4 Keys to Coping With Stress in Education

Dan TricaricoBlog, Lead Better, Self Care Better, Teach Happier

TL;DR:

  • Teacher stress leads to teacher burnout… and sometimes, leaving the profession.
  • Four elements to help you cope with stress you’re facing.
  • Words of wisdom and inspiration as you engage in important self care.

Teacher burnout is real. And to be totally honest, it isn’t getting any better. According to one study, only 7% of surveyed teachers felt they had strong coping skills to deal with the chronic stress inherent in the teaching profession.

The truth is: No one is taking care of teachers. So it looks like we’re going to have to learn to take care of ourselves.

The truth is: No one is taking care of teachers. So it looks like we’re going to have to learn to take care of ourselves. Click To Tweet

Teacher burnout is the result of uninterrupted professional stress. One definition of stress might be the discrepancy between whats you’re doing and what you want to be doing. The anxiety and tensions lies in the chasm between obligation and desire.

If you’re not making choices to spend your time where your values are, then you can expect to experience some stress. Live too long in the middle of this discrepancy, and you have the perfect storm for teacher burnout.

Live with teacher burnout for too long and you may decide you need to leave the classroom—even if you don’t want to.

How do I know this?

I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I’ve been teaching high school English for nearly 30 years, and I stood by and watched as we lost three teachers in our English department within the space of just a few short years.

After melting down in one of her classes, one of our teachers left to the become a librarian at another school in the district. She’s much happier now.

A second called in one morning and said, “I’m not coming back.” We never heard from her again.

And a third put himself in a situation where he had to be escorted from the classroom. Six years later, he was dead of a heart attack.

While I don’t claim to know the individual circumstances surrounding each of those teacher’s personal lives, I did know them well enough to know that their dissatisfaction with where education was headed was a large part of the problem.

So how can we cope with the stressors inherent in our profession?

Here are four solid first steps for increasing your self-care so that you can keep the stress in education at bay.

Tip #1 to Cope with Stress: Permission.

The first key to self-care is Permission.

Giving yourself permission to take care of yourself, devoid of shame and devoid of guilt, will set you on the road to a personalized self-care plan that can help you cope.

Many people feel that self-care is selfish and that everyone else must come first. The problem with that approach, however, is that then you’ve given everything you have. At that point, it is impossible to function at one’s best and be the best for others when there is nothing left in the tank.

As the saying goes, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” The bottom line is that you are worthy of care and it should come from someone who loves you—namely, YOU!

Tip #2 to Cope with Stress: Action

Once you have allowed yourself the freedom and permission to take care of yourself, you must decide what that care looks like and then you must act on that plan.

Knowing that self-care is important is completely useless unless you are willing to implement the techniques and strategies necessary to reduce the stress, anxiety, and tension. Only then will you improve the self-care that allows you to renew, recharge, and rejuvenate, so you can be your best for yourself and others.

Tip #3 to Cope with Stress: Grace

There will be times when you stumble. When your self-care plan falls apart. You let yourself down. When you do not do what you say you will do. You will miss a trip to the gym. You’ll be grumpy with your children or significant other. You will have a third cupcake (Okay, I’m just speaking for myself here, but you get my drift).

But no matter what happens, you need to remember that self-care is a path, a journey. And in any journey, there are bumps and stumbles along the way. So let this be a reminder not to beat yourself up too much when they happen.

Tip #4 to Cope with Stress: Success

Finally, when you have created consistently effective self-care habits, it’s important that you acknowledge and celebrate the wins.

This can take many forms: tell a loved one, write it down in a journal, or share your win on social media.

In my case, I often share what I call “perfect moments” from my day on both Instagram and Twitter. This may be a rare moment of stillness, a particularly enjoyable meal or beverage, or some quiet time reading or listening to music. By acknowledging those moments on social media, it not only increases my sense of gratitude, but models for others what a moment of self-care might look like.

I also have created a graphic of a gold heart with the words “I am grateful” emblazoned across it. When I post things in my life that I am grateful for, I use that graphic—and I do this year ‘round, not just in November. These are two great ways to remind myself of the success in my life.

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Take Care of Yourself

Once you have a handle on these four key elements of self-care, you can design a customized program that best suits your own personal needs. Only you know if you need a session of yoga, some quiet time in the local bookstore, a mani-pedi, or a weekend in Paris with that special someone (well, a man can dream).

None of that will happen until you first give yourself permission, take action, gift yourself with grace and forgiveness when things don’t go as planned, and acknowledge and celebrate the successes.

When you feel the stress and anxiety start to rise, it’s important that you first allow yourself to be in the moment and feel what you feel. Then, it’s important to make a plan.

I hope these four steps help you understand the important of staying sane in the classroom. Because we need you.

And if there is one message I wish every teacher knew deep in his or her heart, it would be this: You work hard enough and you are okay exactly as you are.


ABOUT DAN TRICARICO

Dan Tricarico has been a high school English teacher for nearly thirty years. He is also the author of The Zen Teacher: Creating Focus, Simplicity, and Tranquility in the Classroom (DBC, Inc. 2015) and Sanctuaries: Self-Care Secrets for Stressed Out Teachers (DBC, Inc. 2018). In his spare time, he enjoys writing, listening to music, reading mystery novels, watching movies, and staring out of windows. One of his first loves is writing poetry, and he has published many poems both in print and on-line.