Stress is an ever-present part of life that all of us have to experience, cope with, and move past time and time again. It's important to develop a strong understanding of coping strategies that you can turn to when they are faced with a challenge. Fine-tuning these strategies can help you to avoid feeling overwhelmed.
The sooner that you create an open dialogue around stress and begin to explore coping strategies, the more practice you'll have in building resilience. Teachers can share stress management presentations with their students, supervisors can share them with employees, and volunteer organizations and clubs can share them with members. You can look to these lesson plans to help you take the first step in sharing important information and resources with those around you.
Lesson Plan 1: Recognize the Signs of Stress
Before a person can work on managing their stress, they first need to be able to recognize when they are feeling it. People experience a wide variety of different mental, emotional, and physical changes when they feel anxious or overwhelmed, which means that one person's stress response won't look identical to another.
In addition, this lesson plan will open up a dialogue that allows participants to practice vulnerability by sharing exactly how they are feeling when faced with a challenge. It can also help group members practice being respectful of others' different experiences and emotions, and engage in active listening. It can also help participants reflect on their experiences with stress and create an individualized list of warning signs to keep track of when they start to feel overwhelmed.
Some ways to prep for the lesson plan are:
- Choose a day that works for you and your group. For example, if you're a teacher, maybe choose to work on stress management with your classroom a few weeks before a big test. Or, if you facilitate a support group, maybe start the conversation after a difficult discussion.
- Gather materials beforehand. You can always make adjustments to fit the supplies you currently have. For example, if you don't have large posterboards or pieces of paper, you can have group members write their responses on sticky notes and put them on the wall.
- Find a way to encourage everyone to share. Some participants might have the same responses to the lesson plan questions as other students, and that's okay. When everyone joins the discussion it can be more inclusive and lead to more impactful conversations.
- Provide the first examples yourself. If you throw out an open-ended question and no one responds right away, don't panic. Share an example to clarify the question you asked and help get the ball rolling.
- Create categories for the responses to help you and your group members keep things organized. For this specific lesson plan, some helpful categories are physical signs, emotional signs, and behavior changes.
- Change aspects of the lesson plan to fit your group's needs. For example, if your participants are younger, then maybe you will opt to not get into the science behind the physical signs of stress. However, if your group members might be interested in how stress affects sleep patterns, then provide them with as much information as possible.
- Go easy on yourself! It's not easy to teach stress management skills, and you're doing the best you can to help others maintain their mental health.
Lesson Plan 2: Ways to Manage Stress
Once your group has a better idea of how they may react and experience things differently when faced with stress, you can shift focus to actually finding ways to manage those changes. It might be helpful to use this lesson plan after the initial discussion on stress has been introduced to group members, but it can be used at any point in time to help people create a list of stress management techniques they can turn to.
Everybody experiences stress, whether it's big or small, which means that everyone needs to be prepared to help care for themselves when a stressful situation arises. One reason why stress can feel so overwhelming is that oftentimes people don't have strategies to turn to in order to help them cope. This lesson will encourage group members to think about what helps them feel happy and relaxed to build up their coping strategies.
Some ways to prepare for this lesson plan are:
- Be prepared to introduce the topic of stress management to your group members. You might also want to cover subjects like self-care and explain how these techniques aren't selfish, but actually a tool participants can use to take care of their mental health.
- Gather materials beforehand. If you don't have the exact materials listed, go ahead and get creative with the materials you already have on hand. You can use sticky notes, write with chalk outside, or have each participant write on strips of paper and tape them together to make a chain or larger display.
- Encourage everyone to share and stay engaged. This can be done by allowing group members to decorate their written responses with markers after they have shared with the group or by providing some type of reward if there is a high amount of participation.
- Give out the first examples. Don't be afraid if you hear crickets after you throw out the first topic of discussion. Write down the first response or two on your own to help break the ice and give participants an idea of possible responses.
- Emphasize that there are no wrong or silly responses. Relaxation can look different for everyone, and other group members might benefit from trying unconventional strategies that they haven't thought of before. You can demonstrate this by making some of your examples unique and fun.
- Categorize the responses to keep things organized. For this lesson plan, in particular, you might find it helpful to break the stress management techniques into categories, such as relaxation techniques, physical activity, nutrition, helpful sleep hygiene, goal setting, and ways to communicate.
Lesson Plan 3: Practice a Group Relaxation Technique
For this lesson, can use the list of stress management activities that your group has already come up with from the previous activity in Lesson Plan 2. Or, you can collect a series of responses at the end of a meeting, or create a list of common coping strategies from online resources or your personal experience.
It can be difficult for participants to find time to explore stress management techniques at home on their own time. However, this activity will give participants a chance to actually practice some of the relaxation techniques they have brainstormed with help from a facilitator and other group members that may also be trying the technique for the first time. The more techniques participants practice, the more tools they have to turn to when they are faced with a stressful situation.
Some ways to prep for this lesson plan are:
- Have group members vote the week before on which stress management activity they want to try. You can explore multiple stress management activities by scheduling one per week, or short sessions at the end of each day if you see participants more often.
- Gather materials beforehand. There are several variations and adjustments that you can use for each coping strategy. For example, if the current strategy you are focussing on is creative outlets, you can have group members color on paper, paint a picture, or draw with chalk outside. Use whatever materials you have on hand or that you think would be best for group members.
- Have participants check in with themselves beforehand. Group members can rate their stress levels out of ten before trying the activity. Then, be sure to have them rate their stress levels after the activity. You can even create or print out a coping strategies catalog that group members can use to compare the different coping strategies and discover which ones work best for them.
- Recommend that group members try some coping strategies at home. Some stress management activities don't work great with groups for one reason or another. For example, you won't be able to host an enormous group bubble bath or lead a hot yoga flow. However, you can still encourage participants to try these activities on their own and share their experiences with the group.
- Have group members keep track of the various techniques they have tried by creating a list or using the coping strategies catalog attached. This log will help group members discover which techniques work best to lower their individual stress levels.
Using these lesson plans can help you create a meaningful learning environment for your students, club members, and anyone else you want to teach about stress management. These lessons will give participants the skills they need to help them stay calm during tests, reach their goals, and recover from any stressors they meet in their day-to-day life.