All children and youth experience stress to varying degrees as a result of situational challenges (e.g. taking a test, entering a noisy environment, being teased, completing a difficult assignment, etc.). Situations that may seem manageable for an adult can be stressful for a young person depending on their developmental and emotional skills and abilities. Feeling stressed and anxious can negatively impact student learning (e.g. difficulty concentrating) and everyday functioning (sleeping, eating, and socializing). Chronic and intense stress may lead to anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.
Learning how to cope with stressful situations and everyday challenges is an important life skill for all children and youth. Relaxation, yoga and mindfulness approaches are found to be promising practices in school settings for improving coping abilities and reducing anxiety.1,2,3 Such practices help students 'step back' from stressful situations by teaching them how to purposefully and non-judgmentally 'be in the moment'.4 Kabat-Zinn (2003) suggests that mindfulness helps calm and clear the mind and help focus attention.5 Embedding relaxation strategies may also reduce noise levels and increase concentration.6
Consider embedding whole-class and/or whole school mindfulness strategies during transitions or before tests. These activities can be as short as 1-2 minutes or as long as 5-10 minutes. Important calming strategies include: deep breathing, yoga, short meditations, sensory strategies, creative arts activities, and time spent in green spaces.
Simple suggestions and user-friendly resources:
1 Bazyk, S., & Arbesman, M. (2013). Occupational therapy practice guidelines for mental health promotion, prevention and intervention with children and youth. AOTA Press.
2 Zoogman, S., Goldberg, S. B., Hoyt, W. T., & Miller, L. (2014). Mindfulness interventions with youth: A meta-analysis. Mindfulness. doi: 10.1007/s12671-013-0260-4
3 Wall, R. B. (2005). Tai chi and mindfulness-based stress reduction in a Boston public middle school. Journal of Pediatric Health Care, 19(4), 230-237.
4 Rempel, K. D. (2012). Mindfulness for children and youth: A review of the literature with an argument for school-based implementation. Canadian Journal of Counseling and Psychotherapy, 46(3), 201-220.
5 Kabat-Zinn, J. (2003). Mindfulness-based interventions in context: Past, present, and future. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10(2), 144–156. doi:10.1093/clipsy/bpg016
6 Norlander, T., Moas, L., & Archer, T. (2005). Noise and stress in primary and secondary school children: Noise reduction and increased concentration ability through a short but regular exercise and relaxation program. School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 16(1), 91-99.