I can't count the times I've heard my extremely dedicated and talented teacher friends tell me that they are stressed beyond belief. So stressed that they don't know if they can even continue in this job that they felt so driven and motivated to do. Challenging students, uncommunicative administration, ongoing labour disputes, and high-stakes standardized testing - the pressure to perform is unrelenting and just, well, stressful.
While a little stress can be helpful to kickstart your engines and really get stuff done, the long term effects on your health of living in a constant state of stress are nothing short of disturbing. And teachers in particular seem to experience an above-average rate of illness attributed to work-related stress (see 1, 2, 3).
Thankfully, there is a lot of talk about how to manage stress available to all of us out there, but I wanted to put together something a little more specific for teachers and the challenges you face in particular. I've taken some time to review what research is available and have tried to accurately translate it into useful tips that can be put into practice right now. Here's a few:
Meditation is a very effective tool in helping to relieve psychological distress and burnout experienced by teachers. Meditating seems pretty straight forward (just sit there and…sit there) but it's one of those things that can be a little confusing at first. In both of the studies I looked at, the teachers were enrolled in a short program that guided them into developing a meditation practice and this might be the way for you to get into it too. Check out intro courses at the Centre for Mindfulness Studies or a Zen Centre in your town. You can also read a previous post of mine that details my own experience with meditation and includes a number of online resources.
2. Stay Positive & Don't Take It Personally
A study out of Poland assessed whether empathy in teachers contributes to emotional exhaustion, potential burnout, and as a consequence a high rate of teacher turnover. Says the author, "Teachers have to educate, and at the same time, manage their own emotions to meet the expectations associated with their profession. In other words they perform emotional labour." Burnout and emotional exhaustion was less associated with empathy itself, and more directly with a type of surface acting emotional labour - when the emotional expression was changed (a smile on your face!) without modification to the inner state (road rage leftover from your drive to work). Deep acting emotions, where both inner and outer were modified, didn't contribute to emotional exhaustion in the same way. The author also points out that taking a negative interaction with a parent or student as a personal attack can lead to the necessity to employ surface acting, which may further contribute to the work-related stress we see tied to burnout. The solution? Don't take it personally.
3. Form Allies At Work
Support from fellow teachers and colleagues has been shown to have a protective influence on stress-related health issues, so making friends and allies in your workplace is an easy and important way to aid overall stress management at school.
4. Take Care Of Yourself
Surprisingly enough, non-work-related health factors and physical complaints have a significant and sometimes greater impact on how stressed out your job makes you than an unruly class. Taking steps to address issues that seem small when they're still small (frequent colds, upset stomach after lunch, sore knees, migraines, poor sleep, etc.) will only benefit you in the long run. With a job as important and labour-intensive as yours, you need to be in tiptop condition. If you're not already, reach out to a naturopathic doctor and form a relationship with a healthcare provider trained to help you help yourself feel better with simple tools and lifestyle change.