A career in teaching is both rewarding and uniquely challenging. It doesn’t matter where, who or what you teach: the pace of change is rapid, the level of scrutiny is high and the workload can be punishing. So it is important that you prioritise taking care of yourself: you can’t take care of anyone else until you do.
“Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
1. Be aware of your personal stress threshold
We all have a stress threshold, and while we operate under it, everything is fine, but if we’re constantly operating on it or over it, then suddenly things you might normally see as routine start to become big, big problems. It doesn’t take a major life event to put you over your threshold: if you’re hitting snooze (again!), rushing around trying to get lunch made, bags packed, shirts ironed, schedules synchronised, all while checking your phone to see if there are any important work emails you need to take care of while you wait for the jug to boil…you may be edging close to your personal threshold, before you even leave the house in the morning. Know your physical and emotional warning signs and don’t ignore them.
2. Start the day right
I recently read The 5am Club by Robin Sharma, and for about an hour after I finished reading it, I truly believed I was going to get up everyday at 5am and follow the 60 minute routine of champions. OK, that’s not happening, but I have taken away from the book the benefit of incorporating movement, mindfulness, and mindset into my morning. Even if it’s just a few minutes of silence and a bit of stretching before deciding on my top priority for the day, it helps me to feel that bit calmer and more focused…and less likely to burn the toast!
3. Eat well
Put down the chocolate! Food can be a huge source of stress in the body. The food we eat can literally raise or lower our stress levels. This occurs because of the gut-brain axis. The trillions of bugs that live in our gut are either sending calm signals to our brains based on what we eat or they’re initiating the apocalypse following your breakfast of sugar with a sugar chaser.
4. Breathe deeply
Even a one minute deep breathing practice can have a profound effect on your stress levels. By taking longer to breathe out than in, you activate the parasympathetic nervous system, this slows your heart rate and induces a relaxation response. Breathe in through the nose for a count of three, hold your breath for a count of four and then breathe out through your mouth for a count of 5. Keep going for around a minute.
5. Spend time outside
We are spending more and more time inside, at desks, and staring at computer or TV screens, so as the weather improves (for northern hemisphere readers!) make sure you find some time to get outside everyday. Can you use your lunch break to get outdoors? And while this may sound mad, when you’re out there, look at trees. Yes, you read that right. Trees have geometric shapes called fractals inside them and research has shown that looking at fractals, which only occur in nature, lowers your cortisol levels. So just by looking at trees you can reduce one of the main stress response hormones. Just by looking at trees. Enjoy.
6. Limit your commitments
If you become aware of your personal stress warning signs, give yourself permission to switch off. Only do what you have to do. Cut out all non-essential activities for a bit, maybe a week or a weekend, or maybe longer, it depends on how you feel. This applies to work as well as your social life. Be brutal – things that masquerade as leisure activities can take a lot more energy than you realise. Has that yoga class become just one more thing ‘to do’? If so, give it a miss for a while.
7. Sleep well
Although it varies from individual to individual, the National Sleep Association recommends 7-9 hours a night for an adult aged between 26 to 64. If you’re routinely shaving off ‘just a few minutes’ in the morning and the evening, you might find that you’re getting a lot less sleep than you think. Try keeping a sleep diary for a couple of weeks and see if there is a physical explanation for why you feel tired all the time. Or if you have trouble falling asleep, try listening to calm music, reading a book or doing some gentle stretching or yoga nidra before going to bed at night, and make sure you put your phone away for at least an hour before you start getting ready for bed.
Stress can make you feel sick, anxious and like you’re losing control. Exercise boosts your endorphins, lifts your mood and builds your resilience to stress, meaning it can help you to stay calm under stress and to combat negative feelings. And exercising outside, even for just 5 minutes, is even better for you.
9. Give yourself a work curfew
Set a time limit to the number of hours you will work of an evening, or set a curfew, say 9pm, by which you always stop working. And while you’re at it, make sure there are at least three nights a week when you don’t do any school work.
10. Live Mindfully
A happy mind equals a happy body. It’s time to reconnect your mind with your body. Mindfulness isn’t about sitting cross legged on a cushion and meditating. It’s a practise that emphasises being in the present moment, being aware of your emotions and thoughts (both positive and negative) while keeping calm. It’s about pressing the pause button between the stimulus and the response. Why not try downloading the Calm or Headspace app?
“Above all, no strain and no stress. Be straightforward. Look at things like a man, like a human being, like a citizen, like a mortal…That everything you see will soon alter and cease to exist.”