Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Stress and Coping

cisrael's picture
What follows is the beginning of an outline for a class on understanding and dealing with stress for a course I and others teach for 10th graders. Teacher tips are listed in red, throughout the document.
                  What's the Big Deal about Stress???!!!
Stressed,Stressed, Everyone's Stressed

Unit Objectives: To define stress; to clarify the primary types of stress; to identify how stress effects us; to distinguish between good and bad stress; to learn to distinguish between positive and negative ways of coping with stress; to learn additional positive ways of managing stress.

Time: 45 minutes

Materials: newsprint and markers


1. Let's begin by trying to figure out what stress is.
a. Maybe we should start by asking how each of you know you are stressed. How can you tell if you are stressed?

write student responses on large sheets of newsprint
click here to see detailed list of Stress Warning Signs and Symptoms
discussion questions:
do we all show stress in the same way?
why might it be that we seem to have different ways of showing our stress?
can you tell when you are starting to feel stressed out, before it becomes overwhelming?
are there tell tale signs?

b. Does anyone knows why stress can show itself in so many different types of ways. What is stress?
one possible definition: a person's physical and/or emotional reactions to perceived   dangers or demands.
Give a brief description of the physiological process of stress. (link)

c. Is all stress bad? Can we talk about 'good' stress? What would we mean by that?

Describe the difference between good stress and bad stress. Click here for a good description                  of the difference.

2. Now let's now talk about what causes your stress. What types of things stress you out?

write down student responses on newsprint
click here to see list of Factors Often Leading to Stress
discussion questions:
what are some the areas from which stress seems most often to come?
did you notice that some stress comes from external sources and some from internal
ones? This is an important point for them to grasp, i.e. that they can create their own

3. Now we are ready to think about how we handle stress. This is not necessarily the same thing as asking how we recognize that we are stressed.
a. What do each of you do when you are stressed?

write down student responses on newsprint
answers will include some activities that get at the cause of the stress (e.g. I study more if I                    am stressed about a test; I practice if I am stressed about a concert, etc); while others deal with the physiological or emotional effects of the stress either in a potentially positive way (e.g. I take a long hot shower, I listen to music, I exercise, etc). or a negative way (e.g. I eat too much (or  not at all), I get drunk, I sleep all day,etc.)
note to the students the differences; note that sometimes we cannot affect the source of our stress so we have to address the effects.

here is a place to talk about eating disorders, cutting, substance abuse and depression.
ask the students if they see any connections between those conditions and stress; i.e. can they see those behaviors as, in part, ways of trying to manage and reduce stress.
if one views those behaviors this way, ask the students what that says about how you help someone struggling with any of these problems? i.e. they need to be helped to identify and
address the source of the stress if they are going to be able to change the behavior; and that 
help often has to come from an adult as well as peers.

b. Why do you think people respond to stress so differently? Why is the same event, 'no big deal', for
one person, yet hugely stressful for someone else?

Solicit the students' ideas, and make sure they have covered the following factors that effect
how an individual will react to stress:
past experiences,
past success or failure of coping mechanisms
attitude toward stressful situations
available support, materially and emotionally
genetic differences

c. What are some other positive ways of managing stress that we haven't mentioned yet?

make a new list on newsprint of these positive ways for attempting to reduce stress
note that there are 4 general ways for effectively managing stress, and have students list
examples for each category:
1. change life style habits
2. change stressful situations
3. change your thinking
4. diversion and distractions
click here for a good list of 10 stress relievers

Further Resources
Online Relaxation videos: see the Graham House Counseling website