Stressed Teen Image

According to National Education Association (NEA) and the Pew Research Center studies, 70 percent of teens reported anxiety and depression as a “major problem.” An additional 26 percent reported it as a “minor problem.”   The NEA/Pew Research analysis suggests this to be an epidemic among U.S. teens.

Experts point to a number of reasons that anxiety has blossomed among today’s students: testing anxiety, and anxiety over social media.  Every educator knows at least one student who expresses anxiety, stress, or depression.

The good news is that we can create a classroom culture that inspires student learning and combats their stress.

Consider these 5 ideas that you can use to help your students reduce stress and build resilience:


1.  Be vulnerable

It’s not something we think about when we prepare to teach our students.

Educators must demonstrate for our students in real time what being vulnerable in a safe space looks like, and acknowledge that we too are vulnerable to stress.  Click here to learn how you can create safe spaces for learning and strategies you can put to use right away and resources you can use to learn more.


2.  Commit to consistency for Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)

The imperative to tap into our students’ social-emotional learning and create a trauma-sensitive school culture is at the forefront of pedagogical conversations.  In order for SEL to be effective, opportunities to engage with SEL activities must be consistent.

This message must be internalized and manifested by teachers.  Cultivating social-emotional skills within themselves helps teachers model these skills for students—a critical factor for successful implementation of SEL.


3.  Help students name their stress

Teens can have a hard time recognizing and labeling their stress. They may know they feel “bad” or uneasy, but may not know that what they’re feeling is really stress or anxiety.   Teaching students SEL terminology gets students comfortable in their ability to name their stress.

Once they can “name” their stress, they’re in a better position to sort out those feelings and instill the belief they have some control over the stress they’re experiencing.


4.  Teach concrete coping tools

All students should be taught coping skills and they should regularly be modeled for all students.  When a student seems to have trouble handling criticism or appropriately expressing emotions, like sadness, frustration, happiness, excitement, etc. you can teach them concrete tools designed to help them learn how to positively cope and regulate their emotions.

Check out these lesson plans and resources on stress management and coping skills with activities and techniques that can help your students deal with stress both in and out of school.


5.  Set realistic expectations

Setting expectations that are too high or all-encompassing can quickly lead to extra stress for students. Setting realistic expectations means considering the realities of students’ lives and interests and being honest with them.

You can start by setting realistic expectations and recognizing that not every student is able to contribute in exactly the same way or at the same level.  Being realistic and honest in your expectations can help your students achieve more, reduce stress, and boost academic performance.