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Lesson 6 | Enrichment Activities

Depression and Stress

Relaxation Exercises

Student Objectives:

■ Describe basic relaxation/stress management exercises.

■ Identify and practice diaphragmatic breathing.

■ Identify and practice at least two relaxation or stress reduction exercises.

■ Evaluate the effects of stress reduction exercises.

Estimated time: 45 minutes.

■ Choose from the stress management/relaxation exercises described in these websites:

University of Illinois McKinley Health Center

Mind-Body Medical Institute “mini-relaxation” exercises

Texas Women’s University self-help page (click on “Student Life” then “Counseling”)

Kansas State Counseling Services (text and audio files) biofedbk/bfextras.html

■ Turn the lights down. Ask students to sit quietly and listen as you read the instructions for relaxation from your selected website. Tell them to take quiet deep breaths.

■ After completing the stress management exercises, discuss with the class their perception of how effective the procedures seemed to be for stress reduction. You might wish to begin by first having them rate their stress level then rate it again after the session to see what changes, if any, they found in their perceived level of stress.

General directions (read to students):

■ For all of the exercises it is best to be seated, with eyes closed, feet fl at on the floor or crossed at the ankles and hands resting comfortably in the lap. Begin each exercise with a deep breath that you let out gently, feeling yourself beginning to relax already.

■ Gentle awakening: After each exercise, slowly and gently take some deep breaths, wiggle your fingers and toes, and open your eyes.

Stress Log

Read to Students: The purpose of this exercise is to help you become more aware of stress, how you respond to it, and how you might become better at handling stressful situations.

Throughout the course of a day (or several days, or a week), keep a diary about things that stressed you out during the course of a day. What happened that was stressful? How did you react? (What did you do or say?) How did you feel and what did you think? What would you like to do differently in a similar situation in the future?

Observe how the stress made your body feel. (Did your muscles get tense, did you feel a little sick to your stomach, or get a headache?) What emotions did you feel? (Anger? Frustration? Fear? Worry?) How did you react to others? (Irritable, mad, withdrawn, joking and kidding around?)

Pay attention to ways that the stressful situation affected you for the rest of the day. How did you cope? How did you think about yourself? (Were you mad at yourself? Sad? Depressed? Ashamed? Afraid? Worried? Some other emotions?) What did you do to deal with the stress? (Laugh? Talk to a friend? Have fun?) Think over the stressors of your day. Were you okay with how you handled them or would you like to respond better next time? What are your plans for a more positive response in the future?

What you record in your log is private. The notes are for you to keep and do not have to be turned in. However, at the end of your day, before going to bed, think about what you learned about yourself and stress by doing this exercise. Write about this in a paragraph or two, so you will be ready to share some of your thoughts with your classmates in a discussion.

Stress Awareness Exercise

■ Prepare a stress rating scale (from 0 to 100) on the board: With input from the class, list stressful events or life circumstances that teenagers encounter. Be aware that stressors common to some families or segments of society are rarities in others, e.g., hunger, unsafe neighborhood, frequent moves. Be sensitive to the fact that a student may want to name a stressor from his or her own experience, but not in front of classmates, so make it available for students to share their ideas on paper anonymously.

■ Be sure to include stressors that are part of the common experience of the majority of students, but also some that may affect only a minority (or none) of your students. Doing so will raise awareness about what life is like for other members of the community and foster thinking about where social and individual stress comes from. If a particular event is not one that a student has personally experienced, the student should not rate it.

■ Realize that some stressors are limited in duration: an algebra test, standing in front of the class to give a report, and going on a big date.

■ Other stressors are more enduring: dealing with a chronic medical condition (includes chronic obesity), the pain of parents’ divorce and having to shift back and forth between two households with differing rules and expectations, not always having enough to eat or other basic material needs met, not having the consumer goods that other kids have.

■ Have students individually rate each event on a scale of 0 to 100. Collect their papers and calculate an average value and range for each event. Determine the distribution of values for each event (e.g., how many students gave a particular rating for the event). Write the averages and distributions for each event on the board. Lead a discussion on what makes certain events very stressful and why there is wide variability on some and more agreement on others. Talk about how children’s, teenagers’ and adults’ perceptions may differ.

Additional Activities
■ Divide the class into groups. Assign test items to each of the groups, which will be responsible for researching the answers and gathering interesting information related to the items. Findings will be presented to the entire class. As reference, students will use the student handout and each group will receive a copy of the teacher’s guide. Encourage Internet research.

■ As a class project, paint a mural of a beautiful, peaceful scene in the corner of the classroom. Make it a place where students can relax and reduce stress.

■ Do Internet research to read about stress and stress management techniques. See list under Relaxation Exercises, above, or visit the following web sites:

The Medical Basis of Stress, Depression, Anxiety, Sleep Problems and Drug Use
(Fun, easy-to-read; has a stress scale)

MSN Health links to articles on topics related to stress)

Sponsored by the UAMS College of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry’s Partners in Behavioral Health Sciences program which is made possible by support from a Science Education Partnership Award (R25 RR15976) from the National Center for Research Resources at the National Institutes of Health.