Sail Through the Stress of the Storm
If I look through a window pane and see teaching as weather, teaching would be the thunderstorm. And as we sail our classroom ship on this maelstrom of hormones, stress, conflicting priorities, and distractions, it takes rock-solid habits of mind and life to be the kind of self-assured captain who can weather the storm.
“I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”
JRR Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
Health professionals believe that 80-90% of all disease is stress related. Gallup’s 2014 State of American Schools reports half of teachers claim they have significant daily stress. (The highest of all careers polled.)
This month’s Global Search on Education question is “What are the quick ways to combat teacher’s stress in a classroom? ”
You’ll see all of the answers collected here
Here are some time-tested research-proven ways to be that Teacher-Captain with nerves of steel.
Stress Busting Secret #1: [MENTAL] Kill Worry By Accepting the Worst and Working to Improve It
“Worry is a cycle of inefficient thoughts whirling around a center of fear.” Corrie ten Boom
Many teachers house an internal storm between their ears. Worry rips through peace and electrocutes purpose.
The best technique for dealing with anxiety comes from Dale Carnegie’s How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. Carnegie interviewed Willis H. Carrier the engineer and founder of the Carrier Corporation, the company many of us use for our air conditioning system. Early in his career, Carrier had made a mistake and installed a massive air handling system that didn’t work. After nights of not sleeping, Carrier adopted three steps that changed his life.
- Analyze the situation fearlessly and honestly and figure out the worst that can happen as a result.
- Accept the worst outcome
- Calmly devote time and energy to improve upon the worst which has already been accepted mentally.
When I’m worried, I grab pen and paper and start by listing the worst thing that can happen. I go ahead and accept the worst, and then, I start improving it. As it says in Luke 12:22,
“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”
Secret #2: [MENTAL] Interrupt Negative Thought Loops and Replace Them With Positive Ones
Your thoughts can swirl into a tornado — taking you to places of purpose or pathetic places of self-induced agony.
Your thoughts create a mental momentum that spills over into your physical world. On a recent episode of Every Classroom Matters, Sir John Hargrave, author of Mindhacking, talked about “thought loops.” Thought loops are those repeated loops of things we say to ourselves. Part of self-awareness and metacognition is the ability to pull back and observe your thoughts from a distance.
For example, early in my career I was struggling with classroom management. I found myself thinking “I can’t manage my classroom.” The more I said this, the more helpless I became. I quickly switched this stinkin’ thinkin’ to “I will learn how to better manage my classroom and become a better teacher.” I did. Gandhi said,
“I will not let anyone walk through my mind with his dirty feet.”
Sometimes our thoughts come from things people have said to us. We can master our thoughts and redirect our abilities.
Secret #3: [MENTAL] Keep a Joy Journal
The captain’s log of ancient yore tell stories of events but also serve as part-confidante and self-reflection for those lonely sea captains. Teacher-Captains are lonely too. You can see remarkable benefits from logging your thoughts.
Research has shown that keeping a joy journal will improve your “long term well being” more than winning a million dollars in the lottery.
Looking for joy is like looking for a color. If I ask you to look for the color blue – you see it everywhere. Now, I ask you to look for red – there it is. Most of us are naturally tuned to notice certain things. Some people always see the negative, like old Eeyore in Winnie the Pooh.
Winnie the Pooh: Lovely day, isn’t it?
Eeyore: Wish I could say yes, but I can’t.
You can start saying yes when you notice the blessings in the storm. The kind word, the fun time you had playing with the dog, the romantic dinner you had last night, the surprise phone call from an old friend. We all have moments of joy if we start noticing them instead of feeling blue.
Secret #4: [PHYSICAL] Make Sleep a Priority
A tired teacher is a powderkeg looking for a match.
When I enter the most stressful times of the year, I set an evening alarm in my bedroom to remind me it is time to go to bed. Sleep loss makes it harder to think, harms your health and worsens your mood. Women who sleep less than seven hours a night are more likely to be obese. Norbert Schwarz says,
“Making $60,000 more in annual income has less of an effect on your daily happiness than getting one extra hour of sleep a night.”
Brooks and Lack found that a ten-minute nap was ideal, but that even a five-minute snooze was better than nothing.
