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101 reasons to teach coping skills

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By Michelle McLemore
Psychology teacher, wellness coach
Onsted High School

Michelle McLemore

Disney makes raising 101 Dalmatians a merciful must. Likewise, when 101 students signed up for Psychoneuroimmunology at Onsted High School this year, it validated my instinct that teaching youth how to think about stress and how to respond effectively is vital in today’s world.

As a psychology teacher and wellness coach in the Irish Hills area, I have witnessed the increased stress and anxiety mounting in our youth these last few years. With the blessing of my administrators, I designed the course on the psychology subdomain, which studies how stress affects the body and brain. For each unit, we also practiced multiple stress management strategies.  Based on its unique design, the course is possibly the first of its kind being taught in U.S. K-12 public education.

At a time when the nation is reeling from rising teen suicide, murder, and anxiety disorders, the class attempts to personalize the study of a person’s perception of control and interactions with the world. I strive to help students understand reactions, different ways to view situations, and what they can do instead of depending solely upon prescriptions. It guides them through healthy ways to cope with life. Student Lance Clemons shared, “The class was amazing and helped many students through hard times. It helped me with my depression and it made me more confident in asking for help when I feel down.”

The American Psychological Association has been tracking the perception and impact of stress for decades. Though slightly more than half of the adults believe they accurately can identify when they are stressed, only about one quarter feel they do a good job at stress prevention or coping. To create stable adults, youth need to learn – and practice – strategies as early as possible. Stress management may be a basic key to re-establishing balance for the individual as well as our society.

Lenawee schools have a joint mission to make education meaningful and personalized. This class uses Abraham Maslow’s revised hierarchy of needs theory as a basis to show students they have a choice to become healthy, confident, contributing members of society. Sophomore Allycia Lenz reflected, “Everything she [McLemore] taught us this semester helped me learn how to not be as stressed as I was, and it helped me understand how negative thoughts can influence the way I function.” Some students were so moved that they went home and taught their families the strategies learned. Reports came in of reductions in physical pain, students helping peers deal with panic attacks, and students openly using reflecting listening with classmates outside of our class.

The goal was to blend psychology, biology, research-based therapies, physical movement, and interpersonal skills with at least one activity day a week. Field trips and different guest therapists help support these lessons. Parent Deni Hill said “I was thrilled to hear my child had exposure to car maintenance, self-defense, and time management in this class. I continued to bring up several things to teach her before she left for college, and found out most of these things were covered in this class.” Tai Chi, yoga, line dancing, reflective listening, mindfulness, musical composition, art, hiking, and basic CPR are just a few of the over 40 strategies students learned in this class.

Parent Don Berry explained, “With the amount of information that is available to our children, it is no wonder their stress and anxiety levels have risen. They are pressured in every facet of their lives and teaching them coping mechanisms is a wonderful time spent.”

Medical research continues to mount that a majority of diseases may be caused, or at least worsened, by chronic stress. WebMD even states that “75-90 percent of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.” Superintendent Steve Head is a strong advocate of the program. “Stress and anxiety can have serious health consequences. Mrs. McLemore’s class was able to teach our students strategies to effectively deal with these issues on a daily basis. This is a class that would benefit all of us!”

Students can take the course for social studies credit or additional times for general elective credit. In addition to helping students, I am building an online course for adults that I hope to launch as early as mid-summer.

Our sensations, attention, and intention create our perception, our reality. It has been a blessing to have helped so many come to understand themselves and their incredible potential during this year. I tease the students occasionally, telling them “No pressure. But you are better prepared with more research-based facts about how life really works and how you can make a difference than possibly any generation before you. Be wise. The world needs you.”

And we do. We need each one of them.

 

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