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Making sense of stress

IB graduate and educator Eleni Vardaki continues her series on creating a dialogue about stress. She recently sat down with University College London student Eleonora Levis to explore strategies for managing stress. Story and interview below.


by Eleni Vardaki

Ever had one of your Diploma Programme (DP) students come to you, heartbroken at having received a rejection from their first-choice university? Or they go missing for a week, as they’re so upset that they can’t make it into school after hearing the news?

I’ve been working for over 10 years now, and I know full-well that one’s success in work and life has nothing to do with if you got into your first or second university choice as an undergraduate. As Emmanouela Stamataki, one of my colleagues, said to her second year IB students (we call them IB2s), some of whom are also learning how to make sense of rejections: if she hadn’t gotten rejected, she wouldn’t have gone on to study Psychology and become a Psychology teacher – which she loves.

But no matter how much conversational effort we put into helping our IB2s process the pain of having the bubble of a dream burst through an application rejection, it can still feel like something is missing.

As an educator, I’m always on the look-out for meaningful resources that discuss university, work, and life goals, as I believe in the importance of pastoral care and bridging the gap between mainstream education and work/life skills. And when I can’t find any that address the precise emotional pain-points that cause IB students stress, I love to create them.

Complaining and communicating are two sides of the same coin–the former destructive…the latter is constructive

What’s beautiful about the interview with Eleonora is that it developed very organically. I had no idea what Eleonora was going to say before we started filming; she just came over to my humble little home studio one afternoon We talked about her experience of making sense of the stress of the IB diploma, now that she can look back on it, one year later as an undergraduate student at University College London (UCL).

So when, halfway through the interview, Eleonora uttered the words – with passion and conviction –  that “I would definitely do the whole thing again, because the IB was an amazing experience”…I knew this was an important message that IB diploma students around the world would benefit from.

Because making sense of stress can sometimes be hard to achieve, and the failure to do so can lead some Diploma students or graduates to blame their sorrows on the IB program being at fault, and complaining about how much they “hate doing the IB”.

Yet a deeper issue underlying these complaints is the need to learn how to manage the stress of a very high workload, and to experiment with coping strategies for how to deal with stress in a positive and healthy way, as opposed to resorting to destructive behaviours such as drinking, smoking or drugs. The stress-related behaviours that teachers and parents more commonly see in their children or students, particularly at the peak of stress in IB2, are an increase in moaning, complaining and blaming others.

I believe complaining and communicating are two sides of the same coin – the former is destructive towards relationships, while the latter is constructive. We want to train our youths to deal with emotional pain in a more constructive way – a skill they will most certainly need  to help them navigate the challenges of 21st-century work and life.

Perhaps something we could do, as educators and as schools, is to introduce more stress management, time management, and confidence training programs into the pastoral care curriculum, both before and during the DP. Or at least to share videos like these with our diploma students, where successful IB graduates communicate a positive, practical, healthy attitude towards how to make sense of the stress of the IB. You can share videos like this with your students during homeroom time or even in assemblies.


Eleni Vardaki is a DP graduate turned IB teacher with a Masters from the University of Cambridge. She’s taught more than 300 IB diploma candidates since 2012 in her roles as a TOK and IB History teacher. Her work life is now split between continuing to teach some IB and IGCSE History students part-time at a local IB school, and her freelance work. She works with youths who want to learn how to focus more, stress less and motivate themselves. For more information, go to elenivardaki.com.

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