I typically begin my stress management programs with a conversation about how absurd it is to classify these abilities under “stress management”. I use this term because it is widely known, and, for the moment at least, it gives my groups a jumping off point in terms of expectations for our coaching time together. More literally, we work on ways to manage our internal (thoughts and feelings) and external (behaviors) response to stress. For people like us, educators, we need to strengthen our ability to practice stress relief BEFORE we feel stressed and implement coping strategies on the regular. I’ve identified 6 key ways for teachers to manage stress, remain calm in high stress situations and remain centered.
Stress Management for Teachers, #1: Begin each day with a centering activity. Think short and sweet. I:
· sit in my office chair, door closed, lights off, eyes closed.
· Inhale deeply, filling my lungs low in my diaphragm, and think to myself - You are calm, You are calm, You are calm (three times total)
· Exhale and think - You are strong, You are strong, You are strong (three times total)
· Repeat at least 3 times
Beginning each day in this way sets the tone for me. I switch up my internal mantra depending on what kind of encouragement I need for the day, but 9 times out of 10 it’s calm and strong.
Stress Management for Teachers, #2: Set Boundaries that include asking for help when needed and saying NO occasionally. As a teacher, you’re a super hero in my book, but let’s be realistic, you can do a lot of things, but you can’t do everything, and truly you shouldn’t try. You need a break, you need support just like everyone else. Keep in mind that boundaries are different from limits. Limits are final, unchangeable. Boundaries are firm, but flexible. They allow for some movement and finagling when needed. It’s still a good idea to have them and work to keep them. A couple of my boundaries include:
· I conclude looking at email or my phone after 8pm until I wake up the next morning
· I have a snack midday, which I eat sans technology, paperwork, or conversations/thoughts about what I need to finish before the end of the school day.
Stress Management for Teachers, #3: Increase your movement throughout the day. I kinda love that activity trackers and step counters have become so popular. I’ve been on several campuses where teachers and staff have weekly competition to see who can rack up the most steps. Include others in your quest for exercise, get a couple friends together and walk around the school building, parking lot, gym during lunch or break time. Exercise is great for stress reduction. It doesn’t have to be strenuous, you don’t have to work up a sweat; just move it.
Stress Management for Teachers, #4: Practice identifying those pesky negative thought patterns. I think of stress like the person eating flower from theLittle Shop of Horrors movie. That flower needed to eat people in order to continue to grow and thrive. Stress needs nourishment too, and our thoughts and even behaviors can feed it’s cravings. When I feel anxious, I notice because my thoughts start to race, I feel nervous, jittery, like I must keep moving, my thoughts begin to become all or nothing – I’m never going to finish this, I always let this student down, I never figure out how to solve this problem. These thoughts feed right into my stress level, helping it remain healthy and grow. Stopping to take a breath, realizing that this process is happening begins to break down the strength that stress has over me in those moments. I find that taking a moment to go back to my centering activity (see item #1 from this list) then making a priority list of 2-3 things that I can begin to work through is helpful in starving that stress and taking back control over my ability to feel calm.
The key to stress management is staying consistent with strategies EVERYDAY, not just in moments of high stress. Pick a few strategies to work into the beginning, middle and end of each school day. How does this effect your ability to manage stressful situations in school AND at home?