Cracking Down on Stress

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2 hands snapping a wooden pencilDownload Curriculum and Handouts:



After completing this lesson, participants will be able to:

  • Identify the two types of stress
  • Describe how stress affects the body
  • Apply the 7 techniques to reduce stress


Have each participant complete the “Am I At Risk for Stress?” questionnaire. If you have a lower literacy audience, please read the questionnaire and help participants calculate their final score.


Before class, make enough copies of the handout “Lower Your Stress Level” for all participants, and pass these out at the beginning of the session.


Before class, make enough copies for number of participants you expect. Administer after completing the program.

Presentation Process

Show Transparency: Cracking down on stress

Let’s face it, all of us experience stress. What are some kinds of stress in your life?

On the chart, write their responses. Write everything they say—try not to paraphrase.

Show Transparency: 2 types of stress

Stress is tension and pressure that occurs in our lives because of various demands, responsibilities and concerns. When our boss tells us to work harder or when our children bug us for attention while we’re trying to watch a football game—that’s stress. When we’re caught in traffic or when we don’t have enough money in the bank to cover all our bills—that’s stress.

Some stress can be healthy. It can give you a challenge or a sense of purpose in your life—like being a father or getting married. But when you feel pressure and tension for a long time, it can take a toll on your health and your relationships, which can be unhealthy. For example, being out of work or having an argument with your spouse can be very stressful.

Sometimes it’s hard to admit that stress is affecting us or our health. If we can learn to watch for its effects and make changes in our life, we will be better able to cope with stress.

Are you at risk for stress? Fill out this questionnaire and find out!

Pass out the “Am I At Risk for Stress?” questionnaire and have participants answer the 20 questions.

Now, add your ratings and subtract 20 to find your total score. A score over 30 indicates that you’re at risk for stress. If you scored between 50 and 75, stress is a factor in your life; and if you scored over 75, you’re experiencing stress

The signs of stress are classic. Can you think of some symptoms that occur when you are under too much stress?

Write their responses on a different sheet of flip chart paper. Common symptoms of stress include:

  • Insomnia – difficulty sleeping
  • Appetite changes
  • Excessive fatigue – feeling tired often
  • Headaches
  • Depression/irritability
  • Stomach ailments or muscle tension (backache, stiff neck)

When these symptoms appear, recognize them as signs of stress and try to find a way to deal with them. Just knowing why you’re grouchy may be the first step in coping with the problem. Often, when people are stressed they have a hard time sleeping at night, or they experience changes in their appetite. Let’s take (name someone in the audience) for example. Let’s pretend he/she usually eats a lot. Lately, he’s been under a great deal of stress and he isn’t as hungry as he used to be, or he may be eating more than normal. We also see people having more headaches when they are stressed. And have you ever noticed that your stomach gets upset more often when you’re stressed?

Show Transparency: Stress affects your body

Stress affects our body in many different ways.

  1. Your heart rate increases to move blood to the muscles and brain.
  2. Your blood pressure goes up.
  3. You start to breathe more rapidly.
  4. Your digestion slows down.
  5. You start to perspire more heavily.
  6. Your pupils dilate.
  7. You feel a rush of strength.

If stress stays in your life too long, you begin to suffer from the consequences of constant stress. You may find it difficult to see the relationship between stress and physical health problems, because the long-term effects of stress are subtle and slow. The physical problems related to chronic (long-term) stress include the lowering of the immune response (you can get sick more often), chronic muscle tension, and increased blood pressure. If you have diabetes, it may be more difficult for you to manage your blood sugar levels when you are in stressful situations. All of these problems can eventually lead to serious life-threatening illnesses such as heart attacks, kidney disease and cancer. Experts in every area of medicine are discovering links between stress, disease, and poor health.

Someone who experiences ongoing stress may begin to drink heavily, use drugs or lash out at others to cope. These experiences will not solve the problem or take away the stress.

To reduce stress, it’s necessary to identify its cause and then learn how to respond differently. Your attitude toward the problem affects your health the most.

What are some ways we can deal with stress in our lives (without losing our temper)?


  1. Write their responses on a sheet of flip chart paper.
  2. Pass out the handout “Lower Your Stress Level.”

While it’s impossible to live a stress-free life, there are many ways to help alleviate stress; we can go for a walk, take a hot shower, talk to a friend, or listen to music. Even though we can’t prevent stress from occurring in our lives, there are seven ways to lower stress.

