Right before the holiday season, things get hectic. Children are bouncing off the walls with excitement and anticipation, and we teachers are left trying to manage both our classrooms and our holiday to-do lists. When stress strikes, it can affect not only the way that we feel but how our students feel as well. That's why stress management for teachers is important. Luckily, with these strategies, you can combat stress before it hits full force.
1. Get Enough Exercise
I know—the last thing you want to hear is that you need to exercise. Everyone knows regular exercise gives you more energy, improves your mood, and works as a great stress reliever, but with so much on your plate, who has the time? You do. You just have to make it.
If you find that your schedule is leaving you sedentary, then you need to work some movement into your day. It's easier to incorporate exercise into your daily routine than you think. Take your students outside for a walk, incorporate some yoga into your mornings as a class, or even have a quick dance party to help break up the day.
Further reading: A Little Prep for Holiday Breaks Goes a Long Way
When I was feeling anxious, I knew I had to do something about it, so I researched classroom yoga and started doing poses with my students each morning. I found that we all felt better after I incorporated this small bit of movement into our day. If we didn't get the chance to do morning yoga, then I'd try and incorporate just 5-10 minutes of some type of moderate exercise, like jumping jacks, mountain climbers, or even dancing in place, to help us unwind.
2. Do a Good Deed
The holiday season is all about giving; when you do a good deed for someone other than yourself, it makes you feel good. People don't realize that giving back can actually be a remedy for stress. In fact, research from the University of Buffalo found that when people think about others, they aren't thinking about their own problems, and this distraction may reduce the effects of stress. It's like taking a little vacation from your internal stresses.
When I learned about this theory, I decided to try it out myself. I surprised my students with a special treat, anonymously paid for someone's coffee, and brought Christmas cookies for all of my colleagues. It felt wonderful to give back! I found that, whether or not you know the person, performing any act of kindness will make you feel happy.
3. Do Absolutely Nothing
Did you know that you can relieve stress by doing nothing at all? According to the American Psychological Association, practicing mindfulness is an effective way to reduce stress. Whether you take a moment to just breathe, or you sit at your desk while your students are at lunch, you're making a commitment to yourself to press the pause button and just be still in the moment.
The thing I love the most about mindfully doing nothing is that it can be done anywhere and at any time. Just taking a moment to slow down and notice the world helps me unwind and feel calmer. This approach is especially helpful during the holidays when you have a classroom full of excited children.
4. Challenge Your Brain
While keeping active and mediating are both great stress relievers, you can also reduce stress in a fun way by challenging your brain. Check out brain games like Sudoku or a crossword puzzle, learn a new instrument or sport, or even discover a new language. I found that keeping my mind busy helps me feel less stressed. Every day, I use an app called Peak, which offers up a lot of fun, logic-based games. It only takes about 5-10 minutes, and I can unwind during any bit of alone time I get during the school day.
5. Indulge in Dark Chocolate
Those chocolate cravings that you get may be justified after all! It turns out that eating dark chocolate may lower your levels of cortisol (the stress hormone). There are other benefits to eating dark chocolate too, such as improved mood—I know chocolate makes me happier! So when you're feeling a little stressed in the classroom, go ahead and indulge.
When I read this research, I decided to create a calming corner at my desk, outfitted with some dark chocolate and a few aromatherapy scents. Whenever I was feeling stressed throughout the day, I had my break to look forward to because I could alleviate this stress with some sweet scents and some chocolate.
Further reading: 'Tis the Season for Winter STEM Activities
The best way to survive the holiday season and truly unwind is to find what works best for you. Some teachers like to start their mornings off with a quick jog while others find serenity in mediation or giving back to others. Ultimately, stress management for teachers is a process of trial and error. So, how will you unwind this holiday season?