Staying Healthy and Managing Stress While Teaching

Are you having issues maintaining a healthy lifestyle and managing stress while teaching? It's easy in a job like this to consistently put others needs, wishes, and priorities before our own.

Please take this advice: you WILL BE A BETTER TEACHER if you learn to put your needs before others.

By needs I mean healthy diet, good amount of sleep, adequate exercise, and plenty of time spent with family and friends. Venting to others is good - even to or with other teachers, but beware of any negative advice or "commiserating" over certain things - commiserating often will make you feel worse than before the conversation, and it rarely leads to taking positive action steps.

Let's look at this from the perspective of a parent...

Suppose you sent your child off to school each day, trusting that the teachers were doing their jobs of teaching, maintaining professional attitudes and behaviors, and keeping the academic interests of your child in mind. In my experience, I've learned that many parents positively believe that their child's school and teachers adhere to the above.

Now let's consider some reality ...

Suppose you went into your child's school and saw that the opposite was true. Teachers look wilted and worn, they are yelling impatiently at the kids to behave, line up, don't hit, get out of this classroom, sit down, shut up, etc. Your child's once favorite teacher has come down with some short or long-term illness (no one really knows), and is replaced by a substitute who has little idea what s/he is doing, but was needed in a pinch.

This scenario commonly occurs in the public schools in which I've worked, and parents are often oblivious. We as teachers know, however, that our schools could avoid situations like these if we took better care of ourselves, became good at managing stress, and stopped blaming others for not doing things that we as teachers can do in our schools to improve the overall climate.

Fortunately you are not the parent in the above scenario. You are, however, a teacher, and taking care of your needs and staying healthy is critical so you don't end up being the wilted and worn teacher who constantly yells impatiently at kids, or the one who's out on indefinite sick leave!

Are you finding that you indeed ARE the wilted, tired, worn-out teacher? Are you beginning to think the job is wearing on your health and sanity?

If you're having trouble managing stress, health, rest, time spent with friends/family, here are five excellent tips that will hopefully help...

1. Eat Healthfully, Incorporate Healthy Foods in Your Day

I've been known to forget this tip myself from time to time, opting for a bag of bbq chips for an afternoon snack instead of choosing fruit, veggies, a healthy sandwich, or something that's perhaps easier on the waistline. My favorite excuse is that I'm "on my feet all day, so I deserve a splurge." unfortunately my hips disagree.

For the day-to-day needs of your body in a high-paced, stressful job like teaching, you need healthy foods high in protein and fiber. Foods that naturally contain fiber and protein help control the swings in mood, and sometimes crippling hunger pangs you experience throughout the day.

If you find it's easier to snack during the day between classes, (or during your teeny lunch break), bring along a bag of healthy dried fruit (I like cranberries or blueberries), your favorite healthy nuts (I prefer sunflower seeds or pistachios) or even some fresh fruit slathered with peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter, or even a healthy cheese spread. I realize this might take a little more preparation than you're used to the night before, but the goal is to take better care of yourself so that you can perform your job better. This goal will take some time and effort to reach.

Follow the above advice: eat more healthy protein and fiber throughout the day, and your tendency to reach for pastries, chips and other unhealthy snacks in the afternoon will begin to subside. You will definitely have more energy and mental clarity as well.

2. Get Plenty of Sleep

I thought about maybe putting this tip first, as it remains for me one of the most useful things you can do to reduce stress in a healthy way.

Plan on an earlier bedtime. Alert your family, roommate, or significant other to your goal of getting more sleep and engage them in helping you to achieve it. Not only will the know to leave you alone, you'll be setting a healthy example for your family to follow.

If you regularly have trouble falling asleep, develop a very structured bedtime routine - a kind of ritual you perform each night before you climb under the covers. Do not, under any circumstances, bring school-related work, reading, forms, evaluations, etc. into your bedroom! This is a very, very strict rule I was once told by a mentor, and it was excellent advice when it came to taking care of myself. Leave all work-related tasks in an office area or somewhere that you can designate as a safe/quiet place for those items. You will be glad you did.

