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Learning outcomes

Students will:

  • define stress.
  • describe several physical responses to short term and long term stress.
  • observe and describe physical effects of two short term stressors, one associated with a negative event and one with a positive event.
  • practice one mental exercise and three physical exercises that relieve stress.

Teacher planning

Time required for lesson

45 minutes


  1. Explain that the goal for the day is to learn about stress and its effect on health. Ask students for a definition of stress. Discuss their responses. Give a definition if students don’t produce one, and explain that stress is unavoidable and not all bad.
    • Stress is the “wear and tear” our bodies experience as we adjust to our continually changing environment; it has physical and emotional effects on us and can create positive or negative feelings. It is caused by change of all types, positive events as much as negative. Positive stress adds anticipation and excitement to life, and we all thrive under a certain amount of stress. Deadlines, competitions, confrontations, and even our frustrations and sorrows add depth and enrichment to our lives. Our goal is not to eliminate stress but to learn how to manage it and how to use it to help us.
  2. What have students heard about the effects of stress on health? Have them offer aloud what they have heard.
    • As a negative influence, stress can result in feelings of distrust, rejection, anger, and depression, which in turn can lead to health problems such as headaches, upset stomach, rashes, insomnia, ulcers, high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. There are many diseases that get worse with stress, though they may not cause stress. People seem to get sick with colds and viruses more easily when stressed.
  3. So how does stress cause all this? Today we will play a game that will help you see the connection between stress and health. The game is “Stress Attack” and the person who is the “attacker” will be a stressor - the cause of the change, the source of the stress. The first part of the game will involve a negative stress. While we all watch and wait quietly, the stress attacker will walk around the room then suddenly choose someone to “attack.” How will they attack? They may jump at you and say “boo!” They may yell or grab your shoulder. They may collapse on the floor at your feet, or slap your desk, or growl like a bear. We don’t know what they will do. The only rule is the attacker can’t hurt you - but it will be a shock. Your job is to notice how you feel while we are doing this game. Notice everything about your physical and emotional feelings as we play the game. Also, choose someone sitting near you and take a few seconds now and then to observe them as the game is played.
  4. Announce that the game is played in silence. This allows everyone to use all their senses to observe physical and emotional responses as the game is played. Be the first “stress attacker” and walk silently around the room for about 30 seconds. Then suddenly slap someone’s desk and yell “stress!” The person you chose to attack will be the next stress attacker. After about four people have been “attacked” and stressed, stop and process with questions. Ask about physical responses:
    • “How did you feel when the stressor was walking around the room? When they got close to you? When they walked by? What else did you observe about yourself or the person you observed?”
    • “What did you notice about your breathing? About your stomach? About your heart rate? About tightness in your muscles? About how you moved?” Use your own perceptions to enhance the discussion. Ask students to continue to notice how they respond to the stressor when the game continues.
  5. Let the game continue until about six more people are chosen. Then stop to process again with questions about emotional responses: “What emotions did you notice as we played the game? Did you observe any nervousness? any annoyance? any excitement? worry? sadness? disappointment?”
  6. Resume the game but this time the stressor will “attack” with something pleasant. They may pat someone on the back gently and say “you are great.” They may give someone a high-5. They may just stand and smile, or give a sincere compliment.
  7. After three or four “good stress” attacks, ask students to report any physical or emotional responses noticed at different stages of the game. (They will report pretty much the same responses as when the attacks were negative. You will need to watch breathing, body language, etc. to help.)
  8. Ask students to estimate how many changes (stresses) they go through in a day. Review the physiological and emotional responses the class observed during “Stress Attack.” Ask if anyone can see how any of those responses, repeated many times during a day, might have an impact on health. Use observed heart rate responses as an example for discussion. Discuss other response and illness connections noted by students.
  9. Tell the class that they may not be able to avoid stress but that they can reduce its effect on health with relaxation and relaxation exercises. You will teach them three exercises and use a before-and-after activity to measure the effectiveness of the stress relievers.
  10. Ask how many students in the class have headaches. Ask them to put hands on heads to show where their heads usually hurt during headaches. Usually, most students will have hands on the top front quarter of their heads. Explain that headaches have many causes but that the most common is tension. Tension headaches hurt in the forehead and temples and sometimes cause throbbing in the temples. Explain that getting rid of the tension can prevent headaches and sometimes stop the headache. One way to reduce tension is to tighten a muscle and relax it. Using the tension to work the muscle gets rid of the tightness. Does anyone have a headache now? Does anyone think they have a lot of tension in their neck and shoulders at this moment? (A few will report a headache or tension but you may count on the fact that they all have significant tension in neck and shoulder areas.)
  11. Prepare students for the “before” activity by asking them to sit straight in their desks with arms folded on the desk to anchor them in position. They will hold their bodies as still as possible except for turning their heads to the right as far as is comfortable. When heads are turned as far as possible, have students mentally note the object or place on the wall that is the farthest they can see in that position. (Out of the corner of your eye, what is the last thing you can see in the room?) Ask them to turn back to the front of the room and relax.
  12. Take the class through three exercises that reduce tension in the neck and shoulders. Demonstrate each exercise and have the class follow through every exercise three or four times.
    • The “Monkey” exercise can be done sitting or standing. Holding the rest of the body still, raise shoulders as high as possible toward the ears. Drop the shoulders. Raise and drop the shoulders several times. (If you lean slightly forward while shoulders are raised, you can see where “The Monkey” gets its name.)
    • The “Giraffe” exercise, done sitting or standing, involves stretching the neck up, holding the rest of the body still, and turning the head slowly from left to right. You are imitating a giraffe looking around at treetop level in search of the tenderest new leaves. Have the class stretch and turn heads, relax and repeat several times.
    • The “Eagle” exercise, done sitting or standing, must be done slowly. Raise arms to the side to shoulder level, turn palms up, and move arms slightly back to push shoulder blades closer together. If arms go too far back, the arms tend to drop and the exercise becomes less effective. From that position, drop the head slowly back to look at the ceiling. Then raise the head slowly back to normal position. Caution that coming up too quickly could make a person dizzy. Do a personal demonstration and then have a student demonstrate before allowing the class to try. While the class does the exercise, have the student lead so you can help students do it correctly. (”Some of you do look like eagles, but we seem to have a few pigeons and hawks in here, too. The exercise works best for eagle imitators”)
  13. Prepare for the “After” activity by having students sit in the same position as before, straight in the desk with arms folded to anchor them. Ask them to remember what they could see before. Have them turn heads slowly and to note how far their heads turn now, after the exercises. The difference will be significant. Discuss. (What caused this change? Did you know you had that much tension in your neck and shoulder muscles?)


