Stressed Out?

More Remedies for Reducing Teacher Stress & Burnout

stress-1837384_1920_johnhainWelcome 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.”

  1. 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. 
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. stress-2379631_1920_DavidqrPractice 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Limit “grass is greener” thinking… You will have challenges anywhere you go.
  7. Work smarter, not harder… Find ways to delegate some of your work, or invest in tools or technologies that will make your life easier. 
  8. Ask for help… doesn’t make you weaker, it makes you better at your job.
  9. 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. 

 

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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:

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 navy SEALStwice 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.

Stephanie Vozza

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

Reuben Brody

 

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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.

MEJ December 2019Her 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:

  1. Laugh with your students
  2. Eat your lunch (take a break or enjoy social time)
  3. Schedule regular physical activity
  4. Drink more water (and visit the bathroom as needed!)
  5. Prioritize your work and set boundaries
  6. Keep a consistent bedtime
  7. Delegate – don’t be afraid to ask for help
  8. Focus on what’s really important

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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?

  1. Close the door during prep time.
  2. Make a SHORT and DOABLE “Must Do” and “May Do” lists.
  3. Delegate items to parent volunteers.
  4. Lay out your outfit and prepare your healthy lunch the night before.
  5. Get a full eight hours of sleep.
  6. Don’t correct every piece of paper.
  7. Work out!
  8. Get up early!
  9. Stay away from negativity.
  10. Don’t take things home.
  11. Plan time every week/day to enjoy something that is not remotely related to teaching.*
  12. meditate-1851165_1920_PexelsLearn something new.
  13. Plan a trip.
  14. Don’t over-commit.
  15. 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.

Nancy Jang

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
  • LOL
  • Unplug, literally
  • Schedule your work time and your fun time

 

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Balance

Work Life Balance ZelinskiIn 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.

 

Resources

 

PKF

 

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

wooden-train-2066492_1920_

 

 

 

 

 

 

© 2020 Paul K. Fox

Sing Your Heart Out… Now and in Retirement

pmeaReprinted from the Spring 2016 issue of PMEA News, the state journal of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association.

 

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Isn’t the Internet a wonderful place to validate something you have always known? After only a brief Google search, the research seems overwhelming! Here are my top five reasons all of us should participate in a choir… throughout our adult lives!

  1. Singing promotes a healthy immune system.

lungs-39980_1280If you’ve ever been in a choir, you’ve probably been told that the proper way to sing is from your belly.

The idea is to use your diaphragm – the large muscle that separates your chest and abdominal cavities – to push air out through your vocal cords.

Using your diaphragm to sing is a good way to promote a healthy lymphatic system, which in turn promotes a healthy immune system.

Dr. Ben Kim at http://drbenkim.com/articles-singing-for-health.htm.

  1. Singing soothes the savage beast… and makes you feel better!

relax-1183452_1920As the popularity of group singing grows, science has been hard at work trying to explain why it has such a calming yet energizing effect on people. What researchers are beginning to discover is that singing is like an infusion of the perfect tranquilizer, the kind that both soothes your nerves and elevates your spirits.

Group singing is cheaper than therapy, healthier than drinking, and certainly more fun than working out.  It is the one thing in life where feeling better is pretty much guaranteed.

Stacy Horn at http://ideas.time.com/2013/08/16/singing-changes-your-brain/

  1. Don’t you want to live longer? Singing is “heart healthy!”

aorta-151145_1280Regular exercising of the vocal cords can even prolong life, according to research done by leading vocal coach and singer Helen Astrid, from The Helen Astrid Singing Academy in London. “It’s a great way to keep in shape because you are exercising your lungs and heart.”

Singing… helps you live longer according to the findings of a joint Harvard and Yale study, which showed that choral singing increased the life expectancy of the population of New Haven, Connecticut. The report concluded that this was because singing promoted both a healthy heart and an enhanced mental state.

