Address That Stress

Why do we feel stressed out?

It’s totally normal to feel stressed out! Maybe it’s hard to sleep the night before a big test at school, or you feel a little shaky before a big game. Stress can help us respond better in the face of an emergency, but it can be an uncomfortable feeling during daily life.

One way to calm ourselves down when we are feeling overwhelmed is to focus on breathing and distract our brains. Having a stress ball can help remind you to slow down, breathe, and relax.

• Identify what is happening in the brain during stress and how it affects the body
• Create a stress ball to use to help focus on breathing during times of worry or stress
Key Vocabulary: Stress, brain, brain waves

Facilitator Background:

The Neuroscience Behind Stress

  • Brainwaves are produced by electrical pulses from neurons communicating with each other
  • During a stressful event, the brain sends distress signals to alert the body of danger, creating most of the physical stress responses we are familiar with, including:
    • increased heart rate
    • rush of adrenaline
    • deeper oxygen intake
    • heightened senses.
  • The body also produces increased cortisone, a hormone that helps replace all the energy lost from the event. When the stressful event is over, the level of cortisone drops and the body returns back to normal – this quick change adds to the intense feelings in the body.
  • Although we don’t have control over the chemical response, there are things we can do with our bodies to relieve stress, reduce cortisone levels, and relax. These include:
    • Focused breathing techniques
    • Mindfulness/meditation
    • Journaling
    • Taking a bath or shower
    • Listening to music
    • Guided visualization
    • Yoga
    • Going for a walk with a friend or family member
    • And more!

Kid Friendly Language:

  • The brain controls all of our feelings and actions – it does this by sending “messages” to other parts of the brain and the body.
  • During an emergency, the brain helps us prepare by sending lots of messages telling us to breathe faster, tense up muscles, and make your pulse faster – all things that would help us survive if we had to flee or respond to danger.
  • When we are feeling stressed out, our brains send those same messages that make our bodies feel really active.
  • There are other chemicals in the brain during stress that increase our energy. That’s why it’s normal to feel things in your body when you are stressed out, like your heart beating faster. It’s all from different messages being sent in the brain.
  • Everyone feels stress differently. Your stomach might hurt, or you might have trouble sleeping. These are all normal, but you can always ask your teacher, parent, caregiver or another adult for help.
  • There are things we can do to change the messages like:
    • Yoga or meditation
    • Using a calm down jar
    • Taking a walk
    • Talking to a friend, a sibling, or a loved one
    • Chewing gum or playing with play-dough
    • What else works for you?

Key Questions


  • Two balloons (clear or jewel toned balloons work well – just be sure there are no latex allergies) OR one medical glove
  • Water beads (soaked in water for 12-24 hours prior to the activity) OR a different filling (see below)
  • Scissors
  • Empty clean plastic water bottle
  • Recommended: funnel

Activity Plan

  1. The night before the experiment, soak a teaspoon of water beads in 2 cups of water overnight. Don’t forget the beads expand exponentially, so make sure they are in a container or large Ziploc with plenty of space. When you are ready to do the activity, pour of any excess water from the beads.
  2. Connect to prior knowledge:
    1. Ask: What are some things that make you feel stressed?
    2. Explain: Stress is a normal part of our lives! Our brains control everything we do by sending different kinds of messages – When we are feeling relaxed, our brain sends one kind of message. But if we are worried about something, it’s a different kind that can make our bodies start feeling different things, like our heart might beat a little faster, or we might sweat a little. One of the things we can do to feel a little better and change the messages our brains are sending is focus on breathing or squish a stress ball.
  3. Pour the beads into the empty plastic bottle.
  4. Stretch the mouth of the balloon over the bottle, turn the bottle upside down, and squeeze the beads into the balloon until it is about fist sized.
  5. Carefully pinch the end of the balloon and slide the bottle out. Be careful because the beads will want to escape and come out of the balloon!
  6. Tie a strong knot and trim the excess.
  7. Stretch a second balloon over the whole stress ball. Tie another knot and trim the excess.
  8. Practice using the ball while taking big, deep breaths. Breathe in through your mouth and feel your belly fill with air, then slowly let it out through your nose.

The stress ball will last about two weeks before the water comes out of the beads. When they start losing water, it is time to make a new stress ball. Also, please be aware that the balloon may split with excess use.

To make a stress ball hand, follow steps 1-3. Then, fill the medical glove with water beads until it is 3/4 full. Tie a strong knot at the top and gently squeeze the stress ball hand.

There are lots of alternatives to water beads for stress ball fillings! You could try:
            – baking soda mixed with hair conditioner
            – flour
            – cornstarch and water
            – uncooked rice or beans

As with all activities, adult supervision is strongly recommended. Water beads should not be ingested.

Follow-Up Questions

  • What have you heard about stress or worry?
  • What are some things that make you feel better when you are stressed?

Extension Activities

Check it out!