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Fostering Resiliency Through Addressing Substance Use Across The Curriculum

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As an early career secondary school teacher in Castlegar, BC, Stephanie Mervyn was looking for a more promising approach to addressing substance use than the ‘facts and stats’ kinds of approach she had experienced. Stephanie heard about iMinds, and decided to try out a few learning activities with her students.

Exploring the role and meaning of drugs, not simply learning facts and statistics, is at the heart of iMinds. It is a set of cross-curriculum drug education resources, created by the Centre for Addictions Research of BC (CARBC) at the University of Victoria. Featuring drug literacy modules designed for Grade 4-10 classrooms, the iMinds collection now also includes drug-related conversation starters and adaptable learning activities that match BC’s new curriculum competencies in a variety of areas including English Language Arts, Social Studies, and Physical and Health Education. Here’s a look at one of the activities that focuses on something that impacts us all: stress. (For the complete version of this activity, including the big ideas and competencies addressed, go to www.helpingschools.ca).

The Ups and Downs of Stress
A PHE 8/9 activity addressing stress and substance use

Ask people, young and old alike, why they drink alcohol or use other drugs and you’re likely to get some responses that include (though are not limited to) coping with stress.

It’s important to consider the underlying reasons a person may use a drug, since it’s these factors that may  influence future patterns of use and risk of harmful consequences. For example, if it is out of curiosity or another fleeting motive, only occasional or experimental use may follow. If the motive is strong and enduring (e.g., relieving chronic stress or other mental health challenges), then more long-lasting and intense substance use may follow. Motives for intense short-term use (e.g., to fit in, have fun or alleviate temporary stress) may result in risky behaviour with high potential for serious harm.

All of us experience stress, from negative or even positive circumstances (e.g., starting a new school year, or preparing for a trip or a performance), so it is important to learn how to manage stress in a healthy way. Drinking alcohol or using other drugs may provide us with temporary relief from stress, but continuing to use substances as a coping strategy may harm our health and relationships.

While everyone copes with stress differently, regular physical activity is one of the best things you can do for your health and it’s also an important part of a stress-busting lifestyle. It can actually change your mood. If you are feeling sluggish, some activity can make you feel more energized and alert; at the same time, exercise can also help calm agitated, angry or anxious feelings. Exercise can even reduce levels of the stress hormones that cause the physical feeling of being stressed (like feeling tense or hyper-aroused) and also results in the release of feel-good brain chemicals.

Instructional Strategies
1. Show this short video, Managing Stress (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hnpQrMqDoqE), and then facilitate a short discussion with the class using questions like those below. Then, introduce and practice a variety of activities students can use on their own to manage stress.
a) What are some common reasons people get stressed out?
b) Do you think life is more stressful these days than in the past? Why or why not?
c) How do you cope with or manage stress? How do people in other cultures manage stress?
d) How could we reduce stress in the first place?

2. Provide students with a copy of the Ups and Downs of Stress handout and have them read it. Facilitate a short discussion with the class using questions like those below.
a) If stress can be both good and bad, how do we know the difference?
b) Physical activity is a proven stress-buster. Can it also contribute to stress? If so, how? How can we use physical activity to find our sweet spot?
c) What are other ways to manage stress?
d) What advice can we provide to the stressed student in the image?

3. Show the TED talk by health psychologist, Kelly McGonigal, in which she presents stress as a positive, www.ted.com/talks/kelly_mcgonigal_how_to_make_stress_your_friend?language=en. Invite students to comment on the video and explore what it might mean for them. The following questions might help:
a) What are some situations when stress can be helpful? How might it help?
b) McGonigal talks about “making you better at stress”. How might that look for you?

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