Secret #5: [PHYSICAL] Drink Enough Water
What a tragedy to die of thirst in a sea of salt! Yet, even in a country where water is not scarce such as the US, 75% of Americans suffer from chronic dehydration. (I would imagine many other countries are astounding as well.)
We thirst for self-discipline. We suffer not from lack of water, but an inability to take time to drink it. The effects of dehydration are real and especially detrimental to teachers who must stay positive and think clearly. Dehydration is shown to impact your mood and cognitive processes negatively.
I apply the “mud puddle principle” and put a glass by each sink in my home. I also drink a whole glass of water at the beginning of break and lunch. Drinking water must become part of your habits, so you do it automatically.
Secret #6: [PHYSICAL] Exercise (preferably outside)
Sitting is the new cigarette. Every 90 minutes you need to MOVE. We’re not stuck on a ship, after all, we can walk around the building or visit a friend across campus. Some of us can even walk to work.
You can have a positive mood-enhancing impact after just five minutes of exercise. If you want even more of a boost, exercising outdoors will increase your positive mood further.
Secret #7: [SPIRITUAL] Make Time for Faith
“If patience is worth anything, it must endure to the end of time. And a living faith will last in the midst of the blackest storm.” Mahatma Gandhi
There is a strong correlation between religion and positive mental health. For many of us, research-proven ways of handling stress including meditation, deep breathing, aromatherapy, listening to music, visualization and prayer as part of our faith practice.
Mother Teresa worked in the harshest of situations with the poor in Calcutta. If there has ever been a person sailing a ship on the red blood of despair, death, and poverty, it is this precious woman. She said,
“The simplicity of our life of contemplation makes us see the face of God in everything, everyone, and everywhere, all the time.”
Secret #8: [RELATIONAL] Develop deep relationships
Every captain needs a comrade.
Take the time to have deep relationships with others. As humans, we need intimacy. When you’re with these people, don’t always talk about your stressful career, however. While journaling your problems is shown to reduce stress, just talking about them with another person is not. And cynical gossip has an intensely negative impact on your life. Build healthy relationships of mutual respect and common interests.
Secret #9: [RELATIONAL] Make Physical Affection Part of Your Day
“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” Leo Buscaglia, Author
Kissing, hugging, sex, and even massages are proven ways to reduce stress. Even a simple, appropriate hug or pat on the back can help.
Secret #10: [TECHNOLOGY] Unplug, Recharge, and Focus
A distracted captain can run his ship aground. A distracted person is a danger to himself and those he cares for most.
The constant interruptions of your phone and notifications can make us feel like a human doing and not a human being. Three essential technology practices will help all of us live richer less stressful lives.
UNPLUG: Stop Using Technology One Hour Before Bedtime
First, we need at least an hour before bed when we are not looking at or around our brightly lit devices. Technology devices wake us up an interrupt our circadian rhythms, making it difficult to sleep.
RECHARGE: No Phones in the Bedroom
Second, we need to charge our phones outside of the bedroom. Even in airplane mode and do not disturb, some of our apps can interrupt us and wake us up.
FOCUS: Have Do Not Disturb Time
Finally, we need uninterrupted moments I call this DND (Do Not Disturb) time. For example, I use an app on my iPad to read my Bible in church. However, I put the iPad in airplane mode and “Do Not Disturb” so that nothing else will interrupt me. For the most part, it works.
Any time you’re at an event and want to focus on the event, set your phone to DND, particularly if using your phone as the camera. This way, you won’t be interrupted with an “urgent” email when you go to snap a picture of a never-to-be-repeated moment. You will also be more productive at work. Teachers who mess around with computer instead of focusing on students, make a mess of great teaching opportunities.
In Conclusion: Sailing Our Ship
It would be nice to calm the storm and sail quiet seas all the time. But some of the most hated weather by sailors is dead calm. You have nothing to propel you forward — no wind. When you teach, you have to accept the weather we navigate. What you do not have to accept is that you have to stress out about it and have no quality of life.
For, when I read Walt Whitman’s words, I always think of a teacher.
Oh Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
Here’s to you, teacher. May you weather the storm and laugh in the rain. This profession may be stressful but is is never boring. Our destination is purposeful. We captain a great ship on an epic quest to educate the minds of men and women. We sail towards tomorrow.
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