International Stress Awareness Day

Guess the topic!

Before telling students what the topic of the lesson is, put them into 4 groups. Each group gets an envelope with 8 words and expressions related to stress:

fatigue / headache / loss of concentration / nervousness / erratic sleeping patterns / irritability / excessive sweating / difficulty in making decisions

Students have a think and try to guess the topic.

After coming up with the solution, you can share some information on International Stress Awareness Day. It is usually held on 2 November, but some countries might have it on another day, e.g. the U.S. (16 April). For more info on stress in schools:

Pre-reading True or False

Students get 9 statements in connection with the text they are going to read. In pairs or individually, they try to predict whether the statements are true or false. Get some feedback before moving on to the reading task.

Are the following statements true or false?

  1. Stress can take ten years off your life. T / F
  2. Stress decelerates the aging of our cells. T / F
  3. Stress makes us more prone to age-related diseases. T / F
  4. People with hectic lifestyles are more likely to live longer. T / F
  5. Our body’s system of cell reproduction gets faster because of stress. T / F
  6. We age because of something connected with our DNA called telomeres. T / F
  7. Having very short telomeres means we live longer. T / F
  8. Having children makes you die early. T / F
  9. We may soon be able to measure our stress levels. T / F

(Key: T F T F T T F F T)


Students read the text and check their solutions.

It’s official. Stress can take ten years off your life. That’s the conclusion from researchers at the University of California, who have been studying the effect of stress levels on the body. They found that stress accelerates the aging of our cells, which makes us more prone to age-related diseases. This is bad news for people with stressful jobs and hectic lifestyles, as they are more likely to die earlier than less-stressed people. It’s a message for us all to slow down and take things easier.

The researchers discovered in their tests that the system of cell reproduction and replacement, which of course keeps us going, becomes faster under duress. Each time a cell in our body is replaced, part of our DNA, called telomeres, shorten. When they become too short, cells cease reproducing and our bodies continue the aging process. This means longer telomeres lengthen our lives. Stress makes them shorter, and so we die prematurely. The simple message, therefore, is to take life easy.

Research leader, Dr. Elissa Epel, compared 39 women who looked after children with chronic illnesses with a ‘control’ group of 19 mothers of healthy children. The length of the life-giving telomeres was then measured in their blood. The women who had the more stressful task of caring for chronically ill children aged the equivalent of ten years compared with the other women. Their stress levels caused them to age faster. It has always been common knowledge that stress kills. Now we may soon be able to measure how dangerous our careers and lifestyles really are.

Collocation flip

Prepare flash cards with one part of the collocation on one side and the other part on the other side. Have students guess the missing part.

E.g. “take ten years __________” // “__________ off your life”

  • take ten years – off your life
  • conclusion from – researchers
  • more likely to – die earlier
  • cell – reproduction
  • aging – process
  • die – prematurely
  • common – knowledge
  • may soon – be able to


Rank the following ideas according to how much stress they mean to you. (1 = most stressful, 10 = least stressful)

  • _____ Christmas shopping
  • _____ writing assignments
  • _____ commuting
  • _____ money
  • _____ using social media
  • _____ watching/reading the news
  • _____ homework
  • _____ food in the canteen

Note: The previous four activities come from Breaking News English. Other online activities, listening at five speeds, multi-speed readings, dictation, speaking activities and printable handouts are available for this lesson at

Ping-pong debate

Divide the class into two groups. Write a statement on the board. Assign the pro and contra sides to the groups. Have students collect as many arguments as the members in each group. As in a ping-pong match, they “throw” arguments at each other but do not reflect in this round. Make sure everybody says one argument from the collected ones. After the first round, give them time to write down their reactions. Do a second round with the reactions in any kind of debate format.

Possible statements:

  • Stress always has negative effects.
  • Stress is always bad.
  • No one can live a stress-free life.
  • Stress always has a positive influence on students’ performance.


This unit was created with the contribution of Zsófia Jákli, a teacher trainee from Hungary.


