I am an expert in is feeling stressed out. I would describe my baseline emotion as a constant low-level panic. Sometimes family members ask me, “What are you so stressed out about?” The answer is nothing and everything. I’ve always been a worrier. That’s my personality.
Chronic stress can lead to a variety of real health consequences, including anxiety, depression, digestive problems, sleep disruptions, weight gain, memory impairment, headaches, and heart disease. Teaching may not be one of the top 10 stressful jobs, but most of the educators I know report moderate to severe levels of daily stress.
I am always on the lookout for articles about how teachers can deal with their daily stress, and here are a few I like:
- “Why It’s So Hard for Teachers to Take Care of Themselves” from Cult of Pedagogy,
- “How Many Teachers Are Highly Stressed? Probably More Than You Think” from NEA Today, and
- “Stressed Out! What Can Teachers Do About It?” from Mindshift.
This year I’ve made a conscious effort to de-stress my life. I decided to focus on my own health and well-being before anything else. This is harder than it sounds, but the good news is that I’ve found a few things that seem to help. The list below explains the six biggest changes I’ve made so far. I’m blogging about this for two reasons: First, I’m hoping what works for me will help someone else, and second, if I write it here, there is a better chance that I will stay committed to my new healthy habits.
My Personal Anti-Stress Commitments
1. Mediate Every Day.
Meditating has never been my thing. I have trouble sitting still and my task-oriented self wants to erroneously label meditation as a waste of time. Nevertheless, everything I read about stress and anxiety recommends adding some kind of mindfulness into your life. So, I downloaded the Headspace app and decided to give it ten minutes a day. Just ten minutes. So far so good. Each guided meditation activity gives me a little tip or something to think about throughout the day. The Headspace creator, Andy Puddicombe, has a TED talk explaining his method here: “All It Takes Is 10 Mindful Minutes” As of this writing, I’ve meditated a total of 12 hours and completed 82 sessions. And it’s getting a little easier every day.
2. Say No to Things.
You know how in teaching you can never finish all of the things you think you need to in order to do your job well? You know how there seems to be an endless array of extra duties we are asked to take on, often without pay? We simply have to learn to say, “No,” more often for the sake of our health. For me, this means prioritizing what’s most important. My current goal is to say, “No,” to everything that doesn’t fit into my main goals as a school librarian and/or anything that will get in the way of me taking care of myself, even if extra pay is offered.
I also find myself needing to set limits to personal obligations. I’m not necessarily an introvert, but I often find social occasions to be exhausting. At the same time, I love my friends and family and I enjoy spending time with them. The main thing is to know that I don’t have to say, “Yes,” just because someone asks. If I need time to myself, that is completely fine.
3. Take Walks.
Luckily, I have a cute little dog and she requires a walk every day. I realized that walking her is not a chore. It is one of the best parts of my day. I used to think of other things I could have been doing, such as going for a run or prepping for dinner or laundry. All I had to do was change my mindset to see that this is daily task is something I enjoy and want to do. From a mindfulness perspective, this might be a cheat, but I often listen to a podcast or audiobook while I walk. How fun is that?
4. Drink Herbal Tea.
I still drink coffee but not as much as I used to. Instead, I started collecting different kinds of herbal teas. There is a huge difference between most of the bagged tea on grocery store shelves and the loose leaf tea you can buy at specialty stores. I experimented with different kinds of herbal teas and bought myself a nice tea pot with an infuser. The tea pot was a bit of a splurge but totally worth it. Now, I make myself a nice mug of tea several times of day. The whole process is comforting. My current favorite is Organic Tubertonic, which I received as a gift from a local store called Vices and Spices. Also, I reward myself with a little honey because…why not? An added bonus is that I can ask library visitors if they would like a cup of tea. They almost always say, “Yes.”
5. Do Not Check Email After Dinner.
Honestly, email is the worst. Did we ever think it would make our lives easier? If my health and wellness is a priority, nothing good can come from checking my work email after dinner. If there is an emergency, I won’t be able to fix it and I will probably end up losing sleep. The challenge is there is no way I can get to all of my email during the school day, so my compromise is to check it while dinner is on the stove. That way I can take care of the most important messages before we eat. After dinner time is reserved for fun, which usually means watching a little TV—right now I am obsessed with Better Call Saul, Season 4—or spending a good hour or so with a book.
6. Read (for Pleasure) Every Morning.
I used to get up every day at 5am in order to get a head start on work. I love the morning and I am very efficient during those morning hours. This year, I changed my routine. I still get up at 5, but I make time to read for 45 minutes to an hour. I guess it is still work-related since I usually read children’s or young adult books during that time, but it feels different. The change in my outlook for the rest of the day has been surprising. I find myself revisiting the story often. It’s like the world of the book follows me into my daily life, giving me something interesting to think about and making my own problems seem manageable in comparison to those of the characters in the books.