High-school students need help learning how to manage stress, writes Christopher Pepper, a ninth-grade health education teacher in San Francisco. Pepper developed a curriculum about stress reduction and relaxation, which he said is beneficial for high-school students — almost all of whom are affected by stress.
One technique is deep breathing — simply breathing in slowly for a count of four and out slowly for a count of four. It’s amazing how much this simple act of mindfulness can slow things down and create a sense of calm and ease.
We also try visualization. I ask students to think about a place that’s relaxing to them, and imagine themselves there. Often people think about a quiet redwood forest or a warm beach, and they can use this technique to transport themselves there any time they feel stressed.
To teach a technique called “progressive relaxation,” I ask students to clear off their desk and sit or rest as comfortably as they can in their desks. I dim the classroom lights, and then play a recording from the University of Wisconsin’s Health Services office that guides students as they try to relax their bodies from head to toe. It’s important to set the tone while introducing the technique, because it’s easy for one student to disrupt the whole room with a loud laugh.
Once they give it a try, there are always some students who find it highly effective. In just a few minutes, they look rested and relaxed, and they regularly request that we “do that relaxation thing” again.
Sometimes teaching about positive mental and emotional health is seen as an extravagance or a luxury, but UC-Berkeley’s Vicki Zakrzewski argues that it’s increasingly clear that teaching young people to manage stress can help them in a multitude of ways. “Simply making a daily effort to cultivate mindfulness and a caring classroom can do wonders for students’ emotional well-being,” she writes.
With so much clear evidence of the harmful effects of stress, it seems clear to me that stress reduction should be part of every school’s curriculum. It’s a skill that can really help improve — and maybe even save — the lives of our students.
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