Considering that everyone starts back rested and refreshed after our long summer break, it might seem a strange time to think about looking after ourselves, but in truth, can you think of a better topic? A stitch in time saves nine, and most teachers, I find, are keen to maintain the sense of wellbeing they return with after a decent holiday. The other side of the picture is stress and burnout – all too common in the education sector, as we all know.
Some simple stress reduction strategies
There are many strategies for stress reduction and shelves of books written on the topic. In this short article let’s examine just a few simple techniques, and then we’ll expand on three of them:
- Step away for a moment. This might be a mental step rather than physical – even a mental disconnect gives us space to notice what’s happening.
- Remember to breathe. Take a few deep breaths down into your abdomen and consciously breathe out, noticing the breath pass your upper lip.
- Ask yourself ‘Will it matter in 5 years time?’
- Ask yourself: ‘Whose problem is this?’ If it’s not yours, let it go.
- Work with your body rhythms, not against them.
- If you’re really tired – stop. Don’t keep pushing against what your body tells you – or you will get sick.
- Have regular ‘do nothing’ weekends – about every month to six weeks. Leave school with the pupils, take no work home and give yourself a complete break from work-related activities and commitments.
- Be like a little child – live in the ‘now’.
Let others do the worrying
When I invited input for ‘About Time for Teaching’ a while back, a number of tips on how to avoid burnout were received. Don Dickins, an Australian principal, had this to say:
‘Whether you are driving to work, eating your lunch, at the photocopier, preparing classes, or talking to kids and parents, relax. Let them do the worrying.’
If you tend to be a worry-wart, this sage advice may sound hard to achieve. Do we always know we’re doing it?
The good news is, as we get into the habit of noticing our posture, as we learn to notice the tension in our shoulder, as we become aware of the depth or otherwise of our breathing, it becomes easier and faster to pick up the signals. As soon as we become aware of a build-up of tension, even a simple deep breath can shift our mental and physical state. It becomes a trigger or anchor for a state change.
Listen to your body
From a student of Alison Smith, who was a lecturer in educational management at Unitec New Zealand:
‘Listen to your body. Make best use of your prime times todo difficult jobs that require thought and concentration.’
For many, their time of top concentration is some time in the morning, but you might be different. Notice your most productive time and try to avoid meetings (unless they require your highest level of attention), interruptions and low-level work at those peak times. Where possible, block out your most productive time as appointments with yourself, or ‘Red Time’, where you don’t take phone calls or interruptions.
When your body says ‘I’m really tired’ – stop. This is a hard one for many of us. If we go into ‘get out the whip and push harder’ mode when work still waits but we’re tired, are we really effective? Have you noticed the consequence? Most of us, under that regime, get sick or burn out.
Stretch time – live in the ‘now’
Consider how often we say to ourselves: ‘When holidays come, when the kids get older, when I get a raise, when I lose weight, when we get that new house, ….. I’ll be happy, successful, content, ….’ It’s taken me a lot of years to get beyond this kind of thinking. The fascinating thing is, once we learn to live moment by moment, truly experiencing the joy of each large and small event, time expands.
Moving at top speed all the time is not living, nor is it efficient. Instead, it’s a recipe for burnout and exhaustion.