Review/summarize the day’s activities. Who can tell me a definition of stress? What causes stress? Give me an example of how stress effects health? Can you do anything about the effects of stress? What causes tension headaches? What are you going to do the next time you get a tension headache?

  • North Carolina Essential Standards
    • Healthful Living (2010)
      • Grade 2

        • 2.MEH.1 Understand the relationship among healthy expression of emotions, mental health, and healthy behavior. 2.MEH.1.1 Identify appropriate standards for behavior. 2.MEH.1.2 Summarize behaviors that help to avoid risks. 2.MEH.1.3 Explain the influence of...
      • Grade 3

        • 3.MEH.1 Understand positive stress management strategies. 3.MEH.1.1 Explain how self-control is a valuable tool in avoiding health risks. 3.MEH.1.2 Classify stress as preventable or manageable.
      • Grade 4

        • 4.MEH.1 Apply positive stress management strategies. 4.MEH.1.1 Summarize effective coping strategies to manage eustress and distress. 4.MEH.1.2 Implement healthy strategies for handling stress, including asking for assistance.
      • Grade 5

        • 5.MEH.1 Apply positive stress management strategies. 5.MEH.1.1 Implement positive stress management strategies. 5.MEH.1.2 Evaluate the effectiveness of stress management strategies.

North Carolina curriculum alignment

Guidance (2001)

Grade K–5

  • Goal 9: Understand safety and survival skills.
    • Objective 9.06: Display techniques for managing stress and conflict.