Space!!! We could all use more of it in our lives. Not the physical kind, but the mental and emotional kind.
A few years ago, I met a woman who ran a foundation focused on preventing teen suicide. Her brother had taken his own life when she was young, and that had compelled her to become part of a solution. A very popular and outgoing student, he kept a 4.3 GPA and played on the football team. He was the last person anyone would have expected to be struggling with deep emotional issues.
Sleep is the time when we allow our bodies to relax and release the stresses and anxieties of the day. The problem with this student was that he was doing homework until one in the morning and getting just 5 to 6 hours of sleep on his best nights… simply not enough to properly recuperate from the previous activity-filled day. He simply had no space in his life.
I once saw a man waxing his BMW with a cloth diaper; that’s right, a diaper! When I asked him why, his response was that it was the best way he knew to reduce the risk of scratching his car. He did it once a week to make sure the car always looked perfect, and also mentioned how careful he was to only put 5,000 miles per year on it so as not to overuse the engine.
We treat our material things with such tenderness and respect, paying attention to every detail; meanwhile, our billion dollar assets (our children), the very future of our world, are being run into the ground. Stressed, depressed, and riddled with anxiety, their minds are like engines that never get a chance to cool down, and they’ll inevitably break down if we don’t protect and care for them.
Today more than ever, it is vital that we teach our children and students how to relax and create the much-needed space to refresh their minds. This will enable them to perform at a higher level and find greater peace and happiness, as well as simply to maintain the emotional balance required for a healthy academic career.
If you’re ready to help your students improve their emotional equilibrium, try these 5 relaxation techniques for stress at school:
1-Practice Quiet Time
A number of schools throughout the country have implemented ten minutes of quiet time twice each day. These students are also taught meditation and reflective techniques, are allowed to put their heads on their desks, or quietly read books if they like. The benefits of these programs are dramatic, as academic performance is heightened, behavior issues are improving, and the overall climate of the schools is positively changing, allowing all students to thrive.
If possible, incorporate downtime into the day. Allow students to shut down, disconnect and recharge. You may even want to play some mellow music, but the key is to simply take the pressure off for a few minutes and allow our children to regroup and reorient.
2-Allow for ample sleep
I remember how precious my children’s sleep was when they were infants. We were vigilant to make sure they got what they needed, and guarded closely against any noise that could wake them from their slumber. But we need to remember that as critical as sleep is to children’s development when they’re infants, it remains just as important through adolescence and the teenage years.
If your children or students are too busy to get enough sleep, then they are too busy. We must fine ways to reduce their workload or the requirements we place on them so they can get the appropriate amount of genuine rest each night. If that doesn’t happen, stress from the previous days will build on itself until it becomes more than they can handle.
3-Play and Exercise
According to Martin Seligman, one of the critical aspects of happiness is to engage in activity that makes time stand still. Activities that create those moments where we are fully present and engaged. In young children this is typically play, while in teenagers, it is more likely participating in a hobby or interest of some kind.
Play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth. Hobbies and fun activities can bring added joy and happiness to life, and can be a great way to relieve stress as well. In fact, fun engaging activities have also been proven to be great coping mechanisms for stress.
We need to provide time for play. We need to encourage our students to find hobbies and passions and engage with them daily. This can create much of the balance they need to balance the pressures of growing up with the demands of school.
A recent study published in Psychotherapy Research found that therapy patients who were told to let out their emotions through expressive writing experienced greater reductions in anxiety and depressive symptoms and better progress in psychotherapy when compared to a control group.
Another study, this one in Behavior Modification journal, showed that expressive writing was associated with significant decreases in generalized anxiety disorder symptoms, including worry and depression.
Journaling can be a powerful escape. It allows students to stop, reflect and communicate their feelings in a creative, personally fulfilling way. Encourage your student or child to start a journal and provide structured time for them to write.
5 – Model Relaxation
When I worked in Europe, many of my colleagues often poked fun at Americans who would not take vacations. It seemed to them that many of us were so insecure that we felt taking a vacation meant we were not important or not needed.
In her book The Power of Vulnerability, Brené Brown urges us to give up exhaustion as a status symbol. Almost every time I ask a colleague how things are going, their response is a sigh followed by “crazy” or “extremely busy.” For whatever reason, most of us feel the constant need to tell folks how busy we are.
As you know, what we say is far less important than what we do. If we want to teach our children to relax, we need to model it in ourselves. Teach students the importance of taking a break and demonstrate it in your own words and actions.
Many years ago, I came across a study which showed that the typical person can put in about 50 hours a week before they become counter-productive. Once they hit that threshold, they start forgetting important facts, making silly mistakes and are ineffective in their communication and relationship building.
A typical student spends 35 to 40 hours a week in school. Many of them then spend an additional 10+ hours doing homework. We are taking our students to the very limits of human capacity at the exact time their brain is going through its most dramatic transformation of a human’s life. They are being hard-wired for stress, anxiety and depression.
We all need to stop, slow down and teach our youth to do the same. Try these techniques to enable your children and students to live happier, healthier lives!