Heart Research UK at http://heartresearch.org.uk/fundraising/singing-good-you

  1. Think “karaoke!” Singing builds “connections” with each other and social confidence.

singer-84874_1920Colette Hiller, director of Sing The Nation, is convinced that singing builds social confidence by helping individuals connect to each other, and to their environment. “Think of a football stadium with everyone singing,” she says. “There’s an excitement, you feel part of it, singing bonds people and always has done. There’s a ‘goosebumpy’ feeling of connection.”

Chorus America, an organization of singing groups in the United States of America, conducted a survey a few years ago, and found that more people in the U.S. and Canada take part in choral singing more than in any other performing art, since they feel that singing in a chorus builds social confidence. Nikki Slade, who runs The Priory, a chanting and voice-work class, believes that the benefits of singing are linked to the primacy and power of the human voice – and that it is our basic instinct to use it. “People are naturally free and expressive,” she says, “but it’s something that has been lost on a day-to-day basis.” Singing can help restore that lost connection.

http://www.shankarmahadevanacademy.com/community/articles/view/6/

  1. Singing reduces stress and pain, and benefits “senior citizens” especially well.

stress-1277561_1920Studies have linked singing with a lower heart rate, decreased blood pressure, and reduced stress, according to Patricia Preston-Roberts, a board-certified music therapist in New York City. She uses song to help patients who suffer from a variety of psychological and physiological conditions.

“Some people who have been traumatized often want to leave the physical body, and using the voice helps ground them to their bodies,” Preston-Roberts says. “Singing also seems to block a lot of the neural pathways that pain travels through.”

Singing, particularly in a chorus, seems to benefit the elderly particularly well. As part of a three-year study examining how singing affects the health of those 55 and older, a Senior Singers Chorale was formed by the Levine School of Music in Washington, D.C.

choir-305535_1280The seniors involved in the chorale (as well as seniors involved in two separate arts groups involving writing and painting) showed significant health improvements compared to those in the control groups. Specifically, the arts groups reported an average of:

  • 30 fewer doctor visits
  • Fewer eyesight problems
  • Less incidence of depression
  • Less need for medication
  • Fewer falls and other injuries

The seniors themselves also noticed health improvements, said Jeanne Kelly, director of the Levine School of Music, Arlington Campus, who led the choral group. The seniors reported:

  • Feeling better both in daily life and while singing
  • Their everyday voice quality was better
  • The tone of their speaking voice did not seem to age as much
  • Easier breathing
  • Better posture

http://www.sixwise.com/newsletters/06/06/07/how_singing_improves_your_health_even_if_other_people_shouldnt_hear_you_singing.htm

female-1299085_1280Okay, besides that crack about “elderly” in that last article (we’re not “old,” yet!), the evidence seems conclusive! For our general health, feelings of well-being, improved social connections, and “just having fun,” we should all be motivated TODAY to go out and find a community choir and start singing regularly in a group. Enough said?

Similar to the “nearly comprehensive” instrumental ensemble listing published by PMEA retired members in the Fall 2015 issue of PMEA News, check out the recently released directory of Pennsylvania community choruses.  Sorted by ensemble’s name and also by location, these files of PA community bands/orchestras and choirs will be updated (new groups added) from time to time, and new revisions will be posted online under “focus areas” and “retired members” of the PMEA website: http://www.pmea.net/retired-members/. (If you have any corrections or additions, please send them to paulkfox.usc@gmail.com.)

choir-783666_1920For both the instrumental and choral groups, we are most thankful to the contributions of our “dream team” of PMEA researchers and editors (as of April 13, 2016): Jan Burkett, Craig Cannon, Jo Cauffman, Deborah Confredo, Susan Dieffenbach, Timothy Ellison, Paul Fox, Joshua Gibson, Rosemary Haber, Estelle Hartranft, Betty Hintenlang, Ada Jean Hoffman, Thomas Kittinger, Chuck Neidhardt, Sarah Riggenbach, Ron Rometo, Joanne Rutkowski, Marie Weber, Lee Wesner, and Terri Winger-Wittreich. We are especially grateful to the efforts of Director of Member Engagement Joshua Gibson who located the counties and e-mail addresses in the choir directory.

Now, what are you waiting for? Go out and… sing!

PKF

© 2016 Paul K. Fox

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