I am not a doctor or health care professional, I’m just offering you tips and strategies that I do when I feel stressed and overwhelmed. These strategies usually help me but everybody is different. If you feel these strategies haven’t worked for you, or have been dealing with stress for an unusually long period of time, it is best to see your doctor or health care professional.
Recently I have been experiencing some difficulty with one for the parents of a child in my class. This parent has been calling me most mornings and complaining about something. Her main issue was that her daughter was anxious about coming to school because she was scared to make a mistake in computer class. Whether this was really the childs issue or not I couldn’t really say. But I had this parent calling constantly about the same issue.
It was getting to the point where I didn’t know what to do anymore. The child was fine when they were at school. She wasn’t complaining of anything to me, I had spoken to the computer teacher and they couldn’t even remember ever having an issue with this child.
The constant calling was starting to stress me out and make me anxious. I’m not sure why it was but it was. I was getting so worried/ anxious about this parent that a few nights ago I actually woke up from my sleep because I was dreaming about this parent and her issue.
When I did get back to sleep I woke up again, again thinking about the same child and parent. This time though I couldn’t get back to sleep. I got out of bed and went to the bathroom and got a drink. I checked social media sites to get my mind off what was bothering me, I made a to-do list of all things that I needed to get done. I tried to read but that didn’t work. I tried to listen to music but again my mind kept going back to this situation. Finally I tried my guided meditation something I usual like to do in the mornings so I’m relaxed for the day not to go to sleep.
During my meditation when I was concentrating on my body, I noticed that my shoulders were tense and no matter how hard I tried nothing would slow down my breathing. Instead of falling into a natural breathing cycle by breaths were short and fast. That’s when I knew I wasn’t going to fall asleep anytime soon and I should really get up and do something productive (but I didn’t).
No matter what I did, I kept thinking about the child/parent and what if she took it further because nothing was being done for her child.
In my eyes, I had a perfectly happy child that should no signs of anxiety and didn’t complain of any troubles. I know that some kids don’t tell their teachers everything and leave it all until they get home, but the things the parent was describing, I just was not seeing at school.
After I had been awake for 3 hours I tried the meditation again. This time though, once I got to the breathing exercise again, I stopped focussing on my breathing and thought about what was making me so anxious about the situation.
I had listened to the parents concerns, I had talked to the parent numerous times, I had meet with both parents in a last minute after school meeting, I followed up with the child and parent, I tried talking to the child, I talked to the computer teacher, I had spoken to my supervisor and made all the requirements that the parents had requested. I hadn’t down anything wrong. I had even documented most of our exchanges.
So I was laying there trying to figure out what it was that was working me up into such a state, it clicked. I wasn’t really stressed about this child and parent, I was concerned and wanted to help the child but that wasn’t stressing me. It was just hiding what I was really stressed about. Which was student reports! Once I finally worked out that I was actually stressed about them and not the parent, I started to relax a bit. Resolving to set up my report writing timeline later that day (remember this was in the wee hours of the morning, it was probably about 4 am when I had my epiphany) I finally feel asleep.
I guess stress can be a complex emotion sometimes, masking itself in different ways.
If you think about what teachers go through it’s no wonder we are stressed, between difficult students, managing and teaching our class, dealing with paper work, attending weekly meetings that have no relevance to teaching and even writing student report comments can all be stresses for teachers or at the very least overwhelm us.
So what is stress? Stress is physiological it is described as feeling ‘overloaded, wounded up tight, tense or worried’ (Australian Psychology Society). Sometimes it can motivate you and help you to finish a task and sometimes its can cause other health problems. Stress can be something that only lasts for a short period of time, disappearing once the stressor has gone or linger on.
As teachers, we are especially prone to stress because we are usually have some much going on at the one time it is easy for us to be overworked.
Signs of Stress
When we are stressed, the body prepares itself by releasing stress related hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. Both helping the body to prepare for “ fight or flight” by boosting oxygen and glucose (adrenaline) and extra energy and a low sensitive to pain (cortisol).
These changes can help us to meet the physical demands of our stressor. However, prolonged stress can affect us in other ways such as;
- Aches and pains
- Low Tolerance
- Anger and irritability
- Upset stomach
These are only some of the signs of stresses definitely not all the signs. Stress may manifest it self in a different form within your body it is especially important that you are able to recognise the signs of stress in yourself.
Below are some tips and strategies to help you deal with stress.
- Identifying your stressors / What are your triggers?
Most people respond to stress differently. What might be a stressful situation for one person may not even affect another person. This is why it is important to identify your own stressor. It might be report writing, it might be dealing with parents, it might be the running around and organising school events or it might be all of these things. Whatever your stressor it is, identify it and put strategies in place to help you deal with it.
Again, because stressors and triggers are different for everybody it is important to know your own triggers. If you are able to identify your triggers, then you will be able to anticipate your triggers and deal with them more effectively. If you know your trigger is deadlines or another colleague then you can put strategies into place to help you deal with your stressor or trigger.
2. Identify the signs of stress.
Its important to be able to identify the early warning signs, they might be different from person to person so that’s why its important to recognise the signs in your own body. I have already listed some of the warning signs of stress but these are a general outline, you may experience all of them or you may have some of them and other warning signs that are unique to your own body.
3. Establish Routines/ Schedules
Our lives are full of stressful decisions that we have to make everyday. Things like what to pack for lunch or what to wear in the morning can cause simple stress. But when you are already stressed out from something and you have to consistently make these small decisions, it can start to become too much.
That’s why establishing routines and a schedule helps you to get rid of the smaller decisions and helps you to save your energy for the bigger decision that are more stressful. Set Sunday aside to meal prep your lunch for the week and make it part of your routine to meal prep every Sunday. Creating and sticking to a routine can help in many aspects of your life, not just for dealing with stress at work.
4. Talk to Someone
I sometimes find this one hard because the people that are not teachers usually don’t understand why I’m so stressed or what the problem is. So talking to other teachers can definitely help with this one. Find your girl gang at work, set a coffee (or wine) date and let it all off your chest! Talking to someone about your stresses/ concerns can definitely help to relieve some of your stress. It may not take it all away but it is better to tell someone so that they know what’s going on and may even have some helpful tips.
If you can’t talk to a teacher friend then talk to someone you trust. They might not understand completely what it’s like to be a teacher but they be able to offer you an objective view point.
In the end doesn’t matter who you talk to, the main point is that you talk to someone and get everything off your chest.
5. Regular exercise
People often stop exercising when they are feeling stressed. It might be the more stressed we are, we seem to think we have less time to do things so we start cutting out things from our daily life so we can get more time.
Exercise can help to reduce stress in so many ways. Here are few examples how:
- It can pump up your endorphins – The ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitters in your body
- Improves your mood
- Boost your energy levels
- Help you to focus
- Relax tight muscles and relieve built up tension
- Help you sleep better at night.
So instead of cutting exercise from your schedule when your feeling stressed consider just going half the time you usually go for and see how you feel afterwards.
Meditation is only something I have recently started and can already see and feel the benefits helping me deal with my stress. Meditation helps bring awareness to the here and now. It allows you to focus your attention and can help to eliminate the stream of jumbled thoughts running around in your mind.
Meditation can help relax our nervous system. As mentioned before, when we’re stressed our body prepares it self by getting into the ‘fight or flight’ mode. Meditation can help activate the “rest and digest” part of our nervous system helping with stress management.
Meditation can help to reduce our heart rate, slow our breathing and help your blood pressure to drop. Meditation helps with your overall well-being.
I know as teachers, our jobs can be incredibly stressful so I hope I have helped you in some small way.