Helping Students with Anxiety: 3 Simple Ideas
Take a deep breath!
As we enter the new school year of 2020, there are no doubt tensions and high anxiety among teachers and students. We are in a time unknown to all. Even with the most meticulous plans in place, there is still an underlying fear that things will not go as smoothly as anticipated. Teachers will need to mitigate anxiety and help students cope with uncertainty, perhaps more than ever before. Here are just some easy ways to help students feel more relaxed when tensions run high.
Nature is the natural soother for all. Taking a 5-10 trip outdoors to become more centered in the natural world will do wonders! Have students sit quietly for 1-5 minutes - depending on grade level, and observe nature with as many senses as safely possible. Have them journal all the sights, sounds, touches, and smells they can see or detect. After sitting for the designated amount of time, ask what they noticed, and how many others noticed the very same things.
Having students sit quietly and be present in the moment surrounded by nature can be incredibly calming. It helps to focus on the here and now and not on future events subject to conjecture and worry.
Focus on the Body:
Find a spot all to yourself! Stay at least 6 feet away from another. Sitting cross-legged either inside or outside, close your eyes on cue. Do each exercise at each body point 3 times. Start with your feet. Wiggle toes and flex your feet. Move to the legs: Wiggle and then contract and relax your leg muscles. Next, move on to the belly. Flex and relax your stomach muscles. Move on to your arms. Flex and rest your arms. Move onto the shoulders: Raise and relax your shoulders. Then move on to your neck. Roll it around slowly from left to right and then in the opposite direction. As you work to your head, let your jaw naturally drop. Raise and lover your eyebrows. Try to move your ears back and forth. When the exercise is complete, notice for a moment how you feel.
Distract from the stress by focusing inward on how your body feels can help to lower stress levels. This exercise takes our minds off the anxiety and helps to focus on nurturing ourselves and concentrate on our present being. Listen to our bodies before and after this exercise.
Deep Breathing: It’s Easy, Discreet, and it Does Help!
The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system regulates the respiratory system. When in danger, our sympathetic nervous system becomes activated to help us survive. Once the danger is gone, our parasympathetic nervous system helps us return to a more relaxed state. We know in times of stress, our breathing and heart rate increase to boost oxygen levels to the brain and provide for more mental acuity to prepare for impending doom. For animals, this is fleeting. When the jaguar is gone, the antelope continues to graze as if nothing happened. Humans perseverate on worry and doom. This excessive worry can have compounding effects both in the short term and long term. When feeling overwhelmed, focus on your breathing. Notice increased respiration, and rapid heart rate occurs. Try instead to overcome this by taking deep breaths into your diaphragm and belly. Expand your diaphragm as you breathe deeply into the nose, hold 3 seconds, and then slowly go out through the mouth. Try this several times and notice if you feel more relaxed. If not, keep going until you do. As you breathe in, engage in positive self-talk, “ I can do this.” This positive language will help to override any negative thoughts and help you distract yourself from the stressful situation by focusing on deep breathing.
This not outlandish! Think about how much you breathe when faced with a situation of fear or stress. You often sigh when about to take an exam, make a speech, try a challenging task, or facing a bear! However, the bear is not likely there - it is perceived danger. However, if there is a bear, forget all this, breathe hard and run!
Otherwise, try to slow your breathing before major stressors to calm and refocus your energy on the task. I can’t remember when I have ever had the time to watch someone else breathe - unless they were to stop breathing! Practicing deep breathing is an easy and hidden way to relax in a stressful situation. Give it a try! We can only stay stressed for so long. So try these techniques yourself and with our students. It just may help us all to get through these stressful days ahead.
~Amanda Allison, M.Ed.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2020 Amanda Allison