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Top Tips for Stress Management and Self-Care


EducationWorld is committed to bringing educators the practical tools they need to make good decisions, engage in effective leadership and implement strategies that work. To further this commitment, we have formed a content partnership with Stenhouse Publishers. EducationWorld is pleased to feature a variety of book excerpts as part of this collaboration. Check back frequently as we feature additional excerpts from Stenhouse titles.

The following excerpt comes from Chapter 2 of 55 Teaching Dilemmas: Ten Powerful Solutions to Almost Any Classroom Challenge, by Kathy Paterson (Pembroke Publishers, 2005; distributed in the U.S. by Stenhouse Publishers).

This excerpt offers tips that help educators reduce stress and develop good self-care habits. See other excerpts from this book: Defusing Power Struggles and Using Compassion to Build Positive School Climate.

Tension-Taming Techniques

  • Learn to recognize the things, people, and situations that cause you stress, as well as your personal signals of stress, such as a headache or quickness of breath.
  • List the moments of happiness, peace, and joy you have had in the past week. If these are few, you may have reached your stress quota. Insist on taking a time-out; one of the best ways to do this is to go for a long walk.
  • Stand apart from trivial classroom conflicts, such as the “he-did-it-first” or “she-took-my…” arguments, or from unimportant disagreements that arise in the staff room, such as who cleans the microwave. Choose your battles carefully. Avoid the ones where failure is probable unless this avoidance would lead to personal reproach for not having fought at all. Consider each situation separately.
  • Consider yourself a “teacher in progress” as opposed to a “teacher product.” Accept that you are always growing and learning and are allowed mistakes.
  • Do a personal quick-check by asking, If I had only one month to live, what would I do differently? Then, if possible, do it, or at least something close to it.
  • Get enough rest. Plan for two hours rest more than usual at least once a week. If you have trouble sleeping, try meditating, listening to relaxation music, using guided imagery (tell yourself a story), or discussing the matter with a doctor.
  • Practice mind games when you are forced to wait. For example: Count the ceiling tiles; make mental lists of things to do; review the words to a familiar song.
  • Look at the beauty around you. Make a point of finding one miracle a day, perhaps something as simple as snow sparkling in the sun.
  • Take up a hobby and put aside a fixed amount of time for it weekly.
  • Take at least part of every day and weekend to do something totally unrelated to school. Push all thoughts of work from your mind.
  • Avoid negative coping patterns such as substance abuse, overwork and overeating. If these are present and you cannot remove them yourself, seek professional help.
  • Carefully assess whether you are caught in any stress-promoting life traps (see following section). If you suffer from any of these, it may be time to seek professional help.

Stress-Promoting Life Traps

Indispensability Syndrome: If you suffer from this, remove the idea from your mind. No one is indispensable. Think of a teacher who has had to take a long period away from school. In most cases, the class survived perfectly in her absence.


About Stenhouse Publishers

Stenhouse publishes professional development books and videos by teachers and for teachers. Their titles cover a range of content areas -- from literacy and mathematics to science, social studies, the arts, and environmental education -- as well as a variety of topics, including classroom management, assessment, and differentiation.

Workaholism: Teachers are often workaholics—they work long hours and wear themselves out. Remember the proverb about “all work and no play.” Remember also that the more fatigued you are, the less likely you are to teach well and the more likely you are to get ill.

Success Addiction: Our culture admires successful people, yet teaching seldom seems to be viewed as an admired or esteemed profession. Possibly to overcome this societal oversight, teachers may feel driven to work faster and harder all the time—a sure stress trap. It is better to remind ourselves that spending quality time with the students is more important than spreading ourselves so thin that no one benefits.

Multi-tasking Nightmare: If you find you are doing too many things, moving too quickly, seldom completing anything well, then you may be suffering from this stress promoter. It’s time to take stock—and make choices. Research has shown that tasks completed by a “multi-tasker” are often not finished as well as the same tasks done by someone who spends more time and focus on the activity.

Type A Personality: Many teachers are Type A personalities: driven to be excessively competitive, impatient, and often suffering from a sense of urgency. They can even be overly assertive, even aggressive, with others who interfere with their forward rush of activity. If you recognize this about yourself, realize the inherent stress traps.

Insecurity: Has it been worth it? Am I good enough? Teachers who constantly self-question and second-guess themselves like this may be heading for a stress breakdown. It may be better to focus only on “positive completions” in order to break a cycle of doubt.

Superman Complex: The teachers who take on more and more responsibility with the belief they will never break down are jumping head first into a stress trap. Know your personal limits; if you are unaware of them, listen to friends, family members, or peers who are usually quick to comment on them.

Not-My-Fault Syndrome: The teachers who constantly view students functioning below expectations as “not their fault” are playing a blame game that can lead to feelings of guilt and stress. It is good to remember that when a student fails, a teacher fails even more.

Poor-Me Syndrome: “My job is too tough.” “I don’t get paid enough for all this stress.” Teachers who constantly complain about their jobs or feel sorry for themselves are heading toward stress breakdowns. If the job is not for you, perhaps you are wise to consider a change.

Reinventing-the-Wheel Addiction: Teachers who believe that only the material they create is good enough for their students constantly “create” new worksheets, tasks, activities, or units. They are in a sure stress trap. With ample excellent resources available, there is no need to constantly originate materials.

The Wendy Syndrome: Based on Peter Pan’s Wendy, who mothered all the Lost Boys, this syndrome concerns teachers who mistakenly feel they can help everyone all the time. The stress of trying to live up to these unrealistic expectations can build quickly.

Related resource

Stress Relief for Teachers and Students


Last Updated: 9/22/2016

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