Lesson 2: Stress Less — Teen Stress Management

anti-stress ballsObjectives

  1. Youth will gain tools to identify stress by understanding the effects that stress can have on a person.
  2. Youth will learn and practice a variety of coping strategies designed to reduce the effects of stress on the body; youth can keep these strategies in their life ‘toolbox’.
  3. Youth will learn to reframe their own negative self-talk and that of others as it relates to stress.

Time to Complete: 45 minutes (1 hour with optional activity)

Level: Grades 7-12


Room Setup

No specific setup required.

Special Considerations

Stress can be extremely difficult and overwhelming. Seeking professional help from a local counselor or other trained professional is always an encouraged option. If you or someone you know would like to talk to another teen about their mental health, please contact Teen Line. If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, feel they cannot reach out to someone locally, and are concerned for their safety, please contact Talk to Someone New (Suicide Prevention Lifeline website).

Introduction (5 minutes; slide 2)

The goal of this lesson is to educate youth on the effects of stress and how they can combat and cope with stress in their daily lives and the lives of others. Youth will start by identifying what the effects of stress are, and then have the opportunity to practice a variety of coping strategies that can help to reduce these effects on the body.

Throughout the lesson feel free to pick and choose the amount of statistics to read to youth based on group size, age, and time limit. The discussion questions are most important.

What is Stress?

We hear a lot about stress in our daily lives but what exactly is it? Stress is a normal reaction the body has in response to any change, positive or negative, that requires a response or adjustment.[1] Stress can be short or acute, occurring only temporarily, or more long term, routine or chronic, occurring over days, weeks, or more.[2] Stress can be in response to something positive in a way that keeps you motivated or alert, like graduating from school. Stress can also be in response to negative change, such as having a loved one with a chronic illness, where the stress could be continuous without much relief between stressful moments.[3] Too much stress or a chronic level of stress can cause harmful effects on the body.

Did you know that in a 2018 poll, 45% of teens said they were stressed all of the time. 37% said they were stressed sometimes. Only 6.3% of teens said they were never stressed.

Ask: Can you guess what the biggest stressor was?

Answer: 27% of teens are most stressed by relationships (friendships were only 4.6%). 24% are most stressed by teachers.[4]

What are some effects of stress? (7 minutes; slide 3 (show after Step 2: brainstorm session))

  1. Ask youth: “By a show of thumbs, rate how much stress affects your daily life. Thumbs up = no stress/impact; thumb in the middle = some stress/impact; thumb down = a lot of stress/impact; and thumb can be anywhere in between.”
  2. Now that youth know what stress is, brainstorm as a whole group some possible physical, mental or emotional effects stress can have on a teen. With larger groups this step may be done in smaller groups and reported out.
  3. Show slide 3, which shares some of the effects that stress can have on teens.[5] Following this, ask youth again, “Using the new knowledge you have, by a show of thumbs rate how much stress affects your daily life. Thumbs up = no stress/impact; thumb in the middle = some stress/impact; thumb down = a lot of stress/impact; and thumb can be anywhere in between.”
  4. Questions:
    • Were any of these effects of stress a surprise to you? If so which ones and why?
    • Were you surprised by the number of people in the room who had no stress? What about those with a lot of stress? Why or why not?

Add-on Activity: Draw the Effects of Stress (15 additional minutes)

Instead of completing step 2 above, divide youth into smaller groups of four to six and give each group markers and flipchart paper. Give youth 10 minutes to draw what they think the effects of stress on a teen look like. Youth can accomplish this task anyway they see fit but if youth get stuck have them start with an outline of a human body. Then ask them to think of what they think stress can do to a person physically, mentally or emotionally and how that can be visually represented. Have each group share their picture and the effects that they came up with. Show slide 3 following presentations.

Coping Strategies (25 minutes)

What is a Coping Strategy

A coping strategy is the thought or action someone uses to deal with a difficult situation.[6] Just like stress, coping strategies can be either positive or negative. When asked what resources they use to help with stress the highest percentage of teens, 44%, responded that they use apps or online resources to cope. The second most common response from teens, 34%, responded that they do nothing for their stress.[7]

Mindful Breathing Exercise using the My Life App (5 minutes; slide 4)

  • Breathing exercises are helpful to relax, reduce tension, and relieve stress because when you breathe deeply it sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax, which the brain then sends to the body. [8]
  • If you choose not to download the app you may use this 3-minute Mindful Breathing Meditation (YouTube video), which uses the same mindful breathing exercise. If you choose to download the app (recommended), open it, and click on Explore along the bottom menu. From the Explore Menu pick Slay Your Stress, and Mindful Breathing, choose either Jamie or Grecco, 3 minutes. Complete the activity.
  • Question:
    • How did mindful breathing make you feel?
      • Is this different from before the exercise? How so?
    • Did you notice anything about yourself that you hadn’t noticed before (a spot of tension or relaxation)?

Additional Activities

Have more time? Here are some of our favorite, short, free activities for stress from My Life, or feel free to explore and find your own:

  • Kindness — 3 or 6 minutes
  • Relax, Ground and Clear — 7 minutes
  • Body Scan — 8 minutes

Free Apps to Help Positively Cope with Stress (3 minutes; slide 5)

  • Discussion of additional apps on slide 5, designed to develop stress-coping strategies.

