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Strategies to Decrease Stress and Increase Social-Emotional Skills

by | Feb 17, 2023 | News | 0 comments

Many students returned to school following the pandemic with higher stress and anxiety levels than ever before. Additionally, the time spent away from peers during the shutdowns lowered their social-emotional skills. While there are many factors in our students’ lives that we cannot control, we can utilize strategies and routines that help students “arrive” in the classroom, deepen their connections with their peers and with us, build predictability into their days, and help them to regulate their emotions.

Classroom Routines

Our brains hate unpredictability, so creating classroom routines is one of the best ways to help students arrive and feel less anxious about the coming day/class. One of the easiest ways to create a routine is through a posted daily schedule. This allows students to see what is going to happen in your class and prepare themselves for the coming activities. 

In addition to posting the schedule, going over the schedule with your students at the start of the day or class allows them time to process and understand the plan for the day/class. 


Whether this is a verbal activity for the whole class or an individual check-in via Google Forms, providing a regular check-in allows students to not only think about their current emotional state but makes them aware of the emotional states of their classmates. This can create a deeper sense of community and an understanding that they aren’t the only ones feeling the way they do. It provides you with an overall temperature check of your class and allows you to note which students may need a one-on-one check-in conversation.

Don’t want to reinvent the wheel when it comes to check-ins? We have a ton of great check-in and belonging resources available to you:

Mindful Breathing and Focused Attention Practices

Another great way to help students be more present and ready to process academic information is through mindful breathing and focused attention practices. These quick activities can be game-changers for your students and for the classroom environment as a whole. 

Utilize mindful breathing at the start of each day/class as a way to ground your students and help them “arrive” in class. Mindful breathing has been shown to reduce anxiety, help with stress and burnout, and decrease negative thinking. All things students– and, likely, you as an educator– can use right now. 

It doesn’t need to take up a ton of time in your day– even 30 seconds of mindful breathing can make a difference in how your students feel and behave. 

Here are a few of our favorite mindful breathing activities:

One thing to note: mindful breathing may not feel comfortable to all of your students, so never require participation. You may even want to offer alternative activities, like mindful coloring, to those students who aren’t ready to do mindful breathing. 

Similar to mindful breathing, focused attention practices are another great way to help students navigate transitions and to bring them back to the academic tasks at hand. They are designed to shift students’ brains to a state of relaxed alertness so that they are ready to pay attention, problem-solve, and create.

Dr. Laurie Desaultes has created a list of 100 Focused Attention Practices that you can start utilizing right away, and you can find several focused attention practices and mindfulness activities on our free resources page.

Regulation and Routine

Students arrive at school in a variety of brain states. As they move through the day, whether class-to-class in secondary or in and out of a self-contained classroom in elementary school, you can help students show up as their best selves each day.  Incorporating check-ins, mindful breathing, and focused attention practices to your daily schedule will help students learn to regulate their emotions and will provide them with a predictable routine, thus easing some of the stress and anxiety they may be feeling about school. 



Additional Resources:

ABCs of SEAL In this 12-module online course, you will develop a greater understanding of Social Emotional and Academic Learning (SEAL) and explore the research that supports the importance of strengthening social-emotional competencies and resilience practices in you, youth and your team
Trauma & Behavior In this 5-module online course, you will develop an understanding of the neurobiology of trauma – how it changes the brain and, therefore, behavior. Because educators cite behavior as one of the greatest stressors in their profession, this course aims directly at the behaviors educators find most challenging.

Are you a PK-5 Administrator or Teacher? Check out our Social Skills Toolkit.

The Social Skills Toolkit contains the tools you need to empower positive behavior. Based on 8 social skills (Listening, Managing Emotions, Following Directions, Getting a “NO” when you want a “YES,” Engaging Positively with Peers, Personal Space, Waiting Patiently, and Asking for Help), the toolkit allows you to address each skill weekly or focus on a specific skill that needs extra support with. Each toolkit comes with a slide deck, posters, a course on trauma and behavior, resources, videos, writing and drawing activities, belonging activities, and circle questions.

It can be used for targeted Tier 1 and Tier 2 interventions and includes non-verbal cues to help support ELL, ILPs, and special ed. 

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