The summer is almost over and those of you who are teachers will soon be back at school.
Last week, I had the pleasure of running a workshop with Luiza Szafrańska for 50 primary school teachers about stress management in schools. While it might seem like six weeks of holidays would eliminate stress for teachers, the experience of working with this group showed me that this is not necessarily the case. No matter how much time off one has had, the anticipation of returning to a stressful environment can be very difficult. Teachers deal with so many challenges, from pupil behaviour to paperwork, and the pressure can often have a detrimental effect on their health and wellbeing. In fact, according to research by Workwear Giant, the most stressful jobs are in teaching and education. So, in this blog, I would like to share five ideas for managing stress.
1. Listen to your body. It gives you signals that you’re under stress.
Have you heard about psychosomatic illnesses?
Psychosomatic means mind (psyche) and body (soma). A psychosomatic disorder is a disease which involves both mind and body. Some physical diseases are thought to be particularly prone to being made worse by psychological factors such as stress and anxiety. Your mental state can affect how bad a physical disease is at any given time.
It is well known that the mind can cause physical symptoms. For example, when we are afraid or anxious, we may develop physical symptoms of anxiety, such as a racing heart, sweaty palms, or dizziness.
If you have experience insomnia, stomach-aches, or fast breathing, you should ask yourself if you are experiencing any stress at work, or in your private life. It may sound obvious, but unfortunately many of us have a hard time turning into our minds and bodies, and instead reach out for quick fixes like painkillers, coffee, alcohol, or social media. According to Alexander Kugelstadt, a psychosomatic expert, medical doctor and psychotherapist, these distractions only work temporarily. If we don’t listen to our bodies, the symptoms will only become worse.
Stress affects our breathing, making it shallower and faster. Less and less oxygen gets to our body cells and our heart rate increases. One of the easiest responses to this is to manage breath.
I’m going to share a box breathing method used by US navy seals with you. It calms down the body very fast.
Step 1: Slowly exhale
Sitting upright, slowly exhale through your mouth, getting all the oxygen out of your lungs. Focus on this intention and be conscious of what you’re doing.
Step 2: Slowly inhale
Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose to the count of four. In this step, count to four very slowly in your head. Feel the air fill your lungs, one section at a time, until your lungs are completely full and the air moves into your abdomen.
Step 3: Hold your breath
Hold your breath for another slow count of four.
Step 4: Exhale again
Exhale through your mouth for the same slow count of four, expelling the air from your lungs and abdomen. Be conscious of the feeling of the air leaving your lungs.
Step 5: Hold your breath again
Hold your breath for the same slow count of four before repeating this process.
3. Release emotions from your body
Even though a stressful situation or event is over our body tends to “store” stress for a long time. You may still experience headaches, stomach aches, sleepless nights, and tiredness. The best way to release stored hormones (such as cortisol and adrenaline) is through physical activity. Our colleague Sabina Bronicka-Stuart talks about restoring physical energy in this interview.
Going for a walk or jog, swimming, yoga… Choose an activity which you love, and which won’t create more stress. Here you can find a brilliant and easy stretching and self-massage exercise with a tennis ball.
4. Practice mindfulness
Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.
Whenever you bring awareness to what you’re directly experiencing via your senses, or to your state of mind via your thoughts and emotions, you’re being mindful. And there’s growing research showing that when you train your brain to be mindful, you’re actually remodeling the physical structure of your brain.
I would like to invite you to take on a 7-day mindfulness challenge, which you can access here.
5. Reach out for help
If you feel you need help reach out for support from your friends, managers and perhaps a therapist. You’re not alone. Teachers are experiencing a lot of stress. In Ireland, the UK and USA, 40% of teachers are on medication for anxiety.
To help teachers we created a dedicated stress management in schools course.
This course will reconnect you with the sense of purpose where you feel valued and can reflect that value back to your classroom. This course will also cover the topic of trauma awareness. Over 10% of kids have experience trauma. These are the kids who will be disruptive for seemingly no reason and is often attributed to simply bad behaviour. By increasing trauma awareness in teachers, we can better support these students and manage related behaviours more effectively.
We want to help our teachers create a classroom environment where children feel inspired, understood and safe and that they look forward to every day.