Let’s face it- teaching is an amazing amazingly stressful job. Working as a teacher for many years, I always feel torn between days when I feel like “Yes, this is my dream job!” and days when I hear a voice inside me saying, “That’s it! I quit!”. Sounds familiar?
When discussing stress that teachers experience in their careers, it is important to recognize the factors and to highlight various approaches and strategies that can be used as effective tools in stress management for teachers.
Managing stress means controlling yourself when situations, people, and events you encounter are too demanding.
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Read on and learn about tips and strategies that can help teachers cope with stress.
Factors Leading to Stress
Stressors in teaching is a broad category that requires layered examination. To clarify for your understanding: According to psychology, a stressor is anything that causes the release of stress hormones, so stressors can be either physical or psychological. All these below listed reasons undoubtedly carry the potential to result into a burnout. Therefore, pay attention to whether the following points apply to you.
Here are the main psychological stressors that can endanger the mental health and the working environment for teachers:
Unfortunately, working past working hours or during the weekends became normalized in most jobs, including teaching. Apart from the classes on the weekly schedule, teachers also spend a great deal of time in preparations, grading, checking homework, etc. These additional tasks often double the official working hours and significantly reduce the leisure time of teachers.
Teacher’s daily work requires countless things to consider and perform, and the lessons for the day sometimes may seem like the simplest thing of them all. Teachers need to follow up on students’ attendance and progress, communicate with parents, prepare a variety of activities for the present and the following day and keep up the amiable atmosphere in the classroom, including handling misbehavior and unpredictable events that are imperative in this job.
Lack of Administrative Support
Frustration and stress can also arise when individuals feel they have no one to rely on when times get hard. My colleague teachers often complain about the lack of support by their administration that fails to provide them with resources that meet the learning needs of their students.
Additionally, education administrators should consider free mental health support as one of their top priorities when it comes to supporting education professionals.
Inattention and Lack of Effort in Class
This is a serious, yet extremely common issue that teachers face when it comes to students’ misbehavior in the classroom. Keeping the attention of students can be quite a challenge that requires a lot of patience, dedication, and behavior management, so it can often feel demanding and tiring.
Hostility Towards the Teacher and Other Students
Hostile-aggressive students are encountered by every teacher. These are the students who are labeled as “problem students” as they usually show intimidation and irrational or even explosive behavior towards the teacher and other students in the class.
Some of these students have emotional or behavioral disorders or suffer from ADHD and often show poor performance in class. The behavior of these students is anxiety-inducing and requires the development of additional coping strategies for better communication.
Disregard of School Rules
Every teacher has rules and expects these rules to be respected by their students. But how simple is this in practice, really? Teaching requires simultaneous strictness and flexibility, and this can often feel like mission impossible to teachers. In other words, the rules are the same for every student. But not every student is the same, so it takes a bit of creativity to remain on friendly terms with your students and still keep the bar of discipline high enough.
Challenging Interactions with Parents
The parents of some students can be really difficult to handle and add to teaching stress. Teachers need to be ready to face all kinds of situations with parents, including manipulative and abusive behavior. Also, too many teachers complain that they feel a tone of disregard and distrust from parents, which further burdens their mutual communication.
Lack of Regular Training Opportunities
Another major stumbling block for teachers on their career path is the discrepancy between their continuous need to upgrade their teaching skills by learning and implementing new innovative education methods and technologies and the lack of resources and opportunities for them to do so. Stress levels increase when teachers face a lack of knowledge or resources for their work.
Insufficient Work-Life Balance
Most of the time, teachers have to bring their work home to finish it, and this leaves them with hardly any time for friends and family or enjoying free time in any way. The lack of proper balance between work and private life negatively affects teachers’ mental health and well-being.
The Impact of COVID-19
When discussing stressors, we have to distinguish the latest global stress factor that amplified and exacerbated stress for everyone, including teachers whose mental health issues have been reported to be on the rise while facing the challenges of the pandemic.
One of the latest surveys from the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and the Collaborative for Social, Emotional, and Academic Learning showed that what teachers mostly feel every day at work since COVID-19 started is worrying, sadness, fear but most of all, anxiety.
Understandably, anxiety is on the rise as teachers, a great deal of them now working from home, are forced to restructure their professional and private lives and find new ways to cope with working full time, taking care of their families and personal needs, and learning to use new technology.
Symptoms of Stress
Recognizing and detecting symptoms of stress is a crucial step toward finding solutions to it.
Let’s look at the most common stress symptoms experienced by teachers:
- feeling irritated or exhausted when thinking about work
- experiencing constant episodes of headache, insomnia, or physical fatigue
- withdrawing from colleagues at work and avoiding socializing at work
- facing difficulty to concentrate while working
- finding excuses to be absent from work and miss classes
Tips and Strategies for Stress Management
Like for any stress-triggering job, there are effective and proven ways to tackle stress when it comes to teaching. The first, crucial step is your willingness to “turn over the page” and approach the issues from a different angle.
