According to the American Psychological Association (2015), 75% of people in the workforce have experienced at least one symptom of stress in the last month.
Chances are though, if you’re a teacher, you experience stress on a daily basis. Stressors come from maintaining discipline in the classroom, a lack of support from parents and the administration, a lack of time, juggling classroom demands with family life, financial worries, and more!
So, what can we do as teachers to cope with the stress we have on a daily basis? Truthfully, there is no magic wand. There is no magical unicorn to bundle it up and take it away, but there are things we can do on a regular basis to lessen the stress and to help us cope in ways that are good for our mental outlook as well as our health.
Here are five ways that I’ve found to help cope with stress:
As teachers, we have a lot on our plate…lesson planning, grading, meetings, paperwork, and decisions, decisions, decisions, all day long. Many of us were drawn into the field of teaching because it fits the caretaker part of our personality so well. We are the nurturers. The ones who want to make a difference in the world by positively impacting the children in our classrooms. All of this is good, no…it’s great! The reality is, though, that we can’t do everything, not at one time, at least.
So, we need to make a conscious effort to look at the bazillion things we do and see which ones are the most important and which ones can we let go of. Not because we are lazy but because we are human. We need to figure out ways to work smarter and not harder.
For example, when I first started teaching, I thought EVERYTHING needed to be graded, and I was killing myself to do it. Later, I learned that sometimes the process is what’s important and that, sure, some things need to be graded, but not everything. Just that simple change in mindset reduced my stress more than I can say.
The truth is that we can be really good teachers without trying to live up to the superhero image of the perfect teacher. To prioritize, we need to focus on the MOST important things in our classroom and also at home, and we need to weed out some of the things that we can remove.
This takes some soul searching and some reflection but when we get rid of the things that are not crucial, we see more clearly what matters and that makes everything easier to handle.
2. Learn to Say No
Okay…right now, I am preaching to the choir. I think this one may be the most difficult for me, but it’s super important. Besides the things we know we need to take care of in the classroom, teachers are often asked to do “extra” things.
These extra things may be as seemingly simple as letting the Girl Scouts meet in your classroom every Wednesday, organizing the school talent show, or being the coach for cross country. And sure, none of these sound like a big deal at face value, but when you add anything extra to an already full plate, it becomes very stressful.
So, if you’re able to muster the strength to smile and politely say you’re sorry, but you won’t be able to do x, y, or z… you will have just decreased your stress. Not saying that it’s easy to say no and sometimes we don’t even have a choice in the matter (principal pets have it the worst, I think), but if it is something that you can decline, be brave and say no.
People-pleasers like me know this is not easy, but the more you do it, the better you become.
3. Get Support
One of the best ways to reduce our stress comes from sharing our day-to-day challenges with a friend. Some of my best friends have actually been teachers and usually teachers who teach next door to me. Having a friendship where you are able to share means a lot., particularly when you find a friend who understands what it means to teach day in and day out, with all of its highs, as well as its lows.
I know that you may not find a teacher buddy at your current school, but I’m hoping that if you don’t have someone at your school site, then maybe you can share with a friend (online friends can be great too!) or a family member who cares enough to let you vent without judging you for it.
We may love what we do most of the time, but that doesn’t make it easy. Rather than bottling up all of our feelings and internalizing them, which may lead to health issues, sharing them is a way to let them go, or at least to lessen their impact on us.
4. Exercise – Get Moving!
If just the thought of finding time to exercise stresses you out…I totally get it. As teachers finding time to work out can be really tough, but the benefits of exercise are so great that once you find time to squeeze it in, I’m betting you’ll keep doing it.
Exercise doesn’t have to be spending time at the gym, although that’s good too. There are lots of ways to be active without traditional exercises. Taking a walk with the dog, bicycle riding with your kids, playing soccer in the backyard, doing a Zumba class on DVD, or walking around the track with another teacher are all easy things you can do to physiologically get rid of stress and boost your mood by releasing endorphins.
An added benefit of regular movement is that it burns calories, and who doesn’t want that?
5. Treat Yourself
This is a hard one because we often put everyone else’s needs above our own. After work, we may come home to husbands and wives or kids we haven’t seen all day, and we, as caregivers, want to make sure everyone is taken care of before we take care of ourselves. We may have dinner to prepare, we may have kids’ homework to supervise, and laundry that needs to be done. We may even have a fully loaded teacher bag staring at us with papers that have taken the round trip to and from school a few times and really do need to be graded.
As a mom of two kids, yes…there are certain things that we need to do, but after those things are done, it’s time to treat yourself in some way. Whether it’s big or small, make sure to treat yourself. Be as good to yourself as you are to your students and to your family. Treat yourself as one of the ones that need nurturing. If you don’t, who will?
So, what kind of things can you do to treat yourself? That will vary depending on what you like and what makes you happy. It might be changing into pajamas as soon as you get home, running a bubble bath with candles, having a glass of wine, reading a book in bed, watching a movie with your cat/dog/partner, planning a girl’s/guy’s night out, getting take-out for dinner…The possibilities are endless.
Maybe you can’t do something every night, but could you treat yourself every other night? Could you at least treat yourself twice a week? For some of us, even twice a week would be a start. By taking your mind off of the stressors, even for a short time, it’s like being able to bring your arms down after trying to hold them up for so long. It is needed, and you deserve it.
Need some easy ideas to recharge? I wrote a post called 50 Self-Care Ideas for Stressed Out Teachers that might be helpful!
Hang in there teacher friends, and do take care of yourself!