April is Stress Awareness Month
by Claire Law
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To explore what stress is and some strategies for dealing with it.
Preparation and materials
- You will need the PowerPoint slides that accompany this assembly (Under Pressure) and the means to display them.
- Have available the following YouTube videos and the means to show them during the assembly:
- ‘Pressure’ by Muse, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yjpIAejd-O8 (3.55 minutes long)
- ‘Super Overloaded Pickup Truck on the World’, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S_L4vQmDCsA (1.50 minutes long)
- You will need eight tins of food, a marker pen and two sturdy shopping bags. Each tin should have a large, blank sticky label on it.
- You will also need a volunteer, whom you may wish to select before the assembly.
- Have Slide 1 showing and ‘Pressure’ by Muse playing as the students enter.
Welcome the students and explain that you are going to show a short video.
Show the first minute of the YouTube video ‘Super Overloaded Pickup Truck on the World’.
- Ask the students, ‘What did all of the vehicles in the video have in common?’
Explain that all of the vehicles were heavily overloaded, so they would not be classed as safe to drive. Every vehicle shown - whether it was a bicycle, a train or a large lorry - had so much baggage on board that it would have been under great pressure. The vehicles’ ability to continue to operate smoothly and safely would have been compromised.
- Point out that it wasn’t just the size of the load that was the problem in the video; having a vehicle that was not the correct size for the load it was carrying was also an issue.
For example, if your family was moving house, would you choose to use this vehicle?
Show Slide 2.
Or this vehicle?
Show Slide 3.
Obviously, a bicycle would not the right choice of vehicle for transporting all of our belongings during a house move!
- Let’s consider a load of a different type: a mental load rather than a physical one.
April is Stress Awareness Month.
Show Slide 4.
Stress can be defined as a feeling of being unable to cope as a result of unmanageable pressures.
- Show Slide 5.
We can use the image of a seesaw or a balance to help us to understand stress. When the demands that we face exceed our resources, we feel under pressure. Like the vehicles in the video, a heavy load is not necessarily an issue if we have plenty of resources to manage it. However, too many demands for too long a period with insufficient resources can lead to stress.
- We should remember that not all stress is bad. When we are up against a deadline or a challenge, our body is stimulated to produce stress hormones. This response helps us to respond quickly to dangerous situations and big challenges. The resulting feeling of ‘pressure’ can help us to push through situations that can be nerve-racking or intense, like running a marathon or giving a speech to a large crowd.
- However, we know that when stress gets out of control and we feel under too much pressure, the consequences can be serious. As we came in today, we heard the song ‘Pressure’ by Muse, and one of the lyrics of that song is ‘I see no solution or exit out’.
Stress can be a key cause of anxiety and depression, and we may feel that there is no solution to the pressures that we face. Stress can also have serious physical effects such as an increased risk of heart disease, difficulty getting to sleep and staying asleep and a weakened immune system.
- So, let’s consider some typical pressures and demands that can lead to us feeling stressed.
Ask for a volunteer to come to the front.
Explain that you are going to give the volunteer some items to hold. While you are doing so, tell the students that you would like them to reflect on the demands and pressures in their lives that cause stress.
You may wish to take ideas from the students or use the suggestions below. For each sensible idea, write it on the label of one of the tins and pass that tin to the volunteer to hold.
Examples could include:
- the pressure of exams
- parents expecting too much
- pressure to look a certain way
- homework piling up
- pressure to care for younger siblings or other family members
- worries about money
- being teased or bullied at school
- arguing with family or friends
- During the activity, monitor whether the volunteer can safely hold the tins. Ask them questions such as, ‘Are you okay there?’, ‘Can you manage any more?’ and so on. If you sense that the volunteer can’t manage to hold any more tins, put them on a nearby table or the floor and say, ‘There’s another one.’ Continue until you have labelled eight tins.
- Explain that these pressures and demands are a lot to carry; they may feel overwhelming, especially if we don’t have enough resources to manage the load.
An important first step in managing stress is to reduce the pressure and demands that we face. We can do this by considering each demand and analysing whether we can make any changes to reduce it.
Ask the students, ‘What step could you take to reduce the pressure you are under?’ Then, turn to the volunteer and say, ‘Shall I take a couple of those for you?’
Take some tins from the volunteer so that it is easier for them to manage.
Ask the volunteer, ‘Is that a bit more manageable now?’
Suggest that if, for example, we feel overwhelmed by pressure to look a certain way, it may help if we choose to limit the amount of time that we spend on social media so that we feel less inclined to compare ourselves with others.
- Sometimes, we can’t remove the pressures on us because they may be outside our control. For example, if we live with a family member who has a serious illness, there may be little we can do to reduce the need to care for them. It is also important for us to leave school with qualifications, so, although it may be stressful, studying and taking exams are pressures that we may feel that we can’t avoid.
In these cases, we can examine and strengthen the resources available to us to help with these pressures.
- Point out that the volunteer could do with some additional resources!
Ask the volunteer if it would help to put the tins in some shopping bags.
Give them two shopping bags and help to put four tins in each.
Point out that the tins are far easier to carry now.
- Explain that having the right resources makes it easier to manage the demands placed on us. So, what resources can we use to help us manage the pressure that we face?
You may wish to take answers from students or work down the list below.
Show Slide 6.
- Find someone we trust to speak to about the pressure that we are feeling. (You could mention any school support services that are available.)
- Take a break and do something that we really enjoy.
- Be aware of our breathing: practising breathing in and out slowly when we feel overwhelmed can calm our body and mind.
- Take some exercise: it produces chemicals in our body called endorphins, which make us feel good.
- Make our bedroom a calm, peaceful place and have some early nights: good-quality sleep makes us better able to cope, both physically and mentally.
- Remind ourselves about our goals, values and beliefs.
Time for reflection
Let’s take a few moments to consider what insights we can take from today’s assembly. These will be different for each of us because we all face different loads and pressures, and we all have different resources available to us.
Pause to allow time for thought.
Show Slide 7.
Remind the students that many people in our world believe that God is always with us, no matter what situation we are facing.
Read out the passage on the slide from Isaiah 41.10.
‘Do not fear: I am with you;
do not be anxious: I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.’
Christians believe that a loving God is one of many resources that can sustain us when we feel overwhelmed.
Ask the students, ‘Who do we turn to in times of need?’
Let’s pause and reflect on who we can speak to, call on or trust as a resource to help us in stressful times – and consider whether God is part of our resource network.
At times, life can be very stressful.
There are some pressures we face that overwhelm us.
We pray today for the wisdom to think clearly about the pressures that we face and to make changes that are within our control.
We also ask that you help us to see more clearly the resources available to us. When we feel that the stress is too much, help us to seek help.
Thank you that there are always people who are there to listen to us and who will offer help.
Please help us to be willing to seek help when we need to.
Please help us to help other people.