Personally, this was the hardest part for me, and I’m sure that many other teachers out there know what I mean when I say that, at first glance, this may seem like an extra stressor.
The basic pattern in the stress management scenario is:
Recognize- understand causes and consequences- label and express- regulate.
So, once you recognize what causes you to feel stressed, the next step is to understand how it affects you and then decide to act upon it until you finally feel relieved or try practicing a different approach.
Have a look at the following tips and stress management strategies that I use during stressful times at work.
Make a Schedule & Stick To It
Organize, organize, organize, no matter how banal and tedious it sounds. Creating a proper schedule and sticking to it reduces an enormous deal of stress (and this tip comes from a naturally messy person, so you can trust my word!).
Yes, at the beginning it will be hard, and you might even think you’re “just too creative and find balance in chaos, so calendars and charts just don’t work for you…”. Trust me, you’re not.
Get a notepad, get a calendar, write down those dates and start slow. Choose 3 days in the week when you get up earlier or stay later at work, finish the tasks and then stop working. Make the last task of the day a free-time activity.
You maybe can’t control the mood swings of students in class nor parents’ behavior at meetings, but you can certainly create moments in the day when you do something nice for yourself and relax. Even waking up and having your coffee in 30 minutes of silence (or your favorite playlist) can make a difference when it comes to providing a minimum of self-care.
Routines will help you tune into yourself, feel calm and grounded, and ready to face daily challenges. Try short intervals of stretching, a cup or glass of your favorite drink at the beginning or at the end of the day, or simply sit down, close your eyes and try to relax your body for 15-30 minutes.
Check Your Rules Chart
I’m sure that, just as any teacher, you also have a list of rules in class that students need to follow. But how well does it really work lately?
If you have noticed changes in students behavior that affect the overall discipline and atmosphere in the classroom environment, you might want to reconsider the consistency of your rule patterns or simply track down the reasons for the latest “disruptions” that are causing you stress or anxiety when working and try to redirect the course of your coping mechanisms.
Regardless of whether you’re teaching in the classroom or online, make sure your rules are supported by simple directions and routines that are easy for students to follow.
Do Something Completely Different
Finding a hobby or activity you enjoy doing regularly can help you reduce stress. What made an actual difference for me was choosing an activity that was completely the opposite of everything that teaching involved.
For a long time, I was convinced that reading or studying foreign languages is what I should do when I have some time off, as these are my greatest passion. However, what I found to really “rewire” my mood in times of stress was actually baking.
I was surprised how good it made me feel, and soon I realized why- I used my hands while working instead of my head, I was alone in the kitchen, I focused on a single task at a time and I would finish feeling physically, instead of mentally tired.
Plus, I got a treat with my afternoon coffee. Baking is my thing and who knows, maybe yours is knitting, repairing, gardening or even welding.
Try Belly Breathing
Yoga practice can help you a lot. I’m sure you’ve heard this many times before, so I will not suggest anything complicated but two simple relaxing poses that you can do almost anywhere, at any time.
1: Sit comfortably in a chair or on the ground, as you like. Close your eyes, relax the body as much as you can, then take a deep inhale through your nose followed by an exhalation through your mouth. Repeat as many times as you feel you need to.
2: Lie on your back, put a pillow under your head, then elevate your legs on a wall opposite you. Breathe all the way down to your belly and feel how it rises and falls with each breath. Repeat it several times and feel how anxiety slowly goes away.
Move Your Body & Do Sports
Running, hiking, swimming, brisk walking, jogging, cycling… There are numerous physical activities you can choose from and any of them is stress relief. I find 30 minutes of cardio training as most effective in elevating my mood or “squeezing out” daily portions of anxiety and stress.
Sometimes I do it every day, other times 4 days per week. However, what keeps me motivated in the long term is the post-stress relief effect. If you’re up for low-impact activity, that’s fine too. Just find a slot in the day when you’re moving instead of overthinking.
Meet Your Friends and Family & Talk
Regardless of how cheerful someone may look from the outside, the truth is that every person feels stress when working. Also, everyone feels better when they know they’re not alone in their battle.
Maintaining regular communication and socializing with friends and family can reduce stress, as you can share your feelings and exchange experiences with people you trust and feel close to. Remember to share good and happy times too.
Managing stress takes effort and diligence, so keep on trying, but don’t be too hard on yourself. Teaching is a job related to many stressors that often cannot be avoided but, fortunately, can be tackled through a creative combination of strategies and self-care as the main stress relief for teachers.