Van Gogh Museum
Bring Vincent van Gogh into your classroom

Mental Narratives: Stress and Pressure of Study

Mental Narratives: 
Stress and Pressure of Study
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Slide 1: Slide
Health & Social CareUpper Secondary (Key Stage 4)Further Education (Key Stage 5)Higher Education (degree)Lower Secondary (Key Stage 3)BTEC, GCSE

This lesson contains 21 slides, with interactive quizzes, text slides and 1 video.

time-iconLesson duration is: 45 min


Using Vincent van Gogh’s work and life story, and a film by Mentale Thee, the students will explore the subject of ‘stress and pressure of study’. Propositions and assignments will be used to prompt discussion, to enable them to reflect and determine their own view.


General goals
- To prompt discussion of ‘stress and pressure of study’.
- To get to know Vincent van Gogh.

Link with curriculum
- The subject of this lesson is suitable for tutor group sessions.

- This lesson can be combined with the lessons on friendship and asking for help, sad feelings and courage.
- Feel free to give the lesson as you see fit, adapting it to suit the level and age of your students. Slides may be omitted or added.

• The students can use their mobile or another device to read the propositions and questions. The lesson can also be given without the use of mobiles.
• Pen and paper.
• Maybe headphones/earphones

Mental narratives
How do you get students talking about subjects like stress, courage, asking for help and sad feelings? And how do you shape the discussion? We have developed four lessons based on the art and life of Vincent van Gogh to help you start a discussion on these subjects and explore them further. The videos feature Maren Porte and Sanne Haak from the Mentale Thee (‘Mental Tea’) podcast talking to their peers about these subjects. The lessons have been developed with academic experts, and people who have personal experience of these issues.

Items in this lesson

Mental Narratives: 
Stress and Pressure of Study

Slide 1 - Slide

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Vincent van Gogh

Slide 2 - Mind map

Question: What do you know about Vincent van Gogh?

Practical instructions: The students may answer using their mobile. If you prefer to give the lesson without using mobiles, the answers can be written on the smartboard (click on the pencil icon).

Then introduce the subject of the lesson, incorporating the students’ answers.
Who is this?
This is a portrait of Vincent van Gogh painting sunflowers. It was made by his friend, the artist Paul Gauguin.

Slide 3 - Slide

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What would you say Vincent’s mood is in this picture?

Slide 4 - Mind map

The students can answer individually on their device, or by raising their hand.
Discuss their answers. Have the students explain how they arrived at their answer. Ask: how can you see that Vincent is in a ….. mood? (e.g. the look in his eyes, the set of his mouth, his posture, but also use of colour). There are no right or wrong answers.

Vincent’s response
Vincent later wrote of this portrait: ‘My face has lit up after all a lot since, but it was indeed me, extremely tired and charged with electricity as I was then.’
The artist who painted Vincent’s portrait, Paul Gauguin, lived with him at the Yellow House in Arles (in the South of France) for two months. Vincent dreamed of establishing a ‘southern studio’ there where he would create innovative art together with other artists. In the end, only Paul Gauguin came.
Vincent and Paul had heated discussions about how painters should work. Vincent liked to paint reality: things he could actually see. Paul usually painted things in his mind, things either remembered or imagined. Vincent had high expectations of living and working together, but he was disappointed, and that caused stress and tension. When Vincent cut off his ear after yet another argument, Paul left Arles.

Slide 5 - Slide

Briefly discuss: Can the students see signs of the mood Vincent described in the portrait?
Vincent’s family
Vincent was the oldest son of a respected pastor, a minister in the church. His family had high expectations for his future, so he was under pressure to do things right. But Vincent did not finish high school, and at 16 he started working for an uncle who was an art dealer. He worked for him in several places: The Hague, London and Paris. But after a few years, he felt the job was not right for him. Vincent was fired and for a while he worked as an unpaid teaching assistant at a boys’ school in England. He then thought he would become a pastor, like his father, and for a while he worked as a priest in a poor mining community in Belgium. But he was unsuccessful there, which not only caused Vincent stress, but also his family. In fact, his parents were sometimes ashamed of him because he did not behave as people expected him to.
Vincent’s brother
Vincent had three younger sisters and two younger brothers. As the oldest brother, he gave them advice on all kinds of things: what they should read, how to deal with their parents, love... But at some point this changes=d. When Vincent’s life did not turn out as expected, his brother Theo (see photo) took over the role of ‘responsible son and brother’. Theo became a successful art dealer and helped his brothers and sisters with advice and money. 
In the 19th century the Netherlands was a class-based society. Your status depended on your place on the ‘social ladder’. If you were already high up the ladder, it was a disgrace to end up lower. It was better to go higher, of course. This meant that you had to choose a respectable profession, for example, equal to that of your parents, or better. And of course you had to marry someone from the same class, or higher.
Vincent himself
Vincent did not decide to become an artist until he was 27. He did not train at art college, but learnt from other artists and, above all, by practising a lot. Vincent had no other source of income, and received money each month from his younger brother Theo. In exchange, he sent him drawings and paintings, hoping that Theo could earn the money back later by selling them.
Vincent’s place in the world
Vincent’s high expectations of himself were not the only things that caused him stress. At that time, in the 19th century, society also expected certain things of him. This put him under a lot of pressure. Look at the circles of influence surrounding Vincent.
In Vincent’s day it was important to marry someone from the same or a higher class. Vincent fell deeply in love a number of times and had a number of relationships, but he never married. His family thought his choice of partner was inappropriate, and made sure that he knew it.

