We all experience occasional stress — and some people more than others. Stress is our body’s way of handling demands that may cause a physical, emotional, or psychological reaction.

However, when stress is not managed or starts to overwhelm your life, it can lead to more serious issues like anxiety and depression. This is something many students, parents, and teachers are thinking about as we get closer to the start of the school year.

Stress, anxiety, and depression impair functioning, keeping children from learning and adults from functioning in their jobs.

That’s why we are bringing you this article that provides coping strategies for dealing with stress for students, parents, teachers, and other school employees.

Building stress management skills

Stress management and coping skills are critical for parents, students, and teachers to thrive during any school year. Planning for the changes that comes with the back to school season can prepare everyone for a smoother transition when school starts. Developing stress-management skills can ensure that students, parents, and teachers have the tools they need for a successful and productive school year.

Coping strategies for students 

Students will face all types of stressors throughout the school year. Being equipped with tools to help manage the effects is critical to success. Here are some coping strategies:

Practice deep belly breathing

You can practice deep breathing between classes, at lunch, or before and after school.

  1. Sit comfortably, with both feet on floor, and place one hand on your abdomen. Make sure your muscles are relaxed.
  2. Breathe deeply through your nose until your abdomen rises.
  3. Hold this breath for 5 seconds, then exhale slowly through your mouth like you’re blowing through a straw.
  4. Repeat this pattern for 3 to 5 minutes.

Try progressive muscle relaxation

The American Psychological Association recommends progressive muscle relaxation to combat stress and reduce anxiety.

  1. Get in a comfortable position, ideally lying down.
  2. Start by tensing your lower leg muscles.
  3. While contracting these muscles, breathe in for 5 to 10 seconds, then exhale and release the contraction.
  4. Stay in this relaxed position for 10 seconds.
  5. Move your way up your body, contracting different muscle groups while breathing in and out, holding for 5 to 10 seconds with each breath, and then relaxing for 10 seconds before moving to the next muscle group.

Participate in regular physical activities

Participating in daily activity through exercise or sports can help reduce the effects of stress. Encourage your child to join a sport or activity, or exercise as a family in the evenings.

Recognize and accept all emotions

It is important for kids and teens need to understand that coping skills do not mean that all negative emotions, such as feeling unhappy, irritated, frustrated, deflated, or anxious, will be eliminated. Instead, coping skills should allow them to recognize these emotions, label and validate them, and engage in behaviors to ease them.

Learn to communicate struggles

Students should be encouraged by parents and teachers to share when they are tired, distracted, or overwhelmed.

Specific coping skills may be different for everyone, but for most of us, they may include sharing these difficult emotions with people we love and trust.

Find a few trusted listeners

It’s also important that students have someone who will listen to them in an attentive and nonjudgmental way.

Students of all ages should find at least two adults they trust and have access to most of the time. This could include a school employee, family friend, family member, community support person, or mental health professional.

Have your child write the names and contact information down on a card to put in their backpack or phone.

Coping strategies for parents

By now, many parents are experts at change and dealing with anything that comes their way. That said, managing a family, work, and school takes its toll, and countless parents and caregivers are already dealing with a high level of stress. Here are ways for parents to manage stress this school year.

Take a meditation break

Even a 5-minute meditation break — in the school pick-up line, before leaving for work or before going to bed — can help reduce stress and clear your mind. You can also use this time to practice deep belly breathing to further reduce stress.

  1. To start a meditation practice, make sure you’re in a quiet place.
  2. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and focus on the present moment.
  3. If your thoughts stray — to events that happened yesterday, to your to-do list, or to anything other than the present — acknowledge them, but then let them go, and bring the attention back to the present moment.

The more you practice mindfulness meditation, the easier it gets to keep your thoughts from spinning out of control.

Practice daily self-care

Parents are often the first group of people to put self-care at the bottom of their to-do list. But self-care is more important than ever. Make sure you are eating well, drinking lots of water, keeping fit, and sleeping well. You can also occasionally indulge in other self-care practices when you have the time, such as soaking in a bath, getting a pedicure done, spending time alone with a book and a drink.

Minimize your media consumption

Taking breaks from watching or reading the news and social media can help reduce stress. Consider limiting the amount of recreational (non work-related) time you spend online, or restrict it to 1 hour a day at a prescheduled time.

Surround yourself with supportive people

Social support is critical when managing stress. Finding people you trust — whether friends, family members, or coworkers — can help you mitigate the adverse effects of stress.

Set aside time each week to meet with a friend. If possible, use this time to exercise, since physical activity also decreases stress. Agree to walk together a few times a week or go for a bike ride.

Coping strategies for teachers and school employees

In addition to the strategies listed for students and parents, here are additional ways teachers and other school employees can cope with stress.

Acknowledge your feelings

It is okay for teachers and other school employees to acknowledge that they may be dealing with burnout. When this happens, the best thing you can do is treat yourself with compassion and validate your emotions, rather than being too self critical.

Ask for support from your administrators

Teachers and other school employees should be able to know that their workplace will support and guide them toward help with mental health issues and burnout if they are struggling. This would require the school administrators to provide a safe workspace and to make sure that off hours are really off hours.

Take a breath break

You can practice deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation — both discussed above — between classes, at lunch, or before and after school.

Practice daily self-care

Ways to managing stress during the school year include:

  • eating right
  • daily exercise
  • mindfulness meditation
  • proper sleep

Here are some tips to make these goals a reality:

  • Consider using Sunday to plan your meals and exercise for the week.
  • Keep a spare gym bag in your car in case you have time to take a walk during lunch or after school.
  • Stock your refrigerator with precut vegetables and fruit for grab-and-go snacks.
  • Go to bed at a reasonable and consistent time each night.

Knowing when to seek additional help

If handling anxiety and stress on your own isn’t working, it may be time to seek professional help.

Parents need to be sensitive and discerning as to know when their children might need to get an evaluation.

They also need to communicate with educators when they think their child needs more help, attention, tools, and support.

Parents also need to be self aware as to when they themselves need to seek professional help.

Here are common signs of stress:

  • feelings of irritation and anger
  • lack of motivation
  • feeling overwhelmed
  • nervousness or anxiousness
  • trouble sleeping
  • sadness or depression
  • trouble concentrating
  • worsening of chronic health problems or mental health conditions
  • changes in appetite
  • increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other substances
  • headaches, body pains, and stomach or digestive issues

It’s normal to experience temporary stress. But if you or your child are experiencing extended periods of stress symptoms, it may be a sign that stress is not being properly managed.

Start with your doctor or your child’s doctor. They may want to check for physical signs of stress or other health conditions. Ask about a referral to a counselor or therapist. Here are some resources that may help:

  • National Alliance on Mental Illness
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
  • Online Lifeline Crisis Chat
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Find Treatment

The bottom line

We all deal with stress. But knowing how to identify and manage it can help reduce the negative effects and keep you and your child healthy throughout the school year. By taking time for self-care, eating right, exercising, practicing deep breathing, reaching out to friends and family, and asking for help, you can get a handle on daily stressors.

If these interventions are not working and you feel like your stress or your child’s stress levels are getting too high, it’s time to call a doctor. They can help determine if a referral to a mental healthcare professional is needed.

If you would like to seek the professional help of a clarity breathwork practitioner and registered professional counselor, please send an email to info@evolvevancouver.ca

DISCLAIMER: These posts should not be used to self-diagnose or self-treat any health, medical, physical or psychiatric condition. Information shared via posts does not replace professional healthcare advice specific to your condition and needs. If you are unsure whether you would benefit from implementing tools discussed in these posts, please contact your healthcare provider.