Patricia S. Barkley
  This is the first lesson in a series on stress reduction lessons designed to help students identify stress and determine ways to combat it. The lessons are: 1. Stress reduction: Identifying and combating stressors 2. Stress Reduction: Deep breathing techniques 3. Stress reduction: Visual imagery

  Health education, interpersonal relationships, life skills, problem solving and vocabulary development in the work environment

Learner Level:
  Multilevel…can be adapted to almost any level because much of it is discussion-based

Time Frame:
  One hour

Learner Grouping:
  Best suited for small groups or a whole class

  This class was made up of 15-18 ABE students who were given one hour paid time and took another hour of their own time at the time of shift changes at a local manufacturing plant. The class met in the company conference room (or "break" room), and we had excellent support from management.


  Central KY Technical College Adult Ed. Program

Type of Program:

Student Population Served:
  Basic skills (grade levels 5-8.9) majority; some literacy

Stress Reduction: Identifying and combating stressors

Students discover the warning signs of stress and learn how to use diet, exercise, relaxation techniques, and attitude to combat stress in their lives. __________________________________________________________

Learning Objective:
Students will be able to identify the warning signs of stress and learn how to use diet, exercise, relaxation techniques to cope with stress, citing examples of each in action.

Primary Skill:
Lifelong learning

Secondary Skills:
Observe critically; Reflect and evaluate

Learner Needs & Goals:
Workers experience stress on the job and need to be able to identify what is stressing them, how to deal with the stressors, and how to get on with their work for the good of everyone in their work environment.

Learning Activity Description:
Step I.
Pass out the cartoons or show transparency on overhead and engage class in a discussion of stress. Questions to use to elicit discussion are:

  1. What is stress?
  2. What does it do to our bodies…souls?
  3. How do we recognize it?
  4. Is there such a thing as "good stress"?
  5. Can you think of a time when you felt especially stressed at work? If so, hold on to the thought for an activity that we'll do a bit later.
  6. What are some of the warning signs of stress? List these warning signs on a flip chart or poster (one student could be chosen to be the scribe). Post chart in visible spot in classroom. Add from the following list any not thought of by learners:
    • increased heart rate
    • friends' frequent comments to "slow down" or "chill out"
    • consistent insomnia
    • shallow breathing
    • flushed face
    • hands shaking irritability
    • stiff neck
    • extremely cold or warm hands
    • poor appetite, lack of sleep
    • lack of concentration
    • inability to stop thinking about something
    • feelings of helplessness
    • frequent careless mistakes on the job
    • excess weight gain or loss
    • ANY thoughts of suicide

    Note to class that professional help will be needed in some cases and no simple remedies will suffice.

    Step II.
    Divide class into four groups. Each group discusses the importance of each topic below in relation to techniques to cope with stress. (Each group will choose a reporter.)

    1. Diet
    2. Exercise
    3. Relaxation
    4. Attitude

    Engage student reporters in summarizing findings of each group, and scribes will record main ideas on flip chart. Following is a summary of ideas to suggest if these ideas are not mentioned by the groups. (These suggestions come from a newsletter from Central Baptist Hospital, Lexington, KY called "Health Words for Women," Vol. 8, Issue 2, P.M.edition, Summer 1999.)


    • Emphasize fruits and vegetables
    • Minimize amount of fats and meat intake
    • Emphasize the timing of when certain foods are eaten (protein-rich lunches elevate dopamine and norepinephrine levels which make you feel mentally alert, carbohydrates increase serotonin levels which has a tranquilizing effect---so eat carbohydrates in evening to set stage for soothing sleep relaxation)
    • Try to reduce smoking and/or alcohol intake
    • Do not skip meals so blood sugar levels stay more constant
    • Check with a doctor before making significant changes in diet or exercise patterns.

    Emphasize aerobic exercise for 20 minutes or more at least three times per week for optimal general health. (Nothing fancy: brisk walking around the neighborhood is fine.) Work up slowly to levels of brisk activity if you have not been exercising regularly. And remember that exercise improves circulation to the brain for better concentration.


    • Encourage the practice of meditation daily as a way of decompressing and allowing the body to go into "auto pilot" when threatened by stress.
    • Suggest visualization and imagery as means of allowing the body to release tension.
    • Teach progressive muscle tension and relaxation techniques to relieve tightness.
    • Demonstrate deep breathing techniques and abdominal breathing.
    • Remember that stress drains mental energy by keeping you in the "fight or flight" mode---very critical to our ancient ancestors, but hardly necessary in modern society.
    • Allow a few minutes of time and space completely to yourself every day---think of nothing during this time. If your mind becomes active, just gently pull it back to simply thinking of breathing in and breathing out.


    • Suggest a "can do " attitude as the best means to accomplish anything worthwhile.
    • Be good to your self-reward success with small tokens strictly for self, e.g. a phone call to a friend, reading a sports magazine, talking to your child, etc.

    Step III.
    Assign homework to keep a notebook handy (may be as little as an index card in work shirt pocket) until next class and jot down times when you recognize STRESS in your life. Categorize it as good or bad stress.

    Announce that the second lesson will include some exercises and practices that will help achieve stress reduction.

    Materials and Resources:

    • Flip charts, markers
    • An "attention-getter" that can be reproduced on an overhead transparency such as a cartoon of "KATHY" or similar cartoon showing a stress theme, or Boynton's notepad with the "Please hassle me…I thrive on stress" theme, or any other cute example of stress that students would identify with. (If an overhead projector is not available, make copies for each student to have.)


    Learners now know that stress can jeopardize their working situation, and that they must develop strategies for dealing with it. They are able to minimize stress in their lives at home, with a subsequent carryover into their working environment by managing diet, exercise, relaxation, and attitude. They will show this via their journal entries and small group discussion at beginning of next class session.

    The class was very cohesive and cooperative and felt that this sort of information was very valuable to workers in blue-collar positions as well as white-collar workers. This lesson can be a "hard sell" at first, especially for busy men who think they have no time to think about stress. However, once recruited to the class, it is most likely that more time will be needed as people recognize stressors in their lives that they had not been aware of before, and they will want to talk-share-compare to try to develop coping mechanisms.


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