Editorial: Breathe and Choose: Homeroom stress initiative does not adequately address student needs


Michelle Zhu

How to deal with stress: the power of breath and choice

Epic Staff

Lynbrook students can face a lot of stress, whether it is due to academics, school spirit or interpersonal problems. This year, Lynbrook administration has taken steps to help students manage their stress with a new mental wellness program in collaboration with Youth Public Policy Institute and UpLevel Works. This effort is a step forward in addressing Lynbrook students’ mental health struggles, but the program could have been more careful with its tone and more clear about its intentions to promote mental wellness. 

Barbara Tsai and Bill Lennan of UpLevel Works, an organization that aims to teach people skills to improve their mental wellness, gave a presentation to students that focused on managing stress during their English classes. The presenters taught students two main skills that day: “breath” and “choice.” “Breath” encourages students to breathe deeply and slowly to allow the body to relax, while “choice” describes the ability to choose the right mindset. 

The presentation was successful in providing students with tools to employ when feeling stressed. The presentation’s intention of making the topic more approachable to students. 

“Mental models are really important to help people understand things,” Tsai said. “Stories and mental models help us access within our own experience, something that we’ve already learned and transfer that knowledge to a new arena.”

 Following the presentation, the program continues throughout the year during five homeroom classes. The first homeroom lesson included a video affirming the benefits of stress and an activity for students to link stressors in their lives to their values. The activity was designed to help students view stress more positively. 

Even though the program’s core messages were well-intentioned, the program should have adequately addressed the needs of Lynbrook students. The lighthearted tone tried to encourage discussion, but conflicted with the seriousness of the topic. Discussing mental health issues in such a casual manner can trivialize the topic and diminish students’ experiences. High school students are on the cusp of adulthood; to address their stressors with childlike metaphors implies that the student themselves are children. Many students have had stresses and experiences similar to those of adults; this tone, along with the implication that these issues may be solved merely with deep-breathing and the choice to feel otherwise, are demeaning and insensitive to some students’ feelings. 

They were speaking to us on how to deal with things like anxiety, but the people in the audience who have dealt with anxiety and depression, like myself, we either already know it or telling us to breath and choose to not do it isn’t going to help us.

— Michelle Pugh, senior

“I know that was obviously not their intention, but the superpowers felt very childish; the fact that they were saying ‘just choose to be happy’ wasn’t very eye opening,” senior Michelle Pugh said. 

For example, while deep breathing can be a remedy for stress, the technique has varying levels of success for different people. By acknowledging the limits of such a technique, the presenters can avoid alienating students who struggle with deeper issues. 

“One of the problems was they were speaking to us on how to deal with things like anxiety but the people in the audience who have dealt with anxiety and depression, like myself, we either already know it or telling us to breath and choose to not do it isn’t going to help us,” Pugh said. 

The presentation could have made it more clear that their focus was on mental wellness, which is a completely separate topic from mental illness. 

“We’re not talking about the deepest darkest moments of depression, how you come out of post traumatic growth or how do you handle trauma,” Tsai said. “What we’re trying to do is develop the habits of mental wellness and build a strong foundation to prevent illness and support recover. It’s what I do in my everyday life to support my being healthy and sound.”

Due to the lack of this differentiation, the presentation may have come across as ambiguous to those who need more information about the distinction between day to day school stress and serious mental health issues. Students may be more receptive to the suggestions if they did not have the expectation that the presentation would address serious mental health topics that require unique solutions. 

In addition, the prerecorded video felt disconnected, causing students to feel as though they were being required to finish a predetermined course. The program and assembly should have been catered toward Lynbrook students as the program felt generalized since. Due to the intense academic culture as well as the stigmatized mental health struggles present at Lynbrook, it is necessary to address stress without trivializing student experiences.

Although it is important for students to learn to live with stress, administration and teachers should examine the root causes of excessive student stress. In addition to having students try to manage their own stress, teachers can help by reevaluating the necessary workload and listening to their students’ concerns, academic or otherwise.

Lynbrook administration continues to work to provide students with helpful and relevant information regarding managing stress levels by working with students and outside organizations. The beginnings of this mental wellness program at Lynbrook helped provide possible strategies and useful information on how to manage stress, but there were also aspects of the program that can be improved in the future. Students also need to be open to trying and using the strategies that they will learn.  

“It’s my hope that students will embark on something with an open mind and really give something as sincere [effort]. You’re too young to be closed. I just want to encourage students to be open and honest with their feedback,” principal Maria Jackson said.