Background Information

The National Institute of Mental Health understands that life can be stressful. Students may feel stressed about school, community violence, or even current global pandemic. While these and other
feelings may cause stress, it is important to know that everyone feels stress from time to time.

There is a difference between stress and anxiety and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIH) provides this chart to help distinguish between the two.

Stress  

  • Generally is a response to an external cause, such as taking a big test or arguing with a friend.
  • Goes away once the situation is resolved.
  • Can be positive or negative. For example, it may inspire you to meet a deadline, or it may cause you to lose sleep.

Both Stress and Anxiety

Both stress and anxiety can affect your mind and body. You may experience symptoms such as:

  • Excessive worry
  • Uneasiness
  • Tension
  • Headaches or body pain
  • High blood pressure
  • Loss of Sleep

Anxiety

  • Generally is internal, meaning it's your reaction to stress.
  • Usually involves a persistent feeling of apprehension or dread that doesn't go away, and that interferes with how you live your life.
  • Is constant, even if there is no immediate threat.

Even though all people feel stress at some point, there may come a time when that stress is undermining their physical or psychological well-being. The NIH provides some clues to help
determine if stress may be having a negative effect on youth.

  • They develop physical symptoms like headaches and stomach pains.
  • Appear restless, tired, and agitated.
  • Seems depressed and is uncommunicative about feelings.
  • Show Irritability, negativity, and little excitement or pleasure in activities.
  • Seems less interested in an activity that was once extremely important and prefers to stay at home.
  • Shows less interest than usual in attending classes and doing homework and grades are beginning to fall.
  • Exhibits antisocial behavior such as lying and stealing, forgets or refuses to do chores, and seems much more dependent on you than in the past.

Best Practices and Implications for Professional Practice

  • Use journaling to work through stress and anxiety.
  • Download an app that provides relaxation exercises (such as deep breathing or visualization) or tips for practicing mindfulness, which is a psychological process of actively paying attention to
    the present moment. Use this during the day as a brain break.
  • Add Exercise to the classroom routine, and make to eat healthy, regular meals.
  • Encourage students to stick to a sleep routine, to make sure they are getting enough sleep.
  • Reach out to friends or family members who help with coping in a positive way.


Environment: Providing an environment where students feel safe and cared for lays a foundation for supporting a child dealing with severe stress or anxiety. Any crisis or stressor will affect the  functioning of the brain. As the Harvard Center for the Developing Child states, “Learning how to cope with adversity is an important part of healthy child development. When a child’s stress response systems are activated within an environment of supportive relationships with adults, the psychological effects (of the stress) are buffered and brought back down to baseline.” In other words, when a child feels anxious, their stress response increases to protect them in case they are in real danger. Having supportive relationships in a caring and positive environment helps children regulate their emotions and become more resilient and understanding of change.

Instructional practices can include ways to:
• As a class or for an individual assignment, define what stress and anxiety are. Share examples of positive stressors and negative stressors.
• Discuss the development of the teen brain and how stress and anxiety affect the brain.
• Teach students how to recognize anxious feelings.
• Help them develop coping strategies for anxiety.

Suggested Resources

Safe2Help Illinois Website Resources


Other Resources:

  • Trauma-responsive Universal Online Modules The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), Center for Childhood Resilience (CCR) at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, and Peoria Regional Office of Education have partnered to provide a Virtual Learning Community (VLC) which provides free virtual on-demand training and education resources to help educators, clinicians, parents, and caregivers better support the mental health and resilience of the children and youth in their communities.
  • National Institute of Mental Health provides the following resources on stress and anxiety. Stress can come from any type of challenge including school performance, traumatic events, life changes, etc. Stress is how the brain responds to that demand. This resource from the National Institute of Mental Health includes five things you should know about stress, how it affects your health, how to deal with minor stressors, and when to seek help.
    • My Mental Health: Do I Need Help? This fact sheet offers examples of mild and severe symptoms, self-care activities, and suggestions for finding help.
    • Stress Catcher This stress catcher or “fortune teller” offers some strategies children can practice and use to help manage stress and other difficult emotions.
    • 5 Things You Should Know About Stress This resource provides five things to know about stress, how it affects mental health, and what strategies can be utilized to help students cope.
    • The Teen Brain: 7 Things to Know Included on this list are seven things to know about the teen brain.
    • I’m So Stressed Out This fact sheet can assist in determining if feelings of being overwhelmed are stress or anxiety, and suggests tools students can use to help them cope.


  • Illinois State Board of Education’s School Wellness and Mental Health Illinois State Board of Education’s School Wellness and Mental Health provides resources for trauma, which affects student mental well-being causing emotional stressors. These stressors include anger, loss of motivation or attention, guilt, social withdrawal and isolation, physical illness, mental exhaustion. Even though it acceptable to experience these stressors, students must learn how to identify these feelings and use tools to promote self-care.


Sample Classroom Strategies


IL SEL Standards:

  • Goal 1: Develop self-awareness and self-management skills to achieve school and life success.
  • Goal 2: Use social-awareness and interpersonal skills to establish and maintain positive relationships


Activities:

These activities can be used to address the Illinois SEL Standards.

a. Create visual schedules to help increase predictability. Visual schedules remind students what to expect throughout their day and reduce anxiety or worry surrounding the unknown.
b. Display posters around the classroom that introduce positive self-talk and encourage the use of coping skills.
c. Provide students with an opportunity to choose how to demonstrate mastery of a topic by providing meaningful, relevant, and authentic options utilizing a choice board.
d. Use the video scene from the movie, Inside Out, to discuss anxiety and depression.