3 Ways To Reduce Teacher Stress In 2019

teacher stress

Teacher stress is becoming more and more apparent in the workplace; few have escaped the chastening experience of a lesson gone awry – that lesson when your students inexplicably descend into a subtle madness. Every attempt at focus and control feels like a fool’s errand, with your best-laid plans left in tatters by your hormone-fuelled students.

For a short time, the pen-smeared whiteboard dissolves away to present something like a cloud-filled, dry savannah. The hunt is on. The pack circles; the teacher-hunter betrays their lack of sureness. We are exposed. Our façade of control teeters dangerously. The breath quickens. Blood pounds against the walls of our strained blood vessels. Even momentarily, our response becomes primal. Our bodies have been primed for this very scenario: fight or flight.

Signs of stress 

Teachers stress is commonplace in schools – so much so that it becomes invisible to us in our working lives. The common signs of stress will be familiar to teachers everywhere. Some of the signs of negative stress include:

  • Problems related to lack of sleep
  • Excessive tiredness throughout the day
  • Problems related to appetite: from excessive ‘comfort eating’ to under-eating
  • Prone to being emotionally erratic
  • Lacking in motivation and self-confidence
  • An inability to concentrate and memory issues
  • Aches and pains, headaches, diarrhoea or constipation, loss of libido, chest pain and rapid heartbeat

It is moments like these that define our professional confidence. These are moments of high stress. How do we conquer them? How do we best prepare for them happening? How do we respond to failure when it occurs? How do we best read and manage our emotions? How do we stay resilient in these trying circumstances? 

Answering this question will go a long way to developing our confidence.

There are two helpful acronyms that can help us better recognise our negative stress levels and those of our colleagues. The first is HALT, which provides a useful reminder for a sequence of checks: 

H – Check you are not too Hungry 

A – Check you are not too Angry 

L – Check you are not too Lonely  

T – Check you are not too Tired 

The second useful acronym is IMSAFE, which is a quick catalogue of issues related to stress:  

I – Illness 

M – Medication 

S – Stress 

A – Alcohol

F – Fatigue 

E – Emotion 

Each of the issues above can prove subtle indicators of everyday stress, to warning signs of something more serious. We are all prone to running the gamut of emotions, but being more clearly erratic emotionally can be a signal for excessive stress. Similarly, becoming reliant on alcohol to manage the working day is something very different to having a glass of wine as an accompaniment to an evening meal.




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Combatting stress

Here is my selection of just some of the simple ways we can seize control of our negative stresses, with an emphasis on our living, breathing and no doubt term-tired physical selves. They likely prove a reminder of common sense notions, but we can all do with a reminder every once in a while:

posture

1. Posture

After a long day, our pulse rate and adrenaline have surged and settled over and over, and we are spent. The sheer weight of the day can fall upon our shoulders and we slump with tiredness. It is the same in every staffroom the world over.

The simple act of sitting upright in our chair can raise our mood in the face of stress. Just being conscious of sitting up straight can make a small difference.

breakfast

2. Breakfast

You haul yourself out of bed and pour yourself a strong coffee, perhaps aided and abetted by some sugar-fuelled cereal. Try to eat fruit during the day for a natural glucose boost. Simple habits, like drinking more water, or substituting the chocolate and cakes for fruit, are within your reach. They will have the attendant benefit of feeding us with the fuel that can help us strive for greater competence and confidence. This website is a great resource on a balanced nutritional diet.

sleep

3. Sleep

So what can you do to battle that weekday night negative stress and to get the sleep you need? Try these simple strategies:

  • Aim for regular sleeping hours, with nightly cues and calming rituals, like a good book before bed.
  • Keep your bedroom a technology-free zone. Emails receive a definitive no.
  • Avoid caffeine four to six hours before sleep.
  • Avoid alcohol and high sugar snacks near sleep.
  • Cut out napping after six pm.
  • Don’t toss and turn endlessly.

If you are still awake after a twenty-minute span, then get out of bed, undertake a relaxing activity, like reading, then try sleeping again soon after.

We will have days when our best efforts flounder and our best-laid plans will go wrong. And yet we needn’t respond with catastrophic thinking. We can still regain control of the behaviour of our students. With good teaching, we can change the assumptions of our head teacher. With an unmitigated regard for our students, we can bring some degree of calm to the chaos of their lives, at least while they are with us.

We needn’t pursue optimism to the point of naiveté or refuse to countenance the truth of a bad situation, but we can take care to be conscious of our own thinking. We know that seeing everything positively can make us little more than some Pollyanna character and can inhibit our pursuit of genuine self-improvement, but being hopeful is natural fuel for a teacher.

Find out more about other ways to reduce stress by downloading the free chapter on " Combatting stress" by Alex Quigley.

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