It’s summer time, and at my home, barbequing is synonymous with summer time fun. Just writing this post is making me want to "throw another shrimp on the barbie”. Last weekend I woke up to a slight odor in the kitchen. Luckily I noticed that I forgot to turn off the barbeque—which happens to be on the patio right outside of the kitchen—the night before. It was the smell of natural gas. If I didn’t notice the odor and went ahead and turned on my gas stove, it would have been a disaster! Stress is like an odorless gas that could be dangerous at the slightest spark in a student’s life. Sparks include life-transitions, academic success/failure and peer-group issues, just to name a few. When the spark is ignited, students experience a circuit overload and they could become anxious, depressed, fearful and/or worried. Encourage your student to not ignore the stress but to courageously take a closer look.
I was recently interviewed on a local television show—the camera was pointing at me but there was no red light on, so, I was relaxed and having an interesting conversation with the host. Once the red light turned on and we were live, I started feeling tons of pressure, the spark was about to ignite. But, having thoroughly prepared for the interview, all my work paid off. I held it together and the interview was a success.
Our bodies go through a series of physiological responses when under stress and pressure, this is natural, though it is up to us to decide if we are going perceive these signs as bad or good. If these natural responses are perceived as bad, they could lead to illness, on the contrary, if they are perceived as good, they could lead to focus. Pressure for some people brings out the best in them. We've all seen an athlete that wants the ball (or puck) in the last few seconds of the game—with everything on the line, it’s like they have ice water running through their veins. Some students are like that, they are excellent in the 4th quarter (or 3rd period), writing an A-plus essay the night before it’s due. They take the pressure and make it good stress. On the other hand, there are students that panic under pressure and perceive this same pressure as negative and/or harmful—for them, it is bad stress.
It’s pretty simple to identify the stresses in a student’s life, what’s difficult is to identify what kind of student the stress lands upon. The bad news is that our students cannot avoid stress, but the good news is they can learn how to cope when they are experiencing it. Our students can learn how to respond to stress today, differently than our ancient ancestors did through our most primitive flight or fight response. Today, more than ever schools and other community partners are providing avenues for students to cope and manage the pressure and stress of life, and these strategies are proving effective in shaping the perception of stress from a hindrance to a help towards their goals.
I encourage you to talk to your students about stress. Here are few questions you can ask your students to help them take stress and transform it into success.
1. What does your body do when you are under stress? You could even allow then to draw it on a stick figure individually or as a group.
2. What are some things that make you stressed? Or What are some that stress you out the most?
3. What is the stress you are currently facing?
4. Rate your own stress, do you feel like a sitting duck or bulletproof?
If this message resonates with you and you would like to share it with your school, make sure your school has programs in place to help teach students about coping with stress and building resiliency. Schools should and other community partners should consider hiring mental health speaker who can speak to students on their behalf.