Promoting Stress Management: The Role of Comprehensive
School Health Programs. ERIC Digest.
by Massey, Marilyn S.
Stress has been defined as, "the inability to cope with a perceived
or real (or imagined) threat to one's mental, physical, emotional, and
spiritual well-being [sic] which results in a series of physiological responses
and adaptations" (Seaward, 1997, p. 5). In addition to responding physiologically,
people may respond cognitively and emotionally to stress. Studies indicate
that 70-80% of all disease and illness is stress-related (Seaward, 1997).
Stress affects each of the five dimensions of health: physical, mental,
emotional, social, and spiritual. Examples of "distressors" (negative stressors)
that children and adolescents may confront within these dimensions include:
illness, injury, inadequate nutrition, and low levels of physical fitness
(physical dimension); pressures to excel in academic and extracurricular
activities, depression, and anxiety (mental/emotional dimension); relational
issues, peer pressure, and dysfunctional family lives (social dimension);
and inability to find purpose in life or to understand how individual lives
contribute to a much larger and grander universe (spiritual dimension).
Rather than how much stress individuals experience, the critical issue
seems to be how they perceive stress and respond to it. Seaward (1997)
points out that coping with stress is an ongoing process. Therefore, it
is critical that children and adolescents are given opportunities to develop
life skills that will help them effectively cope with daily stressors,
major life events, and change. The purpose of this Digest is to examine
how comprehensive school health programs may promote stress management.
THE COMPREHENSIVE SCHOOL HEALTH PROGRAM (CSHP)
A recently conceptualized model (Allensworth, Lawson, Nicholson, &
Wyche, 1997) describes four key elements of CSHPs: community participation
and focus, school environment, education, and services. Each of these areas
is linked to enhance the well-being of the entire school and community.
Examples of how stress management can be promoted through these components
COMMUNITY PARTICIPATION AND FOCUS
School health efforts must be coordinated with the community at large.
There are numerous ways in which stress management strategies can involve
families and communities:
1. School health newsletters sent home and to community agencies may
include health facts, tips, family activity ideas, and resources for further
information on a particular health topic, such as time management.
2. The Family Involvement Calendar (Birch, 1994) includes ideas for
family participation in health activities that reinforce a specific health
topic or unit that is being studied at school.
3. Health fairs and community nights that include enjoyable educational
activities can be held at the school (National PTA, 1997; Valentine, 1997);
community groups can be involved in program planning and delivery.
4. Local newspapers, radio, and television stations can promote wellness
activities including poster and/or writing contests for different age groups
focussing on the importance of stress management. Prizes may be donated
by local businesses, and winning posters and/or writings can be displayed
within the school or community (e.g., supermarkets).
5. Guest speakers from the community can address various stress management
issues at student and staff health promotion programs.
The school environment includes the physical setting as well as the
policy and administrative environment, psychosocial environment, and health
promotion for staff. Physical conditions that play a role in stress and
the overall learning process include school size, lighting, temperature
and ventilation, noise control, crowding, sanitation and cleanliness, and
accessibility. The teacher's personality and behavior, respect for diversity
and individual differences, and effective classroom management play a role
in helping to ensure that students feel a sense of belonging, security,
and trust. A nurturing emotional environment is especially important for
those children and youth whose families exhibit behaviors such as abuse
and neglect, violence, and alcohol and other drug abuse. School safety
is directly associated with the stress experienced by students, teachers,
and parents. Important areas that should be considered regarding safety
and injury prevention include playground safety, violence prevention, conflict
resolution, procedures for emergencies and disasters, and promotion of
smoke- and drug-free schools.
It is critical that teachers and other school staff possess emotional
wellness in order to manage their own lives as well as the lives of the
children within their circle of influence. According to Pransky (1991),
teachers who have participated in school health promotion programs report
decreased absenteeism, enhanced morale, improvement in the quality of their
teaching, enriched attitudes about their personal health, and a sense of
well-being. Moreover, healthy teachers and staff serve as positive role
models for children and their families. A staff wellness program might
include instruction in relaxation techniques, diet planning, communication
skills, smoking cessation, and incentives for lifestyle improvements, such
as lower health insurance rates, bonus checks, and free or reduced-cost
health club memberships.
Various curricular areas offer practical opportunities to promote stress
management (Gilbert & Orlick, 1996; DeWolfe & Saunders, 1995; Anderson
& Haslam, 1994; Romano, 1992; Miller & McCormick, 1991). School-based
life skills programs that focus on such strategies as relaxation, problem
solving, and positive perspectives are successful in teaching children
and adolescents how to control their stress (Gilbert & Orlick, 1996;
De Wolfe & Saunders, 1995). Miller & McCormick (1991) offer excellent
suggestions for teaching stress management and relaxation skills to preschool
and elementary children. These strategies can be effectively implemented
by physical educators, classroom teachers, and parents.
Curricular areas that offer opportunities for curriculum infusion include:
HEALTH EDUCATION. Mental and emotional health is one of the 10
major content areas of health education, and stress management techniques
can be taught as a part of this unit. Also, stress management can be addressed
in other health content areas such as family living; nutrition; personal
health; physical fitness; and tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs. Personal
and social skills--decision making, problem solving, communication, conflict
resolution, peer resistance, and goal setting--are essential in helping
children to cope with stress. There are numerous skill-building activities
that can be used in the classroom (see Bender, Neutens, Skonie-Hardin,
& Sorochan, 1997; Miller, Telljohann, & Symons, 1996; Fetro, 1992).
PHYSICAL EDUCATION. Many of the health benefits derived from
regular physical activity are directly related to stress management, including
the reduction of depression and anxiety and the promotion of psychological
well-being and improved vitality. Daily physical education provides students
with multiple opportunities to engage in physical activity and to develop
personal and social skills. Through quality physical education, students
can learn various relaxation techniques (including the basics of deep breathing),
acquire the knowledge and skills for participating in lifelong regular
physical activity, develop self-discipline, learn how to cooperate with
others, and have fun in the process.
CURRICULUM INFUSION. There are other areas of the curriculum
where stress management may be infused: language arts (children's literature,
creative writing, journal writing); social studies (Eastern traditions
of meditation, yoga, Tai Chi; learning to appreciate and value diversity;
and learning to work cooperatively to solve problems); science (physiology
of the stress response and relaxation response); and art and music (creative
ways to relax and express thoughts and feelings).
Children's health problems can cause distress and, if undetected and
untreated, hinder both health and learning. School services that can help
reduce children's stress include health services; counseling, psychological,
and social services; nutrition and food services; and comprehensive family
services. School services may provide needed medical treatments, teach
effective management of health, serve as the primary source of nutrition
(if necessary), and offer services that deal with a variety of mental and
emotional health issues that may cause stress.
Schools play a vital role in stress management by assuring a healthy
learning environment, providing services for stress reduction, enhancing
student and staff knowledge and skills for coping with stress, and coordinating
activities with families and communities. The Comprehensive School Health
Program is an effective model for implementing stress management in schools
and communities to enhance the well-being of children.
The American Institute of Stress, 124 Park Avenue, Yonkers, NY 10703;
(914) 963-1200. http://www.stress.org
Mental Health Net; http://www.cmhc.com
North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service. Disaster Recovery: Children's
Needs (includes information about recognizing stress in children and strategies
for parents and teachers); http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/fcs/humandev/disint.html
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