Tips for Helping Your Students Navigate Stress
Throughout the school year and each school day, students can feel the level of stress ebb and flow––completing homework, navigating relationships at home, coping with social pressures, and juggling busy schedules. Mindfulness can offer some solace from the frenzied activities of the school hallways.
Explore mindfulness micro practices and a sensory practice below and try them with your students to help develop resilience to stress. These practices support students to access the resources of their breath, body, and classroom community.
What Is Mindfulness?
Mindful Schools defines mindfulness as being present here and now, paying attention to thoughts, bodily sensations, emotions, and the external environment with kindness, nonjudgment, and curiosity.
Mindfulness can support students and teachers with immediate tools to meet everyday stressors with care and compassion. With continued practice, mindfulness can support us to do the personal work of changing our internal patterns and behaviors, including our judgments, biases, and stress responses. When our awareness of our internal world starts to change, our relationship to what is happening in the external world can change.
Start Class with Micro Practices
Setting the tone during the beginning of class can go a long way in helping students release stress and prepare for the rigors of the period or school day. You can integrate mindfulness with simple micro practices, below.
- Start each class by taking a couple of breaths together.
- Ask students to bring their shoulders up to their ears, let them drop slowly.
- Let out a sigh.
- Repeat 3-4 times or as necessary.
- Incorporate some gentle stretches or mindful movement to wake up their minds and bodies.
- Stretch your arms overhead.
- Quick tip: Have fun. Mindfulness does not need to be quiet or still.
- Repeat as necessary.
You might consider dimming the lights a bit—the bright glare (and sound) of fluorescent lights can sometimes add to students’ stress.
In 101: Mindfulness Foundations, learn practices that can resource you during the school day and daily life, with trauma-sensitive approaches for navigating emotons, working with thoughts and biases, and cultivating compassion and joy. Educators earn credits.
Anchor Students’ Attention with a Sensory Practice
Support students when stress levels are high by giving them several sensory anchors to focus on. Just like an anchor keeps a ship from drifting in turbulent waters, a sensory focus for our attention like breathing, or noticing body sensations can serve as a place to come back to when our mind, inevitably, gets lost in thought.
Remind students to simply notice whatever is arising in the moment without judgment.
Step 1: Invite students to sit in a tall and relaxed position. Take a couple breaths and notice where the sensation of the breath feels the strongest.
2: Ask them to notice the parts of the body touching the chair or floor. Next, ask them to notice the bottoms of their feet. Are their feet warm or cold, tired, or energized?
3: Ask students to focus on the sensations on their hands. Are their hands cold or warm, tired, or energized?
4: Ask students to check in on their breath again and notice where the sensation of the breath is the strongest.
5: Debrief with your class and ask them what they noticed.
If time permits or students want to try another option, ask them to choose something small in the distance to focus their sight on. As they look intently at the spot, they can focus on their breathing.
When we practice mindfulness, we are taking time to notice and allow whatever is arising in the present moment––including challenges or difficulties.
With this practice, students might feel frustrated because their minds won’t “quiet down.” They might think they are not “good” at mindfulness because they lost track of an anchor. But having thoughts is part of the human experience. They are practicing mindfulness when they notice what their mind is doing.
“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In that response lies our growth and our freedom.”– Viktor Frankl
Remind students to be gentle with themselves and celebrate with your students after experiencing and managing challenging experiences. Remind students of their successes––they can be proud for stepping up to the challenge.
Next: What does a “mindful school” look like?
Milner Middle School, a Title I school in Hartford, CT, is partnering with Mindful Schools to build a schoolwide culture of mindfulness. Watch their story and see what can happen when a community invests in whole-school well-being.
Integrating a culture of mindfulness in schools cannot happen overnight. Research shows that introducing mindfulness takes time, resources, and committed staff. That’s why Mindful Schools partners with schools and districts to carefully create multi-year, intentional programs that meet the needs of their unique communities. Learn more about our School Services.
Our team of educators knows that you are doing meaningful, heartfelt work and our approach is simple. We empower you—the school’s culture keepers—to build upon your individual and collective strengths to achieve your community’s vision of equity and wellness. Join us!