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How We Can Help Our Students Deal With Stress


Last week, I wrote a fairly popular post titled How Stress Affects Our Students (& Their Parents) — Plus, How We’re Trying To Help. In it, I shared the results of new research studies, and explained what I was doing in the classroom.

As a follow-up, I asked one of our vice-principals, Jim Peterson, to offer some additional suggestions on how teachers can help students (and anyone else) deal with stress. Jim, who also happens to be a behavioral therapist and a clinical hypnotherapist (check-out his site, Alpha Mind Coaching) is very talented, and I’ve written about him several times in this blog. I also share some of his helpful classroom management ideas (especially with challenging classes) in one of the chapters in my upcoming book. You can read about how I have applied his advice in Have You Ever Taught A Class That Got “Out Of Control”?

Here are some of his additional suggestions how how we can help students better cope with stress:

“Breathwork” is one of the most universal forms of stress reduction, especially in eastern cultures. One technique that’s good for kids, because it’s visual, is to have them visualize breathing in light, positive energy and breathing out negative energy. “In with the good, out with the bad.” Talk with the student to find out what image or idea (It’s good to include the word “idea” since some people are less visual, and you don’t want them getting caught up in trying to get an image if one isn’t coming to them.) resonates best with him or her. A common one is a bright sparkling cloud for the inhalation and a dark stormy cloud for the exhalation. They can even inhale smiley faces and exhale angry, sad or frustrated faces.

I start out by having them inhale deeply and hold it for ten seconds before they exhale After doing this five times, I have them continue with this visual or idea as they continue breathing normally. At this point, they are not trying to control their breathing like they did during the first five cycles, but rather, are now observing it. This is basically a visual meditation.

The second note I’ll make on lowering stress is the power of writing things down. When I train clients, some of whom are teenagers, how to write things down, their stress drops and their productivity increases. The vast majority of people who are stressed out have less to do than they realize. The mere act of writing a list of everything that you have to do, then reading over it, will lower your anxiety as is takes each one of those items out of that parade through the city that we discusses. The steps of prioritizing those items and attaching due dates to each will lead to a dramatic increase in productivity, which could be an article unto itself.

I think these are great ideas that I’ll certainly be applying.  Jim also thinks that meditation can also be a good stress-reduction tool.  What have you found that has helped your students handle stress better?  And, have any of your schools taught meditation techniques?

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.


  1. I recently learned of a new program that is based on some of these same concepts you have here as well as in your previous blog entry about stress (positive self-talk, taking deep breaths, exercise, journal writing, etc.) for elementary students to help them overcome test anxiety ( I am thrilled that educators (even at the elementary level) are realizing the need to address this important issue. I am no longer teaching, but I wish I had realized just how important these techniques are in helping students do their best when I was in the classroom. BTW, I always look forward to reading your blog as it is so informative and interesting. It is so obvious that you genuinely care about your students and look at every angle to get them engaged and on the path for success. I commend you for your efforts in the class as well as the vast amount of time you spend inspiring and informing others through your blog!

  2. I taught Kindergarten – Grade 6 for many years and always did relaxation and guided meditations with my students. I also taught them to do face massages on each other and to go home and give a face massage to a willing parent. I’ve used those same techniques with 12-15 year-olds during drama classes outside school too. Of course, I would do lead up personal development and trust exercises for some weeks beforehand.

    Teaching future citizens how to cope with their own stress and that of others is to me making a very real investment in our society.

  3. Mr. Ferlazzo,

    I have enjoyed reading your blog the past week and a half. This post especially offered some great advice for anyone dealing with stress, not just classroom students. I started writing things down in list style a month or so ago to help me prioritize my homework. I was pleased to learn that it was a suggestion given by Mr. Peterson. So, at least I am doing something to reduce the stress in my life.

    I also, read your previous post that was mentioned in this follow-up and found it to be interesting as well. I was wondering why you will not use the ACE test with your students?

    Thank you for all the great information and will be certainly adding you to my reading list.

    Kelly Evans

    • Kelly,

      I wouldn’t give the test to my students for two reasons:

      1. As a “mandated reporter,” I would be required to report positive answers to a number of those questions, and that could get very, very complicated.

      2. I could easily see a student telling a parent about the test, and then the parent getting upset and contacting school administrators.

      I suspect that I could work with my administrators and develop a plan on how to provide the test to students, but I just don’t think it’s worth the time right now.


  4. Thank you for your response Mr. Ferlazzo. I read the questions and I think you are right not to use the test. I am sure it would cause quite a stir among the parents!


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