× Introduction Acknowledgments Lesson 1 Lesson 2 Lesson 3 Lesson 4 Lesson 5 Lesson 6 Lesson 7 Lesson 8 Resources

Lesson 1: What is Stress, Anyway?

Here is a definition:

Stress is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances usually resulting in worry and anxiety

While stress can motivate you to do something (eustress), we are focusing on when stress becomes harmful (distress)

Physical effects of stress

On the Autonomic Nervous System
- The parasympathetic nervous system slows heartbeat
- The sympathetic nervous system– increases heartbeat
- Sympathetic system gets activated in the face of danger and stress. Adrenaline, cortisol and other hormones can get released in the blood.
- Increased activity for “fight or flight”
- Recovery and restoration
- Hormonal imbalance –the thyroid gland and female hormones increase anxiety levels.

Activity 1

Here you could ask the students how they feel if they are in fear or stressed: e.g. heart racing, hands sweating, aches, pains, feeling dizzy, indigestion, nausea, loss of appetite, insomnia, grinding teeth, breathing fast, etc.

Recognizing external stress and internal anxiety

Discuss external circumstances and situations which cause us problems of stress, by asking the students what are the examples:

i- Changes to normal: e.g. moving house, death in family, long term illness in the family, Christmas/holidays, circumstances affecting finances, exams, college entrance pressure, etc.
ii- Conflicting situations: e.g. disagreements across friends and falling out, fearful encounters, neighbours, bullying, etc.
iii- Loss of dependencies: e.g. A close friend or a family member, equipment breakdown, like washing machine, computer, etc.
iv- Physical considerations: e.g. lack of rest, long working/studying hours, lack of fitness, noise, untidiness, etc.
v- Confusion: e.g. due to: unrealistic objectives, uncertainty over future, lack of direction and purpose (this is where discovering passion/dream job will help later).

Address personal experiences: For example, you can try to list the following things (and some others you may add later on) as general points for everyone to self evaluate themselves since these can be quite personal issues not to be discussed in front of everyone. Then you can make an invitation if someone need to talk to someone privately, you try to allocate it, hopefully with your school guidance counsellor:

i- Is there something wrong in someone’s life going on, do they feel guilt, shame and despising self as a result?
ii- Are they in conflict with someone in their life?
iii- Do they need to forgive anyone?
iv- Have they suffered shock, trauma that triggers anxiety?
v- Do they have self esteem, insecurity issues?
vi- Do they suffer from fear of failure or fear of rejection, etc.

Discuss how our emotions can be affected by one's thoughts...: Cognitive discussions/ Feelings of: Not having enough, feeling like a failure, impatience, losing temper, depression, desire to escape, worrying over trivial matters, panic in routine situations, tears over nothing, inability to laugh or joy, etc.

Discuss how our thoughts can be affected: For example, inner conflict, difficulty in making decisions, confusion, unable to grasp what is going on around us, concentration and memory problems, procrastination, negativity, pessimism, etc.

Discuss Social effects: Some examples: Close relationships can deteriorate, difficulty in relaxing and enjoying fun events, unable to sit still, loss of interest in hobbies and other activities, not wishing to talk to anyone or socialise, watching TV but unable to concentrate, etc.

Activity 2

Discuss the consequences if high stress levels continue: Coronary heart disease, stomach ulcers, depression, and flu
Assignment 1

Allow students to ask themselves:

How did your parents handle stressful situations?
Did they exhibit higher than normal levels of anxiety?
If you feel comfortable, share with someone how you feel this may have affected you.
Has there been an incident in your life when you felt overwhelmed? How did you cope?
If you feel comfortable to talk about it, share it with someone.