Brainstorm Coping Strategies (6 minutes; slide 6 (show after brainstorm session))

  • So far we have discussed positive ways to cope with stress but there are negative alternatives. Ask youth to brainstorm just a few (3-6) negative ways someone could cope with their stress. Some possible negative coping answers may include substance use, risky sexual behavior, withdrawing/avoiding others/skipping school or activities, anger/violent behavior/bullying, overeating/not eating enough, self-harm, etc.[9]
  • Now ask youth what additional positive ways they know of to cope with stress. If youth get stuck, prompt them to think of things they like to do to relax and unwind. Turn to Slide 6 to show youth some possible options.
  • Question: Why is it better, in the long run, to cope with stress in a positive way rather than in a negative way?
    • Possible Answer: Negative coping strategies help you feel better for a short period of time but do not help to solve the original source of stress. Positive coping strategies can help you feel better longer because they are better for your health and wellbeing than the negative alternatives.

Retrain the Brain (17 minutes)

Your mind is a powerful thing. When stressors strike, not only does your brain trigger your body to react in a fight, flight, or freeze response but it can also create a string of negative self-talk which can be detrimental to the process of coping with stress.

Reframing Negative Self-Talk (slide 7)

  • Use the prompts on slide 7 to discuss positive and negative self-talk and its effects on coping with stress. Self-talk is the constant stream of thoughts that go through someone’s head daily. Positive self-talk is not about ignoring the bad, but rather about approaching and reframing an unpleasant situation into a more positive one. Some benefits of positive self-talk include lower rates of depression, less distress, greater cardiovascular health, and better ability to cope with stress. When practicing positive self-talk don’t say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to someone else. In other words, be kind and encouraging to yourself. If a negative thought enters your head, evaluate it rationally and address it with positive affirmations.[10] Practice makes progress; it’s important to practice positive self-talk often in order for it to become more natural for you. Another way to practice positive self-talk is to write yourself positive notes. Consider writing yourself a positive note and sticking it somewhere you’ll see it every morning, like your bedroom door or bathroom mirror.

Handling Negative Talk and Stress of Others (slide 7)

  • As mentioned, everyone feels the effects of stress. Sometimes we may not be stressed but our friends or family are, and their stress boils over and affects us. Slide 7 shows some ways that you can cope with the stress of others.[11]
  • In a poll when teens were asked what they are most likely to do when stressed, the highest percentage, 22%, said they like to talk to friends.[12] But what happens when their stress becomes too much for you? How can you kindly suggest they stop putting their stress on you?
    • Divide youth into groups any way you choose or try this fun suggestion: Have youth line up and close their eyes (if they’re comfortable). Assign youth one of five animals (or however many groups you’d like to have one through five): duck, chicken, cat, dog, sheep. Have youth open their eyes and make the noise of the animal they were assigned. Acting like their animal is encouraged for added fun. Youth will group together with others of their same animal group.
    • Ask youth to find the card on the wall with their animal on it.
    • Youth will then brainstorm ways in which they could kindly, yet firmly help to resolve the situation so that they can then apply it if they are ever in this situation.
    • Have a participant read aloud the scenario and then give their brief responses and reasoning.
  • The key to any response is coming from a place of compassion, and friendship, and making the discussion into an “I message.” The intent is not to upset the other person or to permanently end the relationship, but rather to let them know that their stress and negativity is impacting you in a negative or heavy way which is bad for your own stress level.[13]

Wrap – Up Discussion (2 minutes)


  • Knowing what you know now about the effects of stress is there anything that you plan to change in your life to reduce your stress?
  • Do you plan to use any of the coping strategies you learned today? If so, which ones and why?
  • What questions do you still have about stress?

[1] Cleveland Clinic. Stress.

[2] National Institute of Mental Health, 5 Things You Should Know about Stress.

[3] National Institute of Mental Health, 5 Things You Should Know about Stress.

[4] 45% of Teens Say They’re Stressed “All the Time,” Turn to Online Resources and Apps for Help Says Poll on Stress and Mental Health.

[5] Mayo Clinic. Stress symptoms: Effects on your body and behavior.

[6] Centre for Studies on Human Stress. Coping Strategies.

[7] 45% of Teens Say They’re Stressed “All the Time,” Turn to Online Resources and Apps for Help Says Poll on Stress and Mental Health.

[8] University of Michigan Medicine. Stress Management: Breathing Exercises for Relaxation.

[9] American Academy of Pediatrics. Just for Teens: A Personal Plan for Managing Stress (PDF).

[10] Mayo Clinic. Positive thinking: Stop negative self-talk to reduce stress.

[11]American Academy of Pediatrics. Just for Teens: A Personal Plan for Managing Stress (PDF).

[12] 45% of Teens Say They’re Stressed “All the Time,” Turn to Online Resources and Apps for Help Says Poll on Stress and Mental Health.

[13] The Cut. How to Take a Friendship Break That Doesn’t Turn Into a Breakup.