In the US mental health awareness month has been celebrated in May since 1949, and here in the UK we have our Mental Health Awareness week this next week May 14th-20th. The theme this year is stress.
For most of us stress is a part of our everyday lives, and there are stressors that are positive and stressors that are negative. Whilst stress can contribute and exacerbate many physical and mental health problems it is not the only feature or factor.
I think we can all define stress in different ways, and whilst it clearly exists as some form of human alarm system it does have a necessary function and purpose. In NZ during my time as a High School Teacher I ensured that mental health, resilience and stress were all covered within the mainstream curriculum to ensure that students had the opportunity to explore key themes and concepts and to identify strategies to help them recognise stressors and deal with them appropriately.
I look at our students today and think that stress is indeed a pervasive feature of their lives and I worry for them as a generation.
Anything can act as a stressor, it can be an event, something environmental, something physical, even a thought, so, for example, someone who sweats (physical) excessively might find being in a warm room stressful. (Physical and environmental). A lot of the information out there seems to focus on the impact that stress can have on a person’s well-being and I wanted to focus more about how we can learn to identify our own stressors and manage them.
Ironically I would initially encourage students to use a really simple technique that I use in the classroom daily when encouraging students to be independent learners, a simple Questioning approach that can help us identify what a problem is, and in a sense begin to search for a helpful solution. It is the 3W’s and an H. What, When, Why?
- What? : What is the source of the stress? What is the stressor? What is it that is causing the “unease”?
- When? When does this make me feel stressed? Is it all the time, or just now?
- Why? Why is this making me feel stressed/uneasy?
- How? How can I deal with this stressor and minimise any unease in the most practical positive and useful way? Try to think of at least 3 things here….Magic 3.
So what does that actually look like-
1. What– the stressor is an assignment deadline.
2. When-I generally feel stressed by deadlines especially when there are many of them close together.
3. Why– I feel stressed because I don’t feel that I have the time or organisational skills to manage the deadlines well and get things completed and this the makes me feel inadequate.
4. How– a) I could create a work plan to manage my assignment workload.
b) I could talk to someone relevant about the deadlines, workload, and stressors.
c) I could eat biscuits and worry and procrastinate and do nothing.
I feel that this is just a starting point and I have been student A many times in my life and probably done all three possible solutions.
The solutions themselves might bring additional stressors- I don’t know how to create a work plan…. I don’t know who to talk too….but at least we have a starting point.
So next time I will move on to how to approach a stressor in a pragmatic manner. (unfortunately, this isn’t eating all the biscuits….)
©Alison Jean Hankinson