February 2019 Blog

February 2019


Worried About Your Students’ Stress Levels?

Help give teens the tools they need to work through it!

Stress is common at all ages, but can reach new heights during the teenage years. The stress hormone THP is especially potent in adolescence, making it harder for teens to think clearly and mitigate their emotions (Jensen, 2015).  One of the greatest but often unrecognized sources of stress is CHANGE and UNCERTAINTY. Even a good thing like making varsity or getting a new job can lead to an underlying and undermining sense of angst.

Students need strategies for turning distress into “eustress,” a tempered level of stress that can be beneficial for increasing motivation, maintaining focus, and mentally preparing for a potentially stressful event (McGonigal, 2015). Like trained athletes, they can learn to redirect the physical/mental sensations of anxiety to move “into the zone” of optimal focus and performance.

The first step for moving from distress to eustress is recognizing symptoms of anxiety apparent in:

  • Physical indicators – stomachache, sweaty palms, headaches, racing heartbeat

  • Behavioral changes – change in sleeping and eating habits, acting out, agitation, quick temper
  • Cognitive changes – difficulty concentrating, forgetfulness, apathy

After emotional recognition, comes actionable strategies. Research reinforces steps and habits that can be developed to reduce stress levels.  Within School-Connect lessons, students practice “Managing Emotions” strategies to identify which works best for them (listed above). Discussing and role-playing these options in a non-heated supportive environment helps equip students to use these tools when they need them (e.g., before a test or among social pressure or feeling overwhelmed/hopeless). Additionally, students talk about “changing your state” (using strategies to soothe emotions) or “changing your situation” (avoiding situations that provoke anxiety, e.g., being unprepared for a test or toxic relationships).

Integrating time into the school schedule to help students recognize and mitigate stress is imperative for creating an effective learning environment. As neuroscientist Mary Helen Immordino-Yang said at Aspen Institute’s recent Nation of Hope Report event, “children are not little brains in a box. They are children with bodies and lives.” Education needs to address the whole student – both mind and body. By facing the “invisible” force of stress head-on, students are able to take control and mastery over their emotions, focus, and judgment, ultimately allowing more mental energy for learning and contributing to a positive school climate.

Recommended Reading: 
The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults by Frances E. Jensen, MD with Amy Ellis Nutt (2015)
The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It by Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D. (2015).

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