Learning activity for Junior High and High School

Expected Outcome:

Youth will identify sources of stress, recognize the effects of stress, and learn new ways to manage stress.

Focus Scripture: John 14:27 (NRSV)

“Peace, I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid.”

Materials Needed:

“Looking at Stress” activity sheet (Make copies of this handout)
“Stress Busters” activity sheet (Make copies of this handout)

Tips for Youth Leaders

Stress is nervous tension. It is normal and actually a good thing in our lives. It can as well be a problem when we have too much and when it takes over our lives. Often people will try to cope with the stress in their lives by using drugs, alcohol or tobacco.

Stress occurs when someone perceives a mental, emotional, or physical threat. A person sees an outside situation or object and responds to it in a particular way. The situation may indeed be dangerous, such as the approach of a speeding car, but it is the person’s perception of the situation or object and his or her reaction to it that produces the stress. Everyday examples of stressful situations include: arguments, overwork, family problems, being afraid of failing a test.

Reactions to perceived threats are often variations of the “fight or flight” syndrome, in which powerful hormones trigger an increased heart rate, blood vessels constrict, blood pressure rises, blood sugar and fatty acids increase, nostrils, bronchi and the pupils dilate. Psychological effects of stress show up in a variety of ways and include such behaviors as nail and lip biting, eating disorders, shyness, skin rashes, stomach ulcers, alcoholism and other addictions.

Some youth do not recognize feelings of stress in themselves, even though they are often in stressful situations and indeed do have stress reactions that they act out in various ways. To help young people become sensitive to stress and stressful situations, mention some common expressions for stressful feelings, such as “butterflies in my stomach”, “shaking like a leaf” and “climbing the wall.”

Emphasize that although youth may not be able to control the situations that cause stress, they can learn to control how they react to it so that it is more manageable. Encourage them to memorize the breathing exercise described in Step 1 of this learning experience and to use it regularly.
You can also advise young people to use writing, drawing, and physical exercise as ways to relieve stress. In addition, suggest that they choose and carry a small favorite object – such as a stone, a penny, or a picture in their pockets or backpacks and to take it out when they feel anxious.

Activity Directions

Step 1 – Discuss with the group some of the key concepts included in the “Tips for Youth Leaders”. Then, guide them through the following simple deep-breathing activity, which allows a person to calm down before attempting to solve a problem.

    Sit up straight in your chair, let your hands rest in your lap, and make sure both feet are flat on the floor.
    Close your eyes and pay attention to your breathing. Slowly count each breath – count “one” when you breathe out, then breathe in; and then count “two” when you breathe out again. Keep going up to “five” and then begin over again.
    Each time you breathe, breathe deeper and deeper, letting your stomach stretch out like a balloon. When you breathe out, bring your stomach in, collapsing the balloon. Keep breathing and counting and pay close attention to your breath.
    As you breathe this way, you will notice that you are getting calmer and calmer. If you find yourself counting “six, seven, eight…” just gently stop and go back to “one.”

Step 2 – Distribute the “Stress Busters” activity sheet. Discuss some other ways to handle stress that may not be on the sheet. Direct the group to the blank boxes of the sheet and encourage them to fill in additional ways they manage their stress or ways to prevent it.

Step 3 - Invite the group to move around the room with their “Stress Busters” activity sheet and find people to sign their name in the appropriate box — the box that has the stress buster they use to manage their stress. Encourage them to ask as many different people as there is time to sign their sheet next to the stress buster they use. When everyone has completed this process or the time you allotted is up, ask the youth to fill in the middle box, writing down their favorite way to manage stress.

Step 4
Ask the group the following questions and encourage discussion:

    What are some of the symbols that remind us of our faith and help to calm us down or ground us?
    What are some of the spiritual disciplines that do this?
    Do people of faith feel stress more or less often than others?

Hand out the “Looking at Stress” sheet. This is a take home sheet for their continued interest.

Step 5 – Wrap Up
Go quickly around the group and invite each person to share their favorite stress buster they learned about today or one new stress buster they learned about that they will try?

Let the group know that being able to identify what the source of their stress is and how it affects them is very important to managing and/or preventing stress. Having ideas of ways to manage stress will make it easier to keep their mind and body healthy. Although some young people believe using drugs, alcohol or tobacco relieves stress, unfortunately it can only complicate and increase stress. Mostly, the person ends up with additional problems to deal with.

Click here for Learning Activity 8 – Handout A.

Click here for Learning Activity 8 – Handout B.