Stress doesn’t only impact your students’ emotional and mental health. It also affects grades, social interactions, and long-term success. Unfortunately, many students don’t have the knowledge and skills needed to manage their stress. 

As an educator, you play an instrumental role in identifying when a student is stressed and helping them overcome it. Keep reading to understand the importance of stress management and how to reduce stress in classrooms.  

The Impacts of Stress and Trauma

Stress isn’t always bad. Low levels of stress have been found to increase alertness, performance, and health. High levels of stress, on the other hand, have long-term adverse effects.  

Brain Development

With chronic stress, the body’s systems remain saturated with high levels of cortisol, a type of stress hormone. In children, this leads to decreased immune function, cognitive impairment, and even abnormal brain development.

This 2014 Harvard report explains that children’s brains are highly malleable. When exposed to high-stress levels or traumas, cortisol can cause the brain to rewire itself. These new neural pathways have the potential to cause additional health problems later in life.

Mental and Emotional Health

Students with poor stress management run a higher risk of developing serious diseases. Depression, anxiety, insomnia, high blood pressure, obesity, and Alzheimer’s are only a few of the issues they may face. In severe cases, stress has also been linked to suicidal thoughts and tendencies.

Contributing Factors

Understanding what is causing your students’ stress is the first step to helping them overcome it. Anything from familial expectations to abuse to peer pressure can have an impact on your students’ mental and emotional health. These are the three most common contributors.  

Instability at Home

Unfortunately, you have no way of precisely knowing what is going on in your students’ home lives. They might be dealing with divorce, a death in the family, or physical abuse. Often, students who have what many consider a “healthy family life” experience stressful situations at home. 

Rather than make assumptions, take time to check in with your students. Are they falling asleep in class because their older sibling had the TV on all night? Is their homework incomplete because they don’t have a quiet place to study? 

Getting an idea of the instabilities that affect your students will help you manage stress in classrooms. 

Failure to Meet Expectations

Parents, teachers, and the students themselves have spoken and unspoken expectations in regards to: 

  • Scholastic achievement
  • Appearance
  • Behavior
  • Athletic achievement
  • Achievement compared to peers

According to research, many students experience a spike in cortisol levels when they fail to meet or exceed a standard. For some, this stress fades away after a few days. Others find the stress of failure challenging to manage and inevitably see it impacting other areas of their life.  

Screen Time and Exposure

According to the CDC, kids between the ages of eight and eighteen spend around 7.5 hours on screens each day. This is for entertainment purposes only and does not include educational screen time. Screen time disconnects children from the real world and exposes them to unrealistic expectations and cyberbullying.

Many experience stress when they don’t get enough likes, comments, or shares. Their self-esteem is also affected when they find themselves unable to live up to the idealistic images they see.

Indicators of Stress

Recognizing these common indicators of stress will help you start tackling stress in classrooms. Keep an eye out for students displaying any of the following warning signs: 

  • Divided or distracted attention
  • Disengaged from class
  • Making inappropriate comments
  • Refusing to work
  • Shouting
  • Storming out of the room 
  • Defensive nonverbal behaviors
  • Crying
  • Falling asleep in class
  • Fidgeting or repeatedly looking at their phone

Sometimes the stress you observe in your students is fleeting and even healthy. However, if you regularly notice these behaviors or struggle to manage student behaviors, it’s time to think about how to reduce children’s stress. 

How to Reduce Student Stress

Management of stress in classrooms is a long-term commitment. It often requires a bit of ingenuity and patience on the part of the teacher. Incorporate these ideas into your lesson plan to reduce stress in classrooms.

Psychological Techniques

Any technique that focuses on the psychological state of your students falls into this category. 

Utilize individual rewards to increase motivation and engagement. Make sure the goals you set are obtainable to avoid increasing the stress associated with reaching them. This is also a great tool for classroom management

Set aside class time for your students to take mental breaks or practice mindfulness, such as free journaling. Have daily or weekly check-ins with students who are struggling. Talk about what they find challenging and ask what they think will help them succeed.

Physiological Techniques

Incorporate movement into your lessons to help students release stress.

One idea is to set up stations around the room. Students must then visit each station to complete a particular part of their assignments. This not only gets them moving but gives them a chance to interact with other students. 

Set the tone for each class. Start by having your students throw all their stress and anxiety out the door. Then take a few moments to do some deep breathing or humming exercises.

Playing calming music in the background while your students work is another excellent stress management tool.

Understanding Stress, Trauma, and Resilience

When left unchecked, stress has lasting effects on the health and wellbeing of your students. Understanding the factors that contribute to stress and the signs associated with it places you in a position to help. By utilizing different stress-reducing techniques, you can teach them to manage their stress and set them up for future success.  

Are you interested in learning more about stress, trauma, and stress management in the classroom? Join us on Wednesday, October 20th, 2021, for a free webinar. Dr. Bryan Harris, Ed.D will discuss how stress impacts the brain and offer new ways to manage your stress and mitigate student stress in the classroom.

Register today for the Understanding Stress, Trauma, and Resilience webinar and receive a certificate of attendance for your resume. 

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