Show Transparency: Get enough sleep

1. Get enough sleep

Did you know most people need about 6 to 9 hours of sleep every night? Often people tend to work instead of sleep when they are under stress, or they might even think about their stressors when they are trying to sleep. Here are some helpful hints for getting a good night’s rest:

  • Make a mental list of all the things you have to be thankful for.
  • Don’t drink alcohol or caffeinated beverages in the evening. They can keep you awake.
  • Take a warm bath before going to bed.
  • Go to bed at the same time every night and
  • Get up on time so you aren’t rushed.

Show Transparency: Plan ahead

2. Plan Ahead

The next time you have a task to complete, determine when it must be done and how long it will take. It’s a good idea to give yourself some extra time to complete the task if you’ve never done it before.

In addition to planning tasks, think about how you usually respond to certain stressors. Do you usually lose your temper when you do a certain task or speak to a certain individual? Develop a plan to deal with that situation the next time it arises.

Show Transparency: Learn to say no

3. Learn to say no

Learning to say no is not always easy, but limiting “voluntary” activities can give you more time to devote to other activities—such as spending time with your family.

Some examples of voluntary activities include:

  • Coaching soccer and basketball
  • Helping a friend move

Show Transparency: Get exercise

4. Get exercise

Exercise can reduce tension and improve overall health. Doctors recommend at least 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise every day. To achieve the greatest benefit you should exercise at least 3 to 4 times a week. For added benefits, including weight loss and stress management, I encourage you to exercise 5 to 6 times per week. Walking, swimming and riding a bicycle are great ways to get exercise and relieve stress! Before you start exercising, check with your doctor—he or she can tell you what exercises will be best for you!

Show Transparency: Remind yourself of your accomplishments

5. Remind yourself of your accomplishments

Don’t focus on what you haven’t done, remind yourself of what you have accomplished. (Examples include: Graduation school, high work performance, being a good friend/citizen, being a good parent.) This will encourage you in stressful times.

Have you ever been involved in a situation where you’re afraid of what could happen? This is a stressful situation, but instead of fearing the unexpected, look for the benefits.

Show Transparency: Make plans for free time

6. Make plans for free time

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all you have to do, you may be sacrificing free time to get it all done. Free time is important. Don’t think of free time as what’s left over after you’ve done everything else. Along with scheduling work responsibilities and family commitments, plan special time to do things you like to do, like fishing.

Show Transparency: Make time to relax

7. Make time to relax

Relaxation skills

Whatever you do to manage stress, you can benefit from the regular use of relaxation skills. The following three methods of relaxation and meditation are among the simplest and most effective. They should be done twice a day for about 20 minutes. Pick a time and place where you won’t be disturbed or distracted. Once you’ve trained your body and mind to relax (2 to 3 weeks), you’ll be able to produce the same relaxed state whenever you want.

Relaxation response

The relaxation response is the exact opposite of a stress response. It slows heart rate and breathing, lowers blood pressure, and helps relieve muscle tension.

Presenter Note: You can practice one or all of these relaxation techniques with your audience depending on your time frame.


1. Lie or sit down in a place where you can be comfortable.

2. Begin progressive muscle relaxation…

Take a deep breath. Let your attention drift from the very top of your head to your scalp and forehead. Smooth out all the muscles in your scalp and forehead. Just let them go; relax them. Smooth those muscles out and let your scalp rest very comfortably on top of your head. Let that relaxation just flow down over your eyebrows, your eyelids. Relax even the back of your eyes, letting your eyes rest comfortably. Continue to let the relaxation flow over your cheeks, lips, nose and chin, letting your whole face become comfortably heavy and relaxed. Pay special attention to your jaw, allowing the muscles that hold up your jaw to relax; just let them go.

As you relax your face and jaw, also let go of your tongue, throat, and vocal chords. Allow your vocal chords to become quiet, with your tongue resting very comfortably on the floor of your mouth. Take another deep breath.

Let the relaxation flow down the back of your head, letting go of all the muscles along your neck and down your shoulders. Smooth out all the muscles of your neck and shoulders. You might think of them as tiny knotted ropes that you untie and let hang loose and limp. Smooth them out and just let them hang loose, limp, and relaxed.

Continue to relax your shoulders and neck and let that relaxation flow down into your arms, relaxing all the muscles of your upper arm down to your elbows and your forearms, smoothing out those muscles and letting them go. Let go of the muscles around your wrists and hands all the way down to your fingertips, letting your arms become comfortably heavy and relaxed. As your arms become more and more relaxed and heavy, realize that, as you let go of the tension in your arms and shoulders, the blood flows more comfortably and easily into the fingertips. Take a deep breath.

