It is no surprise that students experience stress. Whether it's due to family problems, bullying or tests, students are subject to a variety of stress causes. Children and teenagers are less self-aware than adults, and therefore less likely to take measures to minimize the effects of stress. Furthermore, stress relief techniques must be learned and the classroom is a great place to start. Many of the benefits of stress relief will directly impact your students' learning, such as improved memory and thinking, improved sleep and stronger immune system. As an educator, you can give your students the skills and techniques they need to manage their stress through a variety of games and activities.

Breathing and Meditation

The simplest form of relaxation is often the most effective. Have students take a deep breath and hold it for five seconds then slowly exhale. While they exhale, ask them to imagine all the tension and negative feelings escaping the body with the breath. Do this several times and ask them to reflect on how they feel. Try some simple meditation. Get the students to sit comfortably with their backs straight and their eyes closed. Tell them to breathe slowly, in through the nose and out through the mouth. Focus on the breathing--if it helps, silently repeat a word, like "one," on every exhale. Sometimes calming music is a good way to keep thoughts from wandering. Remind students to keep their minds on the breathing and allow any other thoughts to just pass away without dwelling on them.

Physical Activities

After sitting at a desk all day, students will welcome the chance to relieve some tension by moving their muscles. Passive stretching uses gravity, rather than other muscles, to stretch some part of the body. First, slowly roll the head from one shoulder to the other and back. From a standing position, gently drop the head forward and allow the shoulders and back to follow. Let it hang for about 30 seconds then lean to one side and then the other, stretching the ribs and sides. Another good activity is self-massage. Have students gently squeeze their shoulders or rub their head and neck with small circular motions of their fingertips. Experiment with hand massages or foot massages. Another good way to relax muscles is to tense them--do one body part at a time--then release them. The exhausted muscles will be more relaxed.

Visualization

The technique of visualization involves imagining, in detail, a scenario or scene that one finds relaxing. Visualizations can be guided or unguided. Start with guided visualizations to help students understand the level of detail that makes the exercise useful. For example, you could guide them to imagine a calm place, like a beach or a meadow, or a scenario, like going for a hike. Then, prompt students to come up with their own visualization, such as how they would spend their "perfect day."

Discussion and Reflection

Part of your classroom stress-relief activities should include discussing the meaning of stress and planning ways to avoid or minimize it. Students should learn about the symptoms of stress, what causes it, and how to identify it in themselves. Get students to think about how they react to stress and what they do already that relieves their stress. Stress relief techniques are important, but it is also crucial to prevent stress. Identifying stress factors is the first step to eliminating them. Many students are very busy with school, sports teams, clubs and part-time jobs. So a key strategy for preventing stress is to work on time management and organization skills. Guide your students through some long-term and short-term goal-setting activities and talk about ways to stay organized to achieve those goals. Understanding how their daily tasks fit into their long-term plans helps them to keep perspective.