For years now, we have been aware of stress invading our homes, schools and workplaces. Our students are at risk. We also know that Adverse Childhood Experiences can cause Toxic Stress, which can lead to long-term health issues. Our first line of protecting our students needs to be to reduce the source of stress through programs that meet our children’s basic needs. However, we should not stop there.
For years now, we have seen studies supporting that stress can be contagious. Stress at home can cause our students to arrive to school tired, anxious and unable to focus. Students worry about success in academics, activities and social settings. Peers worry about their friends. Children’s and parents’ stress can affect a teacher, who may already feel overwhelmed. The level of stress in a classroom is becoming a serious barrier for learning.
Teaching our students three words of mindfulness, as well as allowing time during the day for breaks can transform a classroom environment from stressed to calm.
First, teach awareness. Sit comfortably with your feet on the ground. Close your eyes or look down to avoid distractions. Then allow yourself to become aware of what you are thinking. Ask yourself questions: is this problem really happening or am I worried it may happen? Who can I talk to that can help me? Most importantly, am I safe right now? Then, be curious. How is this making me feel? What is happening to my body?
To escape the loop of worrying about the future, purposely breathe slowly and deeply focusing only on your breath. Allow for your brain to transfer control back to a thoughtful pattern of calm.
Freedom emerges as you begin to regain control. Imagine your worries and concerns as rain clouds in the sky. Your exhale is going to move the thoughts away from your body. You can also imagine each worry as a leaf floating in a river and your breath moves them further away with each exhale. Watch each concern leave your body. Be aware of what you and your breath has done for your body.
Taking time to model this with your students will benefit both your and their mental health. Best of all, it will transform your classroom into a Zen Den with students who are learning-reading.