Reduce Stress During the School Day With These Self-Care Tips for Teachers
Teaching is a highly rewarding job, but molding young minds day in and day out also comes with lots of stress. It comes with more stress than most other jobs, actually, as teachers and school leaders are more than twice as likely to be stressed as other working adults.
There is no shortage of advice on how to reduce stress, but that advice doesn't seem to work. The internet is full of articles with well-meaning advice that doesn't quite hit the mark. From taking hot baths to doing yoga and getting a massage, a lot of advice focuses on recharging after school with vague ideas that can be hard to implement. The result is that teachers are still stressed out and leaving the profession in record numbers.
This list strives to tackle self-care from a different perspective.
These stress-busting tips focus on actual things you can do during the school day to fight feelings of burnout so you can keep showing up for your students every day as your best self.
Take Five Minutes to Breathe the Right Way
We've all heard advice that centers on remembering to breathe. It can be frustrating because breathing is something each and every one of us already do. But knowing the right way to breathe at the right time can make all the difference in whether or not you feel overwhelmed by stress during the school day.
Short, shallow breathing promotes feelings of anxiety. That's why this type of breathing is associated with panic attacks. It can also impair immune function and cause fatigue, and it can even be a precursor for cardiovascular issues.
Deep, diaphragmatic breathing does the opposite. It engages the parasympathetic nervous system, which is what tells us we're safe. It slows our heart rate and creates feelings of calm and well-being.
Every time you start to feel stressed, overwhelmed, or anxious, take a second to breathe in through your nose. Focus on feeling your stomach expand as you breathe in for between four and six seconds.
Then, slowly exhale for another four or six seconds, repeating these simple steps as many times as it takes to feel relief.
The best thing about this tip is that it can literally be done at any moment of the day, even if you're in the middle of a lesson or you're in a meeting.
Take an Actual Lunch
No one's lunch is more hectic than a teacher's lunch. You might start with 30 minutes, but by the time you deal with student issues, check your mailbox, take a peek at your email, answer a phone call, and try to polish up a lesson, you haven't had a chance to decompress from the morning or go to the bathroom, let alone nourish your body.
Your lunch gives you the chance to set the tone for the afternoon. Unfortunately, most teachers have a hectic lunch, which means a hectic afternoon is right around the corner.
Strive to reclaim as much of your lunchtime as you can. Avoid taking your lunch in your classroom, where you will be tempted to get some work done. Eat in the teacher's lounge or in your car if you need a few moments to yourself.
If you have the bandwidth, try spearheading duty-free lunch breaks at your school. Chances are, other teachers feel the same way you do and would be willing to work out a system that ensures every teacher gets their full 30 minutes for lunch.
Stop Rushing Around
No one walks with more purpose than teachers. That's because there is always somewhere a teacher needs to be, whether it's attending a meeting or picking up their students from specials.
Hurry sickness is a real thing that creates a constant sense of urgency that tanks feelings of well-being and increases feelings of stress. And the truth is, there often isn't really a reason to hurry so much. You're probably only saving a few seconds by power-walking to that meeting or the lunch room to pick up your students.
Make it a point to slow down and walk from place to place at an unhurried pace. By slowing down physically, you'll notice your thoughts slow down, too, which is great for feelings of well-being and increased productivity.
Create Meaningful Boundaries
Boundaries are hard, because although they make life better for you, they often make life more inconvenient for others. It's easier to avoid confrontation and not have boundaries at all, but that's a recipe for burnout.
The question is, what exactly do boundaries look like for teachers?
Protecting your lunchtime is a great example of a boundary that all teachers should strive to uphold, but there are others you may want to consider:
- Stop checking emails by a certain time every day.
- Complete all work tasks at work so you never bring work home with you.
- Say no to additional tasks that would stretch you beyond your limit.
- If you're not a hugger, tell your students that you would like them to ask if they can give you a hug before they do it.
Boundaries are personal in nature and are unique depending on the needs of each person. The key is knowing what you need and telling others so they can give you what you need.
After setting boundaries, stick to them, even if it would be easier to cave. The more you stick to your boundaries, the more others will respect them and the less stressed out you'll feel.
Create a Break Buddies System
Teaching is unique compared to other professions in that teachers can't always take care of their personal needs when they need to. You can't just sneak out of the classroom to catch your breath after a stressful interaction. You can't just go to the bathroom in the middle of class, either!
Knowing that you can't take a minute to yourself if you need it can cause stress in the moment and also create a constant underlying feeling of stress.
Reach out to another teacher and see if they would be willing to be your Break Buddy. This simply means that they are willing to cover your classroom for a few minutes so you can go to the bathroom or collect your thoughts.
Consider asking the teachers in the rooms around yours, as well as other adults in the building who don't have their own classroom, like administrators, counselors, or support staff. Send them a quick text if you need a few minutes, and be willing to return the favor by covering their classroom if they need a few minutes, too.
Who knows-other teachers may hear about what you're doing and be interested in creating a Tap-In/Tap-Out system that provides this kind of support to all of the teachers in the building.
Tell Your Students if You're Having a Hard Day
The pressure for teachers to put on a brave face and hide or suppress their emotions is very real. Many teachers try their hardest never to show emotional vulnerability in front of their students. The idea is that it's unprofessional, and some students may see it as a sign of weakness and walk all over you.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
It's actually a good thing to show your vulnerability in the classroom. When you're more authentic with your students and share when you're having a bad day, you're making it easier for them to share their own struggles and failures. If their teacher isn't perfect, then they don't have to be either.
By sharing that you're having a bad day, you might notice that your young students want to draw you pictures, while older students are more likely to stay on task. It creates an environment where it's everyone's job to take care of each other in your classroom-it's not just the teacher's job to take care of the students. Giving, as well as receiving, care is a great way to reduce stress for teachers and students in the classroom.
Teachers don't have to wait until they get home at the end of a long day to tackle the stress that accumulated at school. There are things you can do throughout the day to get a sense of relief so you can continue serving your students with a healthy mind and an open heart.