More Remedies for Reducing Teacher Stress & Burnout
Welcome back to our series on music teacher (and other professionals) self-care.
First, as presented in this insightful article by Chris Mumford, we confirm the notion that “stress is inevitable,” but “how you respond to it can spell the difference between a long, rewarding career or one cut short by burn-out.” Based on new research, he offers some surprising (and even counter-intuitive) techniques to better deal with it, including these “9 Stress Management Strategies Every Teacher Needs to Know.”
- Breathe (properly)… When you’re experiencing intense levels of stress, breathe in deeply (put your hands on your stomach and feel it expand out), for four seconds, then exhale evenly for four seconds. Keep this up for two-three minutes for maximum effect.
- Embrace the stress… Viewing your stress in constructive ways [reframing] will actually cause your body to respond to it differently and prevent long-lasting physical damage.
- Be imperfect… Teachers are often prone to perfectionism and its ill effects: they often feel that they aren’t doing enough, or that their mistakes are magnified because of the importance of their job. If you find yourself feeling this way, fight back.
- Practice emotional first aid… Do you beat yourself up when you experience failure or make a mistake? [Find] ways to break the negative patterns of thought.
- Be grateful… We have to stop, quiet our minds, and create “stop signs”—little reminders of things that we should be grateful for every day.
- Limit “grass is greener” thinking… You will have challenges anywhere you go.
- Work smarter, not harder… Find ways to delegate some of your work, or invest in tools or technologies that will make your life easier.
- Ask for help… doesn’t make you weaker, it makes you better at your job.
- Make a connection… When you connect with another person, your body produces oxytocin, which is a chemical that helps repair the heart. If you help your neighbors, family, etc., you’re much less likely to experience the negative effects of stress.
Just Breathe… According to the Navy SEALS!
The calming, deep-breathing practice (#1 above) can be learned by reviewing a host of resources, including the book Maximizing Your Human Potential and Develop the Spirit by former Navy SEAL Mark Divine, as well as these websites:
- “Here, Have a Secret Breathing Technique From a Navy SEAL”
- “How to Reduce Stress Like a Navy SEAL”
- “These Navy SEAL Tricks Will Help You Perform Better While Under Pressure”
Examples of two different NAVY SEALS breathing exercises advise us on how to reach a more relaxed state:
TACTICAL BREATHING (to alleviate “fight or flight” tension)
Place your right hand on your belly, pushing out with a big exhale. Then breathe in through your nostrils, slowly drawing the breath upward from your belly to your upper chest.
Pause and exhale, starting from your chest and moving downward to the air in your belly. Imagine your belly button touching your spine.
Once you’re comfortable with a full, deep breath, repeat it, this time making the exhale twice as long as the length of the inhale. For example, inhale to the count of four, pause briefly, and exhale to the count of eight. Repeat three times.
BOXED BREATHING (to help ground you, sharpen concentration, and become more alert and calm)
Expel all of the air from your lungs
Keep them empty for four seconds
Inhale through your nose for four seconds
Hold for a four count (don’t clamp down or create pressure; be easy)
Exhale for a four count
Repeat for 10-20 minutes
Mind Over Matter
Our own minds may be our own worst enemies. Have you read the insightful article “Sustaining the Flame – Re-Igniting the Joy in Teaching Music” by Karen Salvador in the December 2019 issue of Music Educators Journal? She offers research-supported strategies for nurturing courage, peace, and resilience as well as suggested habits of thinking and action. Samples of “cognitive distortions,” a term of which I had never heard previously defining “irrational beliefs,” is addressed by “reframing” our inner voice during specific incidents of emotional distress.
Her common examples of cognitive distortions include the following. Do any of these sound familiar?
- Disqualifying (discounting) the positive events
- Jumping to conclusions
- Filtering (focusing entirely on the negative elements of a situation)
- Double standard (placing unreasonable/unattainable expectations for ourselves)
- Personalizing (or “taking something personally”)
- Polarized (placing people or situations in unrealistic “either or” categories)
Additional recommendations by Nicole Stachelski for combating stress and burnout are listed in the article:
- Laugh with your students
- Eat your lunch (take a break or enjoy social time)
- Schedule regular physical activity
- Drink more water (and visit the bathroom as needed!)
