How Can Teachers Reduce Stress From the Back to School Transition

Take Care of Your Body and Mind:  How Teachers Can Ease Their Transition Back into School

Since it’s late August, it’s time for us to get back into the swing of things at school.  As I mentioned in my post earlier this month, transitions are hard, and we as educators need to be intentional about doing (or not doing) whatever is necessary to ease this transition