Part 1-Why the **** are we so stressed? And what can we do about it today?
There are many reasons teachers are so stressed and the burnout rate in our profession is rapidly increasing. It is estimated that fifty percent of new teachers leave the profession in the first five years of teaching. Veteran teachers may not leave the profession as steadily, but it may at the expense of their health and well-being.
So why the **** are we so stressed? There are many reasons that stress exists for us as teachers…too many that have nothing to do with things we can do much about. So, this list is focusing on things that cause us stress, but they are also things we may be able to do something about.
Here are four reasons we are so stressed out!
- We worry about things we can’t control
- We never find times to disconnect and slow down
- We pride ourselves on being busy
- We care so much
Because this is such an important aspect of teacher well-being, this is going to be a four part series, with each post covering one of the four reasons we are so stressed (and don’t worry, there will be solutions provided too!!)
Reason #1 We We Worry About Things We Can’t Control
We worry ourselves with things we can’t control
Many of us, including myself, are consistent worriers…through the years I have coined the term “catastrophizer” to describe myself when I get “in my head” about a certain new initiative at school that may or may not happen or a student who is struggling with something that has nothing to do with me. Sometimes we confuse worrying with caring. Although the two are rooted from the same place of intention, worrying can start to hijack our thoughts and inevitably we may become consumed with a laundry list of people, places and things that we are worrying about. But what are we most often worrying about? Usually it’s either what has already happened (did I do something right? Did I make a mistake?) or what’s going to happen in the future (is this lesson going to go well? Is this student going to be okay). So if you have one foot in yesterday and one foot in tomorrow, you don’t have any feet in today. And today is the one place that you have some choices about.
So why does worrying about things we can’t control make us so stressed? Well, precisely that…if we can’t control them, by spending our energy worrying about them we automatically take ourselves to a place of helplessness. Also by spending time in our heads, we are missing the experience that we are involved with right in front of our eyes. Worrying also activates a fight or flight mechanism in our brains. We get a signal to our bodies to either run for cover or to fight the predator. The problem is that there is no official predator. This fight or flight mechanism is our brain‘s way of protecting us from danger. But because we’re not actually running from anything, our body produces these chemicals, which elevates our blood pressure and speeds up our heart rate, leading us to feel the feelings associated with stress.
So what to do? Well, it’s not likely that one day you will wake up and never worry about a class, a student or a parent (until the day you retire, maybe!) However, getting in tune with how you feel when that worry begins to happen is a great first step.
When you realize you are worried, where do you feel this in your body?
Try to find a place where this worry is hiding out.
- Take a few slow, deep breaths.
- Take a few moments to think about the root of this worry….is there anything that you can do right now to help the situation?
- Try to think of the next immediate action that you can take to help relieve this worry…it’s very possible that there’s nothing that can be done right now. In which case, acknowledge the worry for what it is…a nuisance that is trying to take you out of the present moment.
- Politely thank the worry for trying to get your attention and then move forward with the rest of your day.
Now it may sound really funny to actually address your worry in that way…like it’s a living thing…but think about it…it seems like it’s pretty alive if you can feel it and are thinking about it! So, just like a student who is acting disruptive, begging for your attention, this worrying thought also wants your attention. What happens when we give appropriate, respectful attention to the student who is needing it? Most of the time the student quiets down, at least for a little while. This is the same way a worrying thought will work. Give it appropriate acknowledgement and then it will quiet down for a time…it will not last forever, but it will at least quiet down for now.
So the next time you are feeling stressed and worried, try to acknowledge the worry. You may find that by not ignoring your thoughts and emotions they may not stick around quite as long. You may also realize how much you are carrying around that you can’t control. So take that information and work toward something that you can control…like taking care of YOU! If we take care of ourselves we are doing something for each of our students, the teachers we work with, our schools, our families and our communities and that is a big deal.
Stay tuned for Part 2 next week where we will explore how not taking the time to slow down and disconnect contributes to our stress….and real things we can do about it today!
If you are looking for tips on how to leave the stress and overwhelm behind and really start finding some calm, please check out Teaching Well’s “10 Ways to Find Calm Amidst Chaos in your Classroom so that you can Stop Stressing & Start TeachingAgain.”