Educators, we know you’ve had a tough year. In addition to the normal stress that comes with teaching, you are also faced with the challenges of online and distance learning, helping students cope with grief and loss, and disruptions to your personal lives. We know these are just a few of the big challenges you are facing.
Now, more than ever, we all need to find ways to effectively manage our stress. If left unchecked, stress can lead to harmful health concerns like anxiety and depression, reduced attention, impaired self-regulation, and decreased learning readiness. It can also lead to negative well-being factors, such as sleep and eating disorders. Chronic stress can also have lasting mental and physical health effects.
This winter break, take some much-needed time to relax and recharge so that you have the energy, well-being, and stamina to begin the new year fresh. Try these 10 de-stressing activities to find out which work best for you.
1. Identify your stress triggers.
Stress can be caused by many different factors — long hours, frustrations around technology and virtual learning, too much news exposure, etc. Make a list of all the stressors in your life, noting those you have control over and those you do not. Begin tackling the list by choosing one or two items you have some control over that cause you the most stress. Make a plan to manage the stressor(s), write down a goal, and create accountable measures to help you follow through.
2. Perform deep breathing.
Deep breathing can have a powerful physical effect in reducing tension and helping the body relax. Clinical research shows that regular deep breathing exercises affect the heart, brain, digestion, and the immune system. They can have immediate results and can also be used to reduce the production of harmful stress hormones.
Try the equal breaths exercise. Breath in for a count of four, and out for a count of four. Continue for a few rounds, then try adding an extra count (in for a count of five, out for a count of five). You can continue this exercise until you feel your stress levels decreasing and your heart rate slowing. For more mindfulness exercises, check out Chopra Center’s Instagram feed.
3. Get enough sleep.
Getting enough sleep is critical to your health and to reducing stress. We know that many folks are experiencing sleep disruptions these days. Try setting an alarm for when it is time for bed and do your best to get seven to eight hours of sleep each night. Most smartphones have a feature that reduces blue light in the evenings — try putting your phone on this setting after 10 p.m. to help your eyes relax. Maximize the sleep you do get by “unplugging” (i.e. turning off the computer, phone, TV, etc.) an hour before bed. You can also turn your phone on airplane mode to avoid any distractions in the middle of the night.
4. Tap into your support network.
Establishing a good support network is critical to maintaining healthy stress levels, especially when you are physically isolated. Lean on your colleagues for advice, trade ideas, and create mentoring relationships. Friends and family can also provide invaluable support by lending an ear on especially difficult days. You can further expand your network through educator-based online support networks and learning communities. Join one or more, and share in a wealth of knowledge from educators across the country.
According to the Harvard Medical School, regular aerobic exercise can boost memory and critical thinking, improve sleep, and reduce anxiety. Find creative ways to exercise while practicing safe social distancing. If you can, go for a 20-minute walk and enjoy some fresh air, or take advantage of a free or discounted online workout class. Regular exercise will do wonders to help you feel more energized and healthier.
6. Strive for healthy food and drink choices.
A healthy diet is important for your health and state of mind. Try to eat nutrient-dense, organic foods and cut down on fatty or sugary foods that deplete your energy. Also be sure to drink plenty of water. An estimated 75% of people in the U.S. are chronically dehydrated. A good rule of thumb is to drink eight, eight-ounce glasses of water every day. Try adding citrus or cucumber slices to your water for an extra boost of flavor and nutrients like Vitamin C!
7. Stay organized.
Being organized is a proactive way to reduce stress while you work from home. Just think about how much time you waste searching through email or computer files to find what you need, rewriting misplaced work, or trying to manage your calendars. Set an organization plan — and stick to it — to reduce stress, improve efficiency, and be a more effective educator.
Meditation, or mindful awareness, can have a tremendous impact on your ability to de-stress. Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years and can bring clarity to your thoughts and promote peace and balance. Even a few minutes of meditation can significantly reduce stress. Listen to this SEL Chat Podcast, presented by Meaghan Dunham, to get tips and tricks for practicing mindfulness and meditation techniques at home during COVID-19.
9. Practice visualization.
Visualization is another effective tactic for reducing stress. To give it a try, sit comfortably and think about a peaceful scene (a beach, the mountains, a favorite spot in your neighborhood). Or, visualize yourself realizing a goal — like finally getting back in the classroom!
Even during trying times, we need to find humor. It will do wonders for relieving stress. According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter promotes a stronger immune system, increases your ability to cope with difficult situations, and can improve your mood by lessoning depression and anxiety. Find ways to laugh every day: Share a funny meme or joke with colleagues and friends or watch a favorite funny movie or television show.
It is important to focus on your health and well-being this winter break. Use the time to take some much-needed time off from the demands of your important job. Give yourself time to relax and recharge during the holidays so you can reduce your stress and anxiety and set yourself up for a successful spring semester.
Interested in taking a deeper dive? Join Aperture Education’s Vice President of Research and Development, Paul LeBuffe, in this engaging webinar designed to support educators by strengthening resilience, or check out our educator SEL solution, EdSERT.