Let’s face it—teaching is stressful. Many of us drawn to this profession tend to be sensitive, somewhat bleeding-heart types who want to change the world for our students. Some of us battle anxiety. Others fight depression. In order to be successful in our classrooms and make it mentally in this noble profession of ours, we have to take care of our beautiful souls. We can’t give to others when we’re completely depleted ourselves. When we feel our nerves fray, we need to stop and nurture ourselves immediately so we can stay healthy. Here are five actionable steps you can take right in the moment to effectively manage classroom stress when you feel overwhelmed by the day-to-day workings of school. Additionally, I’m including some affiliate links for your convenience. You won’t pay any more by ordering through these links, but I may make a small commission.
Take a Breath
When testing and data collection and to-do lists threaten to overcome you like a snow drift in a blizzard, stop and breathe. Close your eyes, inhale through your nose to a slow count of four, and exhale through your mouth to a slow count of four. Do five to ten cycles of deep breathing. Accept your never-ending list of tasks, acknowledge your stress, try to clear your head, and allow yourself this few minutes of peace.
You’ll feel instantly better, especially if you can manage to stem the tide of thoughts while you’re intentionally breathing. Scientifically, you’re also sending oxygen to your brain. When we’re nervous, we tend to hold our breath. If the body parts we need to perform when we’re under stress can’t get enough air, we can’t be as effective. Once you give your brain a break and your body some oxygen, you activate those creative parts of yourself that can solve problems. You also stimulate your happiness chemicals which will help you to effectively manage classroom stress.
So take a breath. Besides, if you teach upper elementary and middle school, you won’t want to inhale through your nose when the weather gets warmer or you’ll asphyxiate from the armpit cloud that follows everyone in from recess and PE. Enjoy the fresher air while it lasts.
Exercise to Effectively Manage Classroom Stress
Exercise also stimulates breathing and our positivity juice—the brain chemicals that keep us happy. Get up from your desk and take a quick walk around the building during your planning or lunch. Do some push-ups, yoga, or lunges in your reading center. Play soccer with your students at recess. Challenge your kids to try to take more laps around the playground than you can—then beat them! Not only will you get your heart pumping and blood flowing to move those ideas through you, you’ll also get to play. Playing with our students makes us remember why we wanted to teach in the first place. These kids are so much more than the numbers we’re plugging in to data charts. Click To Tweet
Get in the Moment
When students in our school show signs of anxiety, we ask them to stop immediately and take in their surroundings. We ask them to tell us something in the area that they see, hear, smell, or feel. Initially, a kid in the situation will look at us like we’re nuts, but generally they’ll comply. Once they’re present in their bodies making observations about their environment, they ease out of that space of escalation into a more mindful place. The problem that upsets them still exists, but the kids can see the issues from a calmer, more effective space.
The same strategy works for us teachers, too. I know because I’ve used it. Using my five senses to make myself aware of my surroundings quells a melt-down and helps me think more clearly. It will work for you, too. Trust me–getting in the moment is a great way to effectively manage classroom stress.
Invest in a Desktop Essential Oil Diffuser
Most school policies forbid air fresheners because of allergies—some of the plug-in types are fire hazards. I use this one that plugs right into my computer’s USB port. It’s small enough that I don’t have to worry about the scent overpowering any allergic students, and it’s powerful enough to completely envelope me in a happy little cloud. Oil diffusers don’t put out artificial fragrance into the air so they are considered healthier. Diffusing lavender or peppermint oils are calming and help with focus and attention. They also neutralize student gym stink.
Throw On the Tunes
If your district allows you to stream Pandora or other music service, set up instrumental stations with calming music suitable for the ages and tastes of the students you teach. Certain types of music aid student focus and help those neurons fire. Tunes also effectively manage classroom stress.
In the moment when stress threatens to take over, stop. Immediately think of five things that you’re grateful for. They don’t have to be job-related; in fact, it might be better if they aren’t in an instance of nerve-wracking anxiety. Gratitude has the power to immediately turn around concerns you’re feeling. Even if you’re only thankful for an upcoming snowy weather report, then hold on to that. This, too, shall pass.
There you have it. Five easy ways to stem the tide of stress in the moment before it threatens to take over.