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Managing stress in times of uncertainty

​​​​​​​This week I have been reflecting on the PSHCE lessons I was having with Year 11 before school closure came along. We had spent several weeks discussing the topic of ‘stress’; considering both what it is and how we can learn to manage it. The discussion had been productive, and Year 11 had been genuinely engaged in spending some time reflecting on the things that caused them stress and the different strategies that they already adopted to help them cope with it.

In our lessons we acknowledged that we are designed to experience and react to stress – and that sometimes it can be a good thing. However, stress without relief can lead to distress; this is when we can start to struggle to cope and experience negative reactions. Our current situation has the potential to cause all of us to experience symptoms associated with elevated stress levels. It’s important that now, more than ever, we exercise kindness and care both to ourselves and those around us. This can be tricky when we live with teenagers who, before all of this, were just starting to make sense of the wider world, and who have suddenly had their freedom curtailed!

What can we do at this time to help and support them through it? Firstly, it is vital that we encourage them to keep in contact with their peers. In some ways, we are perhaps fortunate that we have access to so much technology. In my house, the opportunity for collaborative working through the remote learning programme has been vital for positive social communication. The online gaming sessions (which usually I am keen to avoid) have also allowed some laughter and fun to be shared with friends. I read an article the other day that said video chats are a great idea; studies show they can be as good for your wellbeing as face to face communication. Perhaps we need to retain a little more of an ear or eye out for misuse of this technology, but it certainly has benefits.

Secondly, we should encourage them to maintain some kind of daily routine. Again, remote learning has been great for this, but what happens when we slip into the holiday period? Encouraging them to share meals together, and have some time each day to get a little fresh air would help – even if it is a struggle to move them from their teenage den the rest of the time. On this theme, the holiday period presents an opportunity for them to give their personal space an air: perhaps sort through their papers from the last two weeks; rearrange their workspace; reorganise their bedroom. Looking after your personal environment and making it somewhere comfortable to either work or relax can promote positive mental health.

Finally, we need to talk with them. They will be picking up things from social media and news feeds in the same way we are – and will have the same questions and concerns. It doesn’t need to be a big heavy chat, but to share something read over dinner can do no harm. In the same way that we should encourage them to talk about the things on their minds we should also encourage breaks from social media. I could certainly do with taking this message on board – scrolling through the news before bed is doing nothing for my beauty sleep.

Emily Hill, Deputy Head Academic