Stress in Students
Young Stacy getting very frustrated very easily. John having random crying outbursts when it comes to math lessons. Mary coming in most mornings looking and acting like she can and will fall asleep at any given moment. Sound familiar? These are some of the common telltale signs of stressed out students (Psych Central 2016). There are probably more stressed out kids in your class than you might think. So how can we help this epidemic? There are many ways to go about it from the snacks they eat, to the environment of the classroom. In this post, I will be discussing why elementary students get stressed out, brain functions, and ways to help de – stress them in the classroom with simple but effective strategies.
Why are our students stressed?
There are many different reasons as to why our elementary students are stressed out. Children are usually not thought of to be stressed out – after all, they are just kids right? Parental separation, economic issues, child abuse, violence in the home, poverty, hunger. These are just a few of the main causes of stress in children in this day and age. Honestly, the causes are endless as I am sure you can imagine. Stress can take major tolls on our students both physically and mentally. John is a student I think most of us can relate to at one point or another in our life. When it’s time for math lessons, the tears are a flowin’. But every time? There are some possible underlying causes as to what is causing John so much math anxiety. Sure, it could be because his parents have just separated and he doesn’t get to see his mom as much anymore. Or maybe it’s because there was not enough food in the house for him to have both lunch and dinner today. When situations like these arise, the brain starts to function differently and it literally blocks John from being able to do math. Let’s take a look into this.
When a student is suffering from high stress levels, their brains are impacted. When someone experiences stress, the amygdala, a part of the brain that correlates with emotional processing, sends the distress signal to the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus holds the fight-or-flight part of us. This can come with increased heart rate, adrenaline rush, and forgetfulness. Eventually a cortisol hormone is released and this helps in restoring the lost energy (The Mind and Mental Health, 2016). As you can see, when a student is stressed this can be very detrimental to them. They literally cannot learn! So maybe stress is the reason why John cannot get the new math lessons down, or why Mary feels so exhausted she can barely get her school work done. Now I want to talk about ways to help your students come down from the stress in their lives and how you as an educator can help make the difference some of your students truly need.
How to Help
I have discussed negatives throughout this entire post thus far, so now I want to talk more about the positives and how us educators can help improve our students lives. Stress in our students is bound to happen at some point throughout their academic careers. Elementary or not, most students experience it at some point. I am a firm believer in teaching stress relieving strategies at an earlier age so they can have these techniques to practice throughout their lives. Stress relief is important in being able to focus on academics, and that is reason enough to be teaching techniques like these at any age level.
Yoga can be a great way to relieve stress and tension in students and it can also be fun. Embracing mindfulness exercises into your students lives can be very helpful. Studies have shown that yoga decreases physiological arousal. This means reducing the heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and easing respiration. There is also evidence that yoga helps increase heart variability – which is the body’s ability to be able to respond to stress more flexibly (Harvard Medical School, 2018). Writing all of the amazing things yoga can do for your body and mind out makes me feel like I need to sign up for a class ASAP. Don’t forget, teachers can do these things too!
If you didn’t like the idea of doing yoga in your classroom, aromatherapy is another stress reliever that students love. Essential oils are healthier for you and the students than the commercial air fresheners and they also affect moods, support immune systems, and help purify the air. If you search ‘aromatherapy blends’ online, you can come up with different blends of essential oils for different moods/times of day. If your students are doing a test and they need to be focused, try rosemary and lemon. If there’s a lot on the lesson plan today and you need a motivational blend, try peppermint, orange, frankincense, and lime (The Wright Nook, 2017). All you do is purchase a diffuser, essential oils, water, and a plug in the wall. It’s really that easy and the students are sure to love it.
Yes, we all love birthdays when students bring in those cupcakes or cookies that are delicious and keeps everyone happy. But, this post is about stress relief. I kind of have to advocate for the healthier snacks here sadly. According to the Food Network, there are actually some healthy snacks that help keep your students on task throughout the day and are still yummy. Carrots are a great example of this. The crunchiness is a good way to beat stress believe it or not! Carrots, celery and other crunchy veggies have that satisfying crispness that make you feel good on the inside and out. Nuts are another big one. Almonds, pistachios, and walnuts provide your immune system with vitamins and zinc which helps fight off bacteria and viruses. Being in an elementary school especially, I think we could all use this snack. Another snack that contradicts what I said earlier about advocating for healthiness but is so good for you in portions, is chocolate. Chocolate reduces your stress hormones by containing sugar which is a carbohydrate so it releases serotonin which improves your mood (The Food Network, 2018). It’s perfectly okay (healthy even) to give your students chocolate just in portions.