Slide 6 - Slide

First discuss the context, then the information in the hotspots.
'What I want and set as my goal is damned difficult, and yet I don’t believe I’m aiming too high. 
Vincent wrote:

Slide 7 - Slide

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What expectations do you think your friends have of you?
Nowadays, expectations still play a big role when it comes to stress and social pressure.
Take artists such as Stromae, for example, or professional athletes like American gymnast Simone Biles. However, people outside the limelight also experience stress and social pressure. Maybe you do too.
What are your expectations of yourself?
Do your family expect certain things of you?
Do you also encounter certain expectations when it comes to love?
What expectations do you think society has of you?
What kind of expectations does your school have of you?

Slide 8 - Slide

Optional: have the students think about/write down what is expected of them in each category, or ask them to choose one. 
Stress comes mainly from other people.

Slide 9 - Poll

Optional: Have the students answer on their device.

Optional: Have the students respond by standing if they agree, and remaining seated if they disagree.

Have the students debate the proposition, either in pairs or with the whole class.

Slide 10 - Video

Film: duration 3.13 min.
Do you ever experience stress or pressure of study?

Slide 11 - Poll

The students should answer this question for themselves.
Then: check in pairs.
Which of the three young
people here do you identify
with most, on the basis of
what they say?
Which one do you connect with?
The person on the left
The person in the middle
The person on the right

Slide 12 - Quiz

Students should answer this question individually.
Then discuss briefly with the whole class.
Which of them would
you wish you could
be like?
Which one do you connect with?
The person on the left
The person in the middle
The person on the right

Slide 13 - Quiz

NB: this is about their qualities (not their appearance).

Students should answer this question individually.

Then discuss briefly with the whole class.
How could you become
more like them?

Slide 14 - Open question

Check in pairs.
Could you help each
other with that?

Slide 15 - Open question

Think, share, exchange ideas in small groups (4 to 6 students) 
What do you think makes the people around you stressed?

Slide 16 - Mind map

Optional: Students answer this question individually, then discuss some of their answers with the whole class.
Do you ever say, just before a test:
'I haven’t revised'?

Slide 17 - Poll

Optional: Have students stand for ‘yes’ and remain seated for ‘no’.
How do others respond? And why
do you think that is?

Slide 18 - Open question

These two questions can be discussed by the whole class.
Exercise: Keep all the balls in the air
Step 1
Take a sheet of paper. What things are causing you stress at the moment? Write them down. Draw a circle around each one, to make balls. Vary the size of the circles if that feels right, with a big circle for lots of stress, and a smaller one for less stress.
Do you ever feel like there are too many demands on you? Demands from yourself and/or others?
Step 2
Think who could help you with each ball. Write their name beside the ball. 
Vincent’s example

Slide 19 - Slide

Please note: we’re interested in right now. In a few months’ time there might be completely different things in the circles. 
What would help you most right now? Choose one of these options:
Stay on top of things and make a schedule
Make a list of things you have to do in the next two weeks. Which of the activities are affected by the stress factors you wrote down? Mark those. Do you think you might need more time for them? You might be able to spread them out a bit more. Think about what would work best for you. Try to write everything as clearly as possible, so you know straight away what you have to do when you read it.
A calm mind: meditation video
It can sometimes help to be quiet for a moment and empty your mind. A meditation video can help. Follow the instructions and try to focus and relax with this mindfulness meditation video.

Slide 20 - Slide

Students can make a list alone or in groups of 2 or 3.

The mindfulness video is an independent activity.

What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is about being present in the here and now, and being fully aware of what you are experiencing in this moment. Mindfulness is good for you, helps you deal with difficulties in life and improves your mental health and wellbeing.
Talk some more?
  • Tutor/teacher
  • Counsellor
  • Pastoral care coordinator
  • Someone you trust
  • GP/school doctor
  • Mind / YoungMinds

Slide 21 - Slide

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