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Sunday, January 12, 2014

Calm Down and Reduce Your Stress: Tips for Mindful (but Busy!) Teachers

Why do teachers feel stressed? 

No matter what subject area or age group you teach, you’re probably trying to do all or most of these things simultaneously:
  • Balancing the needs and interests of individual students and the class as a whole; 
  • Meeting curriculum objectives and preparing for high-stakes tests (even more fun when the objectives don’t correspond to the tests); and
  • Dealing with administrators, parents, and/or sponsors who may have conflicting ideas about how and what you should be teaching.

Photo by imagerymagestic for

So how do you deal with all of this?

Well, if you’re like the vast majority of teachers I know, you deal with it in a way that’s as effective and gracious as possible, then go home and flop on the couch, weighed down by a heavy pile of correcting and an even heavier pile of guilt.

I’m guessing that you already know what work you need to get done and how you need to do it—if only you weren’t so exhausted. 

But how do you get the rest you need?


Go Out of Your Mind... and Into Your Body

Like a lot of teachers, when I'm not at school I spend a lot of time thinking about how to help my students, or mentally planning what to do in class, or thinking about how the education system could be changed.

Sometimes, that's useful and productiveBut a lot of times it spirals into worrying about anything and everything that could go wrong.  Which just makes me anxious and saps my energy. 

So I've been finding it very helpful to go through the weekly mindfulness exercises in How to Train a Wild Elephant by Jan Chozen Bays.

You could also design your own practice, to be rotated daily, weekly, monthly, or whatever feels right to you. It can be anything from noticing a particular color to brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand. Really, anything that shifts your focus away from internal chatter toward what's in your body and physical surroundings. 

Take a Walk on the Wild Side... or in the Wild

When you're at your most stressed, I recommend Bays' suggestion of "silly walking," à la Monty Python. Yes, it's, well, silly, but that's the point. 

Of course, you probably don't want to get up in the middle of class or a faculty meeting to walk around flapping your arms--although that could get interesting--but even imagining yourself doing a silly walk can help loosen you up and break the tension.  

Or simply walk. As ESL teacher William Little put it in a recent interview, “what really helps me to stay in shape mentally is walking, especially when I can go to the forest with my dog. I need that quiet time to clear my head.” 

If you can't get outdoors, or if it's as cold where you are as it is here, I recommend the free walking-based workouts on youtube. (My favorite instructor is Jessica Smith; she has a series of 15 minute 'walk and talk' videos on self-care topics, which might be a nice way to get started.)

The important thing is to find a way to help yourself shift your focus away from your anxious thoughts.  This will help
ease your stress, which will make it easier to focus on what needs to get done, and let go of what you can't do anything about.

Self-care isn't about self-indulgence. It's about figuring out ways to stay healthy and calm and motivated, even in the midst of an overwhelming workload and all kinds of factors we can't control. The more of us who can do this, the more everyone will benefit.


related posts:

Realistic Self-Care: Is It Possible to Keep All the Balls in the Air?

Recharge and Avoid Burnout: Tips for Mindful (but Busy!) Teachers.

Step Back , Then Tackle Your Frustration: Tips for Mindful (but Busy!) Teachers