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Nip Stress in the Bud, Let Youngsters Blossom

A few classroom strategies to help teachers tackle stress in students

Stress, the silent killer of modern life, has become too pronounced among today’s youngsters. It has attained gargantuan proportions among teenagers and is known to destroy them emotionally, intellectually and physically. Stress also has an adverse impact on grasping power and memory retention, which in turn affects the overall performance of an individual. Furthermore, unmanaged stress leads to chronic anxiety in students and stymies their ability to perform and excel.

Trends suggest a rapid increase in teenagers visiting counsellors and psychologists to deal with stress, which otherwise often leads to breakdowns and even suicidal tendencies. 

Teenagers usually encounter three types of stress according to the environment that surrounds them:

  • Home
  • School/College
  • Peer groups– friends, neighbours, etc.

Teachers and school administrations do not have a direct impact on all categories of stress. However, they can enable students to handle and tackle any kind of stress and anxiety in the following few ways.

Tackling performance Stress: The greatest stress is caused by performance pressure. There could be two ways to deal with it. 

  • Break down of goals: Let’s take the example of an athlete trying to win a medal in the 400-metres event at the Olympics. The athlete needs to reduce his running time by two seconds to reach the medal-winning zone. However, if he only focuses on reducing two seconds from the final time, it will always keep him stressed, and his overall training/preparation will be adversely impacted. To deal with such situations, the athletic trainers or coaches usually divide the goal into sub-goals and encourage the participants to make a step-by-step improvement. They focus separately on how to improve the start of the race, the acceleration, running around the bends and the final thrust. Such a method of dividing a goal or process to smaller steps enables one to easily attain the actual goal. Similarly, teachers can also help students identify their weak areas and break them down into simpler goals.
  • Success timeline awareness: Teachers should make students aware that success comes at different times for different people and in different areas. By regularly giving them real-life examples of successful people in different fields, a significant part of the performance stress can be taken away from young people. This will help them understand that success is not defined only by attaining higher marks in subjects.

Identifying and dealing with matters related to bullying: A keen eye is needed in the classrooms to detect any signs of bullying. If a student suddenly starts behaving abnormally or remains reserved/withdrawn, chances are that he/she might be subjected to being bullied. This causes immense stress in them and instils self-doubt in them. Detection of any potential bullying signs should be dealt with immediately. According to researchers, most mass shootings in schools occur as a result of bullying.

Promoting social engagement in classrooms: Conducting group activities in classes helps to reduce the stress that gets built up by continuously being seated at one place. Another way to make students fairly gregarious is by changing their seating arrangement every now and then. Although these acts seem insignificant, they ensure that students come out of their comfort zones and develop bonding with their classmates.  This will eventually enable them to confide their feelings in their friends, rather than bottling it up inside them, thereby keeping them distressed.

Providing feedback and listening to students: The ideal way of giving feedback is to start with a positive statement before talking about the areas of improvement. Use statements such as ‘Your knowledge of Geography is impressive, and I  will have expected you to score much more’, instead of ‘Your marks in Geography are too low and if the same continues, you’ll fail’. In this manner, students feel that some aspects of their performance/personality are being appreciated. Also, avoid humiliating them; it demotivates students and builds up stress in them. Listening to their concerns without dismissing them as unimportant also goes a long way towards motivating students to perform better in the future.

Overcoming biases: One recurring reason that counsellors state for students’ stress is that some of their teachers show signs of biases towards some students in the class. It is almost impossible to be completely unbiased. However, it is critical to understand that those biases should be reduced to a large extent. This will mean treating all students similarly and without any partiality, irrespective of whether they share our language, cultural background, social status, sports, political/religious beliefs, etc.

Encouraging creativity:

  • Encouraging students to write/ draw to vent out their feelings: Schools and teachers should work towards developing a culture that encourages students to write/draw their feelings of stress and anxiety. Most counsellors follow a similar approach and suggest teenagers tear/throw a piece of paper in the dustbin. This process signifies the removal of stress from their systems.
  • Encourage students to develop a  counter-view: Creativity through arguments based on a  counter-view is another effective way for students to deal with stress. Every innovation is the result of someone having a different point of view, which in turn was refined through argument and debates. Therefore, it is important to encourage others to see things differently

Encouraging positive, destressing habits: Students should be encouraged to inculcate the practice of deep breathing exercises just before critical and stressful events, such as exams, viva and sports/cultural activities. It is scientifically proven to be the most effective remedy for stress management. 

These are some of the practical steps teachers/school administrators can take to help students tackle and overcome stress. Effective management of stress will not help students perform well in academics, but more importantly, will fill them with positivity and enable them to have a more complete and humane outlook on life. Therefore, it is important to ensure that stress does not overpower students and destroy their aspirations.

Vineet Kumar Barnwal

Trainer, counsellor and artist A counsellor with various clinics, NGOs, corporates, colleges and schools, he is a speaker at national forums on topics like depression, stress and youth issues.


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