2 Responses to International Stress Awareness Day

  1. Bill Templer October 21, 2016 at 5:26 pm #

    Students will hear the abbreviation PTSD and probably know its designation, post-traumatic stress disorder. Ask students to find out its causes. Where is it especially prevalent? How common is PTSD in everyday life where you teach?

    If you have ever been attacked and mugged on the street, or know someone who has, PTSD may occur after that attack. Or some other shocking personal experience. Doctors will prescribe medication that can help a person to cope with the nightmare. But it may be just that, a nightmare you experience. You replay the scene in your mind again and again.

    Among children and young adults living there normal lives, PTSD is extremely common in zones of warfare like Syria and Afghanistan, and under the Israeli blockade of the population of Gaza. Many who serve in military operations, in the American army and other defense forces, suffer afterward from PTSD. So one can talk about the ‘politics of stress’ in our world so full of unrest and oppression. Many who suffer from bullying because of their sexual identity, religion, ethnic background, also experience stress. In their case it may not be PTSD, but CTSD (Continuous TCD). Some spouses in married couples also experience CTSD, as learners may have observed.

    Regarding a conflict zone where stress is extremely high, read this article with students, on Gaza today: The author stresses it is not ‘post-traumatic’– the terrible event(s) in the past – but continuous, ongoing. Ask students to point out the main points in this article. Here a related article:

    Syrian refugees are plagued by very high levels of PTSD:

    Another factor driving stress that is highly political is the employment of drones, for example, today in Afghanistan and NE Pakistan, largely by the US military. Ask students to figure out what that is, part of the ‘sociopolitical topography of stress’. Most of us do not live in some place where deadly small pilotless airplanes appear regularly, targeting someone on the ground (and maybe accidentally you or a loved one).

    This article on Pakistan, “Drones causing mass trauma among civilians,” is worth presenting to students.

    This very recent video is titled ‘Living Benweath the Drones’—living-beneath-the-drones/4372086076001 It tells a very striking story of the psychological and physical impact of living beneath the threat of drone warfare in Afghanistan, leaving “catastrophic mental scars of war,” generating a sense of terror in everyday life for simple people. At min. 3:50 in the film you meet a former Afghan cook, Sadiqula, who was hit by a US drone strike ‘accidentally’ while working at his job in a hotel. It is very impressive as a brief report. This is ‘drone-induced stress’, including the ‘mental anguish of drones flying over your home’, a phenomenon of our turbulent times. Listen to the doctor discussing drone-PTSD and his many patients (from min. 12:15). ‘The silent threat from above’. How do students see such things perhaps far from their own lives?

    Most students in Europe, North America, Japan, China and 150+ other countries do not live under such stress levels in everyday life driven by modes of recurrent and endemic violence. So stress has a ‘social geography.’ Students should try to imagine the ‘social geography of stress’, even in their own countries. In my own home town of Chicago, there is a clear ‘urban social geography’ of stress – it is much greater in certain neighborhoods plagued by street gang warfare than in other parts of the city. Imagine living in a neighborhood where children can be shot playing in front of their house, accidentally caught up in gang war crossfire.

    If you think teachers don’t experience stress, explore this article: It claims 41% of UK teachers facing high levels of stress. What kinds of stress do you as teachers experience? Are students aware of ‘teacher stress’?

    This also a useful general article, more medical in orientation: Any human can experience stress. Also many of our fellow animals. Students can provide examples.

    Here in simple VOA Special English (suitable for low intermediate level) an artidle on ‘back-to-school stress’, which many learners will experience. Part 1:
    Here Part 2:

    Students can be asked: what is the difference between stress produced by examinations, heavy load at work, Christmas shopping, writing assignments, using social media, life with demanding parents —, and stress generated by the rising worldwide ‘epidemic’ of PTSD for many kids, their parents and families.

  2. Bill Templer November 25, 2016 at 12:01 pm #

    Today Nov. 25 is not only ‘Black Friday’ but also the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, organized by the UN

    Certainly relevant in terms of Gender Issues and more generally, and also a day that could be marked on this calendar. The article linked above is basic.


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