Life Compass
Stress Tests of Character

Lesson Plan #3

What is a Stress Test of Character?

To help students understand that stress is a normal human response — and that the choices we make when we encounter stressful circumstances help build our character.


Ask students to write about the following questions:

  • What is stress and what does it feel like?
  • What causes you stress?
  • Can stress be helpful?
After taking a few responses, emphasize the following points.   

Stress can affect our brain and our body, our thoughts, and our emotions.

Stress rarely feels good, but it is natural, normal, and can help you in the following ways:
  • It’s the brain's alarm system, alerting you to threats and preparing you to meet them.
  • It can give you an extra boost of energy — just like excitement — before you face a challenge.
  • It can prompt you to fight, flee, or freeze in the face of real danger.
  • It can motivate you to plan your time, to work hard, to seek help, to connect with others, to try new solutions.
  • It can remind you of what you care about. For example, feeling stress about an audition can be a sign that drama or music matters to you; feeling upset over losing an object reminds us that it’s important to us. 
Stress is normal and sometimes protective. But when too much of it floods our system, it’s like a storm, and it can affect our ability to reason, to keep things in perspective, to thoughtfully problem-solve.


Stop, Think, Write:
Do you act your best when you are stressed? Have you ever made a choice you regretted when you felt upset or anxious? 

How we react under stress reveals a lot about our character.  We may strive to be a kind and respectful person, but if we always lose our temper at others when something doesn’t go our way, we know we still have work to do in that area!  We may strive to be a diligent student, but if we regularly neglect our studies when life gets busy or overwhelming, then we need to look for ways to strengthen our tenacity. 

Have you ever seen a jar filled with glitter?  That’s what your brain feels like during a stress response. 

As a class, brainstorm strategies that help “settle the glitter” during stressful moments. These might include:
  • Deep breathing 
  • Exercise
  • Talking to someone you trust
  • Meditation/prayer/stillness
  • Art or music
  • Time in nature (such as a walk outside)
Our aim is to consistently make choices that are in keeping with the type of person we want to become — even when we are under pressure. Try practicing these tools when you aren’t in a “stress storm,” so that you can draw on them more easily when you are.


Write a Personal Resilience Story. 
Think about a time when you were resilient in the face of stress — a time where you encountered something difficult and came out stronger. 

  • What was the challenge you faced?
  • What strengths and strategies helped you handle the situation?
  • How did you grow as a result of navigating this experience?

The Stress Tests of Character curriculum was made possible with the generous support of a grant from the Kern Family Foundation and our partnership with the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues.

Copyright © 2020 LifeCompass Institute for Character & Leadership. All rights reserved.

For more information on this and other resources, visit The LifeCompass Institute.