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Classroom Lessons Help Stressed-Out Students Cope, Study Finds

Despite some reports of a population-wide decline in stress since 2007, research over the past few years has shown that young people still lead the pack in average stress levels.

A 2014 American Psychological Association survey, for example, found that school-age teenagers had markedly high levels of stress, with 30 percent or more reporting feeling overwhelmed, depressed, fatigued, tired or sad. Those high-stress levels correlate with a medley of health concerns, including overeating, loss of sleep, and lack of exercise, according to the APA.

A pilot study published in the spring edition of the journal Advances in Mind-Body Medicine may point to a means of reducing teenage stress, however.

The study analyzed anxiety levels of 13- to 19-year old students at a Boston public charter school before and after incorporating stress-management instruction into select classrooms for six to eight weeks, and found that—following the added instruction—students reported feeling less anxious and more productive.

Students also became more apt to manage their stress over the long term, reporting lower levels of anxiety in follow-up surveys conducted one year after the lessons' completion.

The new curriculum, which includes modules on relaxation techniques, breathing exercises, and thinking positively, is part of the Resilient Youth program that researchers in the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston have been working on for decades. Among other things, the program offers teacher training on strategies to combat unhealthy amounts of stress.

"Studies show that most of us spend most of our time worrying about what's going to happen or focusing on something that has happened, instead of being in the present," a habit that is often negative healthwise, said Marilyn Wilcher, a senior director at the institute. "We try to get people to recognize what they're doing, and [reframe] their thoughts to more positive and realistic ones."

Researchers have tested the program in places from South-Central Los Angeles to Harvard University and found that stress often has similar adverse effects on students of varying socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds, Wilcher added. Currently, Resilient Youth members are seeking more funding to conduct more research and make online materials available to students and teachers.

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