Finally, for the topic of getting a good night's sleep, try your best to avoid napping. Napping seriously messes with any effort to get an earlier start on sleeping through the night. It will feel like a serious fight at first to keep yourself from napping, but this is your body's way of trying to preserve energy to keep you going until 11 or 12pm, when you normally would go to sleep. This will be hard, but do something healthy and active with the time you'd normally spend napping. Keep reminding yourself that you will reward your effort by taking a nice, long rest that night!

Follow the instructions above and look forward to days with lots of healthy energy, creative thinking, and far less forgetting!

3. Exercise at your Own Pace

I'm not sure about you, but as a teacher I am on my feet ALL DAY. Sometimes just the thought of exercise makes me want to crawl into bed and sleep the afternoon away! My remedy for this is to consider the exercise you put in each day while teaching, and when you're home, if you have time, do some light weight resistance exercises that target muscles you rarely use during the day. For example, unless you're lifting heavy objects all day, perhaps your biceps and triceps aren't as readily used as your thighs and calves.

Health experts the world over say that maintaining stronger muscle tone in your back and upper body will prevent bone-loss and Osteoporosis in women. What's best about lifting light weights or doing calisthenic-like exercises is that they can be done while watching Oprah in the afternoons! Exercise is also a very healthy way for managing stress. I'm not big on yoga or pilates, but if you have some knowledge of these types of exercises and stretches, than by all means do them as well!

A brisk walk after dinner is also a good idea - as your body will benefit from some de-stressing physical activity that doesn't involve chasing kids around your classroom or through the halls. Breathe deeply during these walks and think about things you are grateful for or things in your life that are going very well for you in the present moment. Your body will almost instantly start to relax.

4. Avoid Negative, Gossipy, or Miserable Teachers and Staff

No matter where you choose to work in life, there will always be the classic worker/management struggle. This is apparent anywhere from restaurants to billion-dollar financial firms, an of course - schools.

The negative and gossipy teachers who constantly complain about how hard they work compared to others, or who feel that the principal is placing unfair demands upon them might very well be true. The issue here is not that they are complaining - I think we all tend to do that either quietly or out loud. The issue is that they may be trying to commiserate, or rally fellow workers against the demands of the boss, or they are trying to get you to dislike the boss for placing upon them these demands so watch out - you might be next!

Again, maybe this is all true, but you have to remember that YOU are your own keeper. No one can force you to do (or not do) that which you don't want. Just because others complain about someone doesn't mean you've also suffered and must dislike that someone. Be your own judge, person, teacher, and try your best not to get involved. Empathize with the complainers emotions, but not their circumstance. If you haven't been through the same situation, don't participate in their misfortune; better yet, avoid them entirely.

5. Don't Take your Job Too Seriously

If or when you've had a bad day, you had to deliver bad news to a child, you gave out report cards with bad scores, you can't seem to get it right when it comes to instruction, just remember that you're not alone. There are millions of teachers around the world who have, believe it or not, the exact same struggles that you have! They struggle with delivering effective instruction, managing classroom behavior, dealing with a micro-managing principal, etc., etc.

While thinking about this might only help in the short run, remember that our lives really only move forward - luckily. Tomorrow is a completely new day, and sooner that you realize it, all of today's worries will become concerns of the past.

Don't be afraid to laugh at yourself!

I thought this might be a cliche piece of advice, but just the same, it helps to think of how serious you were about something that didn't go so well, and then see the humor in your giving a silly or stupid detail such grand importance. Having a good laugh at least once per day is another healthy way of managing stress. Besides, working with kids all day lends itself to many joyous and laughable moments.

Reflecting and enjoying these great moments in our careers with children can only be done when we slow things down and take care of our physical and emotional selves first.

So Remember...

1. Eat Healthfully, Incorporate Healthy Foods in Your Day
2. Get Plenty of Rest
3. Exercise at your own pace
4. Avoid negative, gossipy, or miserable teachers and staff
5. Don't take your job (or yourself!) too seriously.

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