by Gabrielle Siemion, Counselor
Santa Barbara City College
Reprinted with permission.
|INTRODUCTION: As an instructor for College Success, at Santa Barbara City College, I have found that students face multiple and challenging stressors and have received little to no training on how to proactively and efficiently manage the to-be-expected stresses of life. Common student stressors such as test anxiety, financial worries, and roommate and relationship conflicts, are at best distractions and at worst completely disruptive to learning.For the Developing Emotional Intelligence segment of this semester long class, I created this learner-centered activity to give students an opportunity to increase awareness of their stressors, discover new strategies to reduce their stress, and to create a tangible tool to remind and inspire them to take action.
While I use this structure in a college success class to identify stress busters, it can be used in any class by changing the content of the top-ten list. For example, a business class could use this activity to create its own list of top ten best marketing practices or a speech class could use this to create a personal top ten list of ways to begin a formal presentation.
To give students an opportunity to…
DIRECTIONS:Total time 45-50 minutes (and a follow up evaluation one week later)
EXPERIENCESI began by asking students to share what stressors college students face. Many took this as an opportunity to vent. Common stressors included conflicts with parents (“My mom is driving me crazy!”), preparing for exams, meeting deadlines for multiple classes, making ends meet with their limited budgets, body image issues, time management, and romantic relationship conflicts. Some seemed relieved to speak about their stressors while others appeared to get down or depressed when discussing the stressors. One student was visibly depressed about how messy her car and home were. “Every time I see my room, I feel like such a loser.” I could feel the weight of their stress. I was glad to be having a lesson on how to manage the stress they experience. When I asked the students to record their ideas about healthy stress reducers, there was an immediate shift in the room. Some students changed their body posture and sat up straight. Those who had appeared down seemed relieved to discuss solutions rather than stay focused on the stressors (a classic shift from Victim to Creator, as On Course would suggest). I reminded them that we are motivated by avoiding pain and by seeking pleasure so taking a moment to see how bad the stress is, was a good idea as it might increase their motivation to seek solutions and make changes. Students noticed a pattern of suggestions. Many included exercise, social support, and meditation (anything that causes you to be deeply relaxed), and then looked for activities that incorporated all three. One student said that dancing was her favorite because she got to be with her friends, sweat out her angst, and tap into her inner self. For her, dancing is efficient stress management.
Nearly all 20 evaluations supported my observation that the students enjoyed the activity and were pleased to have specific options as well as a physical reminder of what to do when they are experiencing stress. The evaluations also told me that the students had indeed posted their cards and used them. Comments included:
“I learned several methods to reduce stress that I really like and will use and have used since we made the cards.”
“I got a bit of peace of mind! It calmed me down, because I was not at a loss of what I can do to relax.”
“I learned that getting my assignments in does not have to make me a bundle of nerves. Music, friends and exercise make a big difference.”
“I posted the card on the front of my binder for now, and I looked at it when I was preparing for an exam. The results were relaxing because I decided to go for a jog on the beach, which cleared my mind of the negative thoughts I was thinking.”
“The activity had a great impact. I was overwhelmed by all my finals and every time I looked at the card, I started to have positive thoughts. I also felt less and less overwhelmed every time I looked at the card. Great idea!”
“My favorites were to get regular sleep and to dance. I put my postcard on my dashboard in my car. Every time I drove somewhere it reminded me to write in my journal and to go to bed before midnight. I did go to bed at 11 p.m. the last two nights in a row and I feel much more alert during the day.”
The first time I did it, I heard one student say, “I am going to laminate my card.” I realized the students were interested in saving these cards and might be even more motivated to do so if the cards looked colorful and inviting. I used colors the second time around and while a few students did not use the colors, most did and many commented in the evaluation on enjoying that aspect.
A quarter of the evaluations said the activity made a big difference for them and that they would have liked the activity to be offered earlier in the semester. I have been offering it when the class is covering On Course’s Chapter 8 Emotional Intelligence and because it usually comes just before finals week, but I can see that students are under stress from the start and would appreciate some tools to manage that stress as soon as possible. I think stress management should continue to be covered in chapter 8 Emotional Intelligence, but I am going to review my lesson plan schedule to see if I can offer this activity at least one week earlier. I will use this activity again. It was an excellent learner-centered activity to provide the experience of acknowledging and accepting our stressors and then shifting to creatively implement strategies that will reduce stress and nurture emotional intelligence. Students reported they enjoyed the activity, used the card, and felt it was beneficial.
I created this activity. Content for the lecture came from Skip Downing’s On Course text 4th edition (Houghton Mifflin)
Below is the text that I included in the PowerPoint slides.
SLIDE 1–WHAT IS STRESS? American Medical Association Definition:
Physiology – The release of chemicals called cortisol and epinephrine (adrenaline) increases heart rate, metabolism, breathing, muscle tension, and blood pressure. (Fight or Flight) Releases 1,400 chemical reactions in your body, some continuing for hours after the stressor that caused it has passed.
SLIDE 2–PHYSIOLOGICAL EFFECTS OF STRESS: Too much stress inhibits digestion, growth, tissue repair, and response of your immune system and inflammatory systems.
SLIDE 3–EMOTIONAL EFFECTS OF STRESS
SLIDE 4–HEALTHY REDUCTION TECHNIQUES – CHOOSE NEW BEHAVIORS
SLIDE 5–HEALTHY REDUCTION TECHNIQUES – CHOOSE NEW THOUGHTS