As a teacher, you expect to have plenty of terrible, horrible, very bad, no good days. But, the last year with COVID has increased your stress level to full capacity. Thankfully, you can use the following 10 ways to alleviate stress and relax. You deserve it!
1. Practice mindfulness.
“Mindfulness, or the act of noticing how we feel in the present moment, presses pause on our reactive actions and creates space for us to choose more intentionally how we want to respond to our stress,” says Dr. Ellie Cobb, holistic psychologist, and mindfulness and meditation teacher.
“Breathing intentionally with long deep breaths or with alternate nostril breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, allowing the body to release and relax. When the body’s nervous system relaxes, it also calms the mind,” Cobb says.
Best of all? Mindfulness can be done at any time, anywhere. Just know that this does require patience and consistency.
2. Breathe like a Navy Seal.
It’s common for your senses to overload when in the classroom. When this happens, your heart rate climbs, and your mind races. While in this state, it can become a challenge to focus on anything else.
To counter this, try four-square breathing. Also known as box breathing, this is a technique used by Navy Seals to assist them in lowering their physical stress response and regain control.
To practice this breathing exercise, breathe in deeply for four seconds. Next, exhale for four seconds. Repeat this pattern for about 2 to 3 minutes.
3. Break down big tasks.
“Break down whatever you have to do into smaller tasks,” suggests Meg Bozzone for Scholastic. “If you have to tackle a beast, carve it into nibble-sized hors d'oeuvres.”
4. Protect your time.
Before making a commitment, review your calendar If it’s already full of plans, meetings, social events, or doctor’s appointments then just say no. “Politely refuse to take on more projects than you can handle, even if a colleague, your principal, or a parent asks you to,” says Bozzone.
Also, mark off a couple of hours each week just for you.
5. Get distracted.
“Distractions are often seen as a bad thing. And, in some cases, that’s 100% true,” we previously write. “Think about texting while driving, reorganizing your desk to delay work, or indulging in unhealthy habits like alcohol or substance abuse.
“However, distractions can also be a good thing when they’re conscious and healthy.” In fact, distractions can “make you feel better, rekindle your spark, and help you combat negative feelings and unhealthy habits.” Some suggestions would be;
Getting up and stretching
Reading or listening to a podcast
Composing a gratitude list
Reciting mantras and affirmations
Cleaning and organizing your desk
Playing a game
Planning a vacation
Meeting up with friends or family
6. Know when to unplug and rest.
“These days we are all so connected at every moment of every day,” writes Alyssa from Teaching in the Fast Lane. “Between laptops, tablets, cell phones, and everything else we are almost always reachable, and that can be a good thing or bad.”
“When I really want to relax I turn it all off,” she adds. “I put my phone in do not disturb, I turn off the TV, I have even been known to unplug the wireless router to remove all temptation.”
“By unplugging I am able to get back to my roots,” says Alyssa. “I read a book, go outside, play with my dog, and just be me. Screen time can be a dangerous thing when we are already overwhelmed by life, so while it has its place, it feels amazing to turn it off.”
It’s also suggested that you avoid all screens at least an hour or two before bed to improve the quality of your sleep.
The happiest teachers also “know when to stop and rest,” Alyssa says. “This might mean saying that enough has been done that day so you go home and take a nap. It could also mean making sure you go to bed before the last load of laundry is folded. Or, deciding to stay in bed “on a Sunday when you could be up and cutting out laminate.
7. Put yourself first.
As a teacher, you’re often putting yourself last. But, engaging in self-care is a proven way to lower stress and keep you mentally and physically healthy.
“These are things that most of us neglect because they may seem too luxurious,” says Dr. Susan Grace, a psychotherapist who works for the New York City Department of Education. “Going for a massage would certainly fall into this category. You could take an extra-long shower, or even take a bath and use some nice aromatherapy product. You could give yourself a foot massage.”
“From a cognitive standpoint, they relay the message that it is OK to be self-compassionate. They say, ‘I can be loving and generous to myself.’”
8. Practice emotional first aid.
“You put a bandage on a cut or take antibiotics to treat an infection, right?,” asks psychologist Guy Winch “No questions asked. In fact, questions would be asked if you didn’t apply first aid when necessary.”
“So why isn’t the same true of our mental health? We are expected to just ‘get over’ psychological wounds — when as anyone who’s ever ruminated over rejection or agonized over a failure knows only too well, emotional injuries can be just as crippling as physical ones,” he adds.
As such, he suggests that you practice emotional first aid by;
Pay attention to emotional pain — recognize it when it happens and work to treat it before it feels all-encompassing.
Redirect your gut reaction when you fail.
Monitor and protect your self-esteem. When you feel like putting yourself down, take a moment to be compassionate to yourself.
When negative thoughts are taking over, disrupt them with positive distraction.
Find meaning in loss.
Don’t let excessive guilt linger.
Learn what treatments for emotional wounds work for you.
“Yes, practicing emotional hygiene takes a little time and effort, but it will seriously elevate your entire quality of life,” says Winch. And, he promises that.
9. Stay in close touch with nature.
“Talk to classroom pets, take a class outdoors if weather and school policy permit it, open the windows at snack time, find a way to incorporate the change of seasons and nature walks into your curriculum,” recommends Bozzone.
Another idea? “Take a walk during lunch, a planning period, or after school,” she adds. “During your walk, don't think about the things you have to do.”
10. Embrace the stress.
Health psychologist Kelly McGonigal says that instead of viewing stress as an enemy, make it your friend.
“That pounding heart is preparing you for action,” she said during a TED Talk. “If you're breathing faster, it's no problem. It's getting more oxygen to your brain.” More interesting was that study “participants who learned to view the stress response as helpful for their performance” were less stressed out, less anxious, and more confident.
The study also found that even though their heart rate increased, “when participants viewed their stress response as helpful, their blood vessels stayed relaxed.”
11. Make a connection.
McGonigal has also conducted research that shows that your body releases oxytocin when you connect with someone else.
Teachers, as you already know, already spend much of their time doing this. But, this is a reminder of the importance of cultivating relationships with your fellow teachers, family, friends, and neighbors.
12. Ask for help.
Finally, when you need it, don’t hesitate to ask for help. It’s not a sign of weakness. Asking a fellow teacher for advice, as an example, will make you become a better teacher. And, if the amount of stress in your life is interesting with you personally or professionally, make an appointment with a mental health professional.