- Prioritize your work and set boundaries
- Keep a consistent bedtime
- Delegate – don’t be afraid to ask for help
- Focus on what’s really important
More Ideas — Just Pick One!
Take a gander at this excellent Scholastic.com teacher blog-post by Nancy Jang summarizing “15 Ways to Reduce Teacher Stress.” Can you try at least one new strategy this week that resonates with you and your life?
- Close the door during prep time.
- Make a SHORT and DOABLE “Must Do” and “May Do” lists.
- Delegate items to parent volunteers.
- Lay out your outfit and prepare your healthy lunch the night before.
- Get a full eight hours of sleep.
- Don’t correct every piece of paper.
- Work out!
- Get up early!
- Stay away from negativity.
- Don’t take things home.
- Plan time every week/day to enjoy something that is not remotely related to teaching.*
- Learn something new.
- Plan a trip.
- Don’t over-commit.
- Take ten minutes a day and mediate.
*Probably one of my own worst habits was not modeling number 11 above. No matter how busy you are with your daily in-school teaching and extra-curricular music/coaching activities, the full recommendations are important to consider:
Spend time with your family and friends, travel, work on your garden, read for pleasure, take a hike. Learn how to turn off being a teacher. Balancing your time to just be YOU (not the teacher you) allows you to be renewed and have more mental energy for your students.
A few more ideas are offered by Jennifer Gunn in her blog-post from Concordia University “How Educators Can (Really, Honestly) Unplug – And How Stress Affects Us.” As always, it is suggested that you read the entire article at the link provided.
- Practice mindfulness
- Get a change in scenery
- Focus on some serious self-care
- Make plans with friends
- Unplug, literally
- Schedule your work time and your fun time
In almost every health and wellness article, we hear the emphasis of prioritizing and seeking a more equitable use of personal time, achieving what Ernie Zelinski, author of the best-selling book How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free, refers to as “work/life balance.” Future blogs on samples of “super stress reducers” in “setting boundaries,” time management, and innovative organizational tools will be forthcoming.
Several books are also recommended readings for addressing the issues of teacher health and wellness. We have already reviewed several of these. More to come.
Our next journey to an in-depth look at music educator self-care will explore more fully TEACHER BURNOUT. To stay up-to-date on past and future articles, publications, and workshop presentations on this topic, be sure to revisit the “Care” section of this blog-site.
- “15 Ways to Reduce Teacher Stress.” by Nancy Jang at Scholastic
- “9 Stress Management Strategies Every Teacher Needs to Know” by Chris Mumford at HeyTeach
- Exhausted by Paul Murphy
- Fewer Things Better by Angela Watson
- “Here, Have a Secret Breathing Technique From a Navy SEAL” by Reuben Brody at InsideHook
- “How to Reduce Stress Like a Navy SEAL” by Michael Finn at Gear Patrol
- “How Educators Can (Really, Honestly) Unplug – And How Stress Affects Us” by Jennifer Gunn at The Blog by Concordia University/Portland
- I Love My Job But It’s Killing Me by Lesley Moffat
- How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free by Ernie Zelinski
- “Sustaining the Flame – Re-Igniting the Joy in Teaching Music” by Karen Salvador in NAfME Music Educators Journal, December 2019
- The Weekend Effect by Katrina Onstad
Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com
- “laptop-woman-education-study-young” by Jan Vašek
- “stress” by johnhain
- “stress-despair-burden” by Davidqr
- “boat-teamwork-training-exercise” by skeeze
- “mental-health-wellness-psychology” by Wokandapix
- “stress-relief-help-sign-relax” by Pete Linforth
- “meditate-meditation-peaceful” by Pexels
- “handstand-beach-sea-ocean-sand” by MatanVizel
- “wooden-train-toys-train-first-class” by Couleur
© 2020 Paul K. Fox