As you continue to relax your head and face, your neck and shoulders, and your arms, let your attention drift to your upper back and smooth out all of the muscles along your shoulders and upper back. Relax all the way along your spine, down your middle back and waist, smoothing out all the muscles there and down into your lower back, letting go all the way down into your waist.

Let that relaxation flow around the sides of your body, letting go of all the muscles around your rib cage, smoothing them out and letting go. With every breath, allow your chest to become more and more comfortably relaxed. Observe your breathing with every breath. Notice the inhalation of the air through your nostrils, down, down into your lungs, filling up the lungs and then exhaling back out again. Allow your breathing to be normal, rhythmic, smooth. Breathe deeply. With every breath, allow yourself to float down into your chair. Let the relaxation spread down to your abdomen and your waist, smoothing out all the muscles in your stomach to become relaxed.

Let go of all the muscles around your waist, hips, and pelvis, letting your whole pelvic area relax and smooth out. Continue to let that relaxation flow down to your thighs, knees, shins, and calves, letting your legs become heavy and relaxed. Let go of your ankles, heels, feet, and even the soles of your feet and toes. As your legs become comfortably heavy, notice that the blood flows down easily into your toes, allowing your feet to become comfortably warm.

Your whole body, from the very top of your head, all the way down to the tips of your toes, is relaxed now, peacefully calm, quiet inside. With every breath now, allow your body to let go a little bit more. With every breath, let your body float down into the chair, feeling comfortably heavy and relaxed. As you relax more and more and more deeply, remain awake and aware but very relaxed. Breathe deeply.

3. Become aware of your breathing. The way you breathe affects your whole body. Full, deep breathing is a good way to reduce tension and feel relaxed. The object of roll breathing is to develop full use of your lungs. It can be practiced in any position, but it is best to learn it lying on your back, with your knees bent.

  1. Place your left hand on your abdomen and your right hand on your chest. Notice how your hands move as you breathe in and out.
  2. Practice filling your lower lungs by breathing so that your left hand goes up when you inhale and your right hand remains still. Always inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth.
  3. When you have filled and emptied your lower lungs 8 to 10 times, add the second step to your breathing: inhale first into your lower lungs as before, and then continue inhaling into your upper chest. As you do so, your right hand will rise and your left hand will fall a little as your abdomen falls.
  4. As you exhale slowly through your mouth, make a quiet, whooshing sound as first your left hand and then your right hand falls. As you exhale, feel the tension leaving your body as you become more and more relaxed.
  5. Practice breathing in and out in this manner for 3 to 5 minutes. Notice that the movement of your abdomen and chest is like rolling waves rising and falling in a rhythmic motion.

Practice roll breathing daily for several weeks until you can do it almost anywhere, providing you with an instant relaxation tool any time you need one.

Caution: Some people get dizzy the first few times they try roll breathing. If your participants begin to hyperventilate or become lightheaded, have them breathe slower and then get up slowly.

When you become accustomed to roll breathing, you can add another component to it; each time you exhale, say the word “one” (or any other word or phrase) silently or aloud. Concentrate on breathing from your abdomen, not your chest.

  • Instead of focusing on a repeated word, you can fix your gaze on a stationary object. Any mental stimulus will help you to clear your mind.
  • Continue this for 10 to 20 minutes. As distracting thoughts enter your mind, don’t dwell on them, just allow them to drift away.

4. Sit quietly for several minutes, until you are ready to open your eyes.

5. Notice the difference in your breathing and your pulse rate.

Show Transparency: Thank You!

Congratulations, you now have several new tools to help you crack down on stress. When stress comes, just remember you can deal with it by getting plenty of sleep and planning ways to deal with the situation. It’s also okay to say no to voluntary activities, your free time is important. Get plenty of exercise and remind yourself of all your accomplishments—you can get through any stressful time. I hope you use these relaxation techniques we’ve covered today. If you have any questions, I’d be happy to answer them now.

Thank You!


  • American Heart Association (1995). Common Sense about Feeling Tense: Stress Management. From the American Heart at Work Curriculum. National Center, Dallas, TX.
  • Rice, C.A., Pollard, J., (1997). Stress. From the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service HealthHints Newsletter. College Station, TX


Written by Courtney J. Schoessow, MPH, Extension Associate, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, Texas A&M System, College Station, Texas. Fall, 2002.


Last updated: April 4, 2015

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