Remodeling your classroom might sound drastic, but if you’re looking to make a real change this could be it. Before making changes to your room though it is wise to inform your students so they are ready for the changes you’re going to make as change could be a trigger for stress in some students. Now it’s time to get your open mind thinking caps on because I’m going to give you some suggestions to change your room up for the better. Neutral colors are key. I understand that the thinking of bright colors in the classroom brings in a fun element. This is wrong. Natural wicker baskets are calming to the mind. Brown and beige colors are soothing on the eyes. I’m not saying color is a bad thing – I’m not saying that at all. Neutral colors bring the mind to a peaceful state and when students are always learning and always growing this is what I recommend for the learning environment. You could also replace colorful rugs for something softer and fluffier. Try something you might find in a living room. I do love a good circle rug with the letters of the alphabet around the border but a more neutral rug invites the students to run their hands through it which stimulates a sensory reaction and stress relief. The colors shouldn’t be distracting and they’ll feel more calmed just by sitting on it (HeadTeacher Update 2018). Of course the possibilites are endless here but keeping the room somewhat neutral without the loud posters explaining bathroom rules and phonics everywhere could be something to consider.
- Morning Meetings
I am a strong believer in keeping yourself organized and ready for the day or even the week coming up. That’s why I want to talk about Morning Meetings. Even if you are a preschool teacher, holding class meetings every morning sets everyone up for success. Taking that time to talk about the class outlook for the day ahead, what the students are going to learn and focus on is something I love. Even with little people, holding this meeting every day should give them something to look forward to, it should make them feel a sense of inclusion. Present this as more of an okay this is what we are going to learn about today, this is our schedule, do you have any questions about this kind of thing. Start off with a greeting – you can get creative with this. Allow time for sharing. Kids love to talk. Giving them the chance to do this amongst themselves for 3-5 minutes in the morning gives them a chance to get off what’s on their minds. Talking about the schedule for the day and what they are going to learn about should give them a sense of security, knowingness, and relief of stress (Nomad Communications, 2017). Morning meetings should be introduced to your class if they are not already. Surely the schedule doesn’t always go as planned or maybe discussed in the morning but having the routine down for that meeting to happen already gives them something to look forward too. This also encourages you the teacher to stay on top of your game in keeping organized because if you don’t that causes stress in you and teacher stress causes student stress – let’s not forget that.
Okay so now we know why John, Stacy and Mary are stressed out. We now know how the brain works (or doesn’t work) when we feel stressed out. More importantly, we now have some strategies to apply to our classes and our students so that the John’s, Stacy’s and Mary’s in our classes and lives can be helped out. Stress is not fun to feel and deal with but now I hope you know some simple but effective ways to reduce this in yourself or your students.
A Calming, Therapeutic Classroom Environment (2018). HeadTeacher Update. Retrieved from http://www.headteacher-update.com/best-practice-article/a-calming-therapeutic-classroom-environment/167066/
Best Foods for Stress Relief (2018). The Food Network. Retrieved from: https://www.foodnetwork.com/healthy/photos/top-10-foods-for-stress-relief
School Yoga Reduces Children’s Anxiety (2018). Clinical Research on Yoga’s Ability to Reduce Anxiety. Harvard Medical School. Retrieved from: https://ecochildsplay.com/2018/04/19/school-yoga-reduces-childrens-anxiety/
Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology (2012). Approaches to Measuring Stress. Retrieved from http://web.a.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=5&sid=51e97c21-4f64-475d-b36c-10731db2de9d%40sdc-v-sessmgr05
The Mind and Mental Health (2016). How Stress Affects the Brain. Retrieved from: https://www.tuw.edu/content/health/how-stress-affects-the-brain/
11 Morning Meeting Ideas for Happy Classrooms (2017). Nomad Communications. Retrieved from: http://blog.nomadpress.net/blog/11-morning-meeting-ideas-for-happy-classrooms