In 2019, the charity Education Support published a Teacher Wellbeing Index which revealed that 72% of education professionals describe themselves as stressed. We imagine that this number is probably even higher at the moment due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There has therefore never been a better time to check out these practical techniques for teachers and education staff on how to handle stress.
1 – Prioritise, Prioritise, Prioritise!
Make a list of the tasks you need to complete and then put a number next to each item in order to help prioritise what to do first. Tick them off when they are complete (this is very satisfying!). Make sure you include the important people in your life as priorities and attend to these relationships first. This is crucial for mental health, so don’t sideline personal relationships as low priority or unimportant things to attend to.
2 – Identify your stressors
When an activity or task makes you feel emotionally drained, add it to a list of your personal stressors. Then add one or two ways to reduce the stress for each. When they occur, use them as an opportunity to practice stress-reduction techniques and keep notes on what works for next time. Stress reduction techniques may include things like:
- Taking a walk
- Discussing the activity with a trusted friend/colleague to decide on the best approach
- Meditation/mindfulness/breathing exercises
- Tackling them first thing/last thing in the day (whichever works better for you personally!)
3 – Don’t dwell on unhelpful thoughts
It is human nature to allow your thoughts to drift to possible outcomes/scenarios and when these are negative, it can cause your cortisol (stress hormone) level to rise. The result of an elevated cortisol level is that your ability to think clearly about a current situation is impaired. This can drive you into a cycle of negative thinking, which in turn makes it even harder to attend to your duties. It is important to recognise that this way of thinking is a waste of time and energy and can lead to anxiety and depression in the long-term. Mindfulness techniques can be excellent for recognising unhelpful thoughts and for learning how to “let them go”. By doing this, your mind will be clearer and you will find yourself more able to produce useful, logical thoughts that will help you with the task in hand rather than dwelling on emotional, stressful thinking which will impair your ability to work.
4 – Find a way to say no
People can often perform tasks merely to feel accepted or liked by other people. Practice saying no to requests that are unreasonable or more than you can handle at the time. If you find it difficult to say no to people, learning to use language in a constructive way can be really helpful. For example, the approaches to communication discussed in the book “Nonviolent Communication” can be immensely eye-opening and can help both your personal and professional relationships.
5 – Move on: Don’t dwell on past mistakes
Feelings of guilt, remorse and regret cannot change the past, and they make the present difficult by sapping your energy. Make a conscious effort to do something to change your mood (e.g. employ mindfulness techniques or do something active that you enjoy) when you feel yourself drifting into regrets about past actions. Learn from it and have strategies in place for next time. The practice of Buddhism very much incorporates this into daily practice, so if it is something you struggle with, it may be worth getting in touch with your local Buddhist group (don’t worry – you won’t be indoctrinated into a religion – most UK based groups are focused more on the philosophy and practical applications of Buddhism which can be extremely helpful for those who struggle with over thinking/analysing/worrying etc.) Speaking to a therapist or counsellor can also help you to develop this skill.
6 – Don’t bottle up anger & frustration
Express and discuss your feelings to the person responsible for your agitation. If it is impossible to talk it out, plan for some physical activity at the end of the working day to relieve tensions. Let go of grudges – they affect you and your state of mind more than the other person. Again, both mindfulness and nonviolent communication methods can really help you if this is an area you struggle with personally.
7 – Take time for yourself
Taking the time to do things you enjoy is of huge importance. Focusing all of your energy on others all the time may make you feel good in the short term, but it’s highly likely to lead to burnout or depression in the long-term. Nobody will thank you for being a martyr and it is up to you to take responsibility for making time to do things that you enjoy. Whether it’s exercise, socialising or concentrating on your latest creative project, the main aim is to re-direct your thoughts and energy into something that brings you pleasure, so even if it means getting up early, it’s worth making time for yourself.
8 – Pace yourself
Rushing through activities leads to errors, regrets and stress. At work, if rushed, ask people to wait until you have finished working or thinking something out. Plan ahead to arrive at appointments early, composed and having made allowances for unexpected hold-ups. Practice approaching situations ‘mindfully’. And make sure you take time for lunch/breaks – working through them or telling yourself that you don’t have time for them will only lead to low blood sugar, lack of attention to detail and even more stress!
9 – Help children & young people to cope with stress
It can be helpful for teachers to lead sessions on how to manage stress with children – we don’t expect them to be good at reading without having been taught to read! So why don’t we teach them some useful stress management strategies to help them learn how to cope with stressful situations? Once they have some ideas they can use, children need the experience of being confronted with problems to try out, and improve their ability to cope. By being overprotective or by intervening too soon, parents and teachers may prevent young people from developing valuable tolerance levels for problems, or from acquiring problem-solving skills.
10 – Think positively
Smile whenever possible – it’s an inexpensive and effective way of improving how you feel (and really does work!) Try and find something positive to say about a situation, particularly if you are going to find fault. You can visualise situations you have handled well, and hold those memories in your mind when going into stressful situations.
More suggestions to add?
If you have further ideas or suggestions to add to our list, why not add a comment in the box below? or if you are an expert in the field and would like to contribute a guest post to our blog, we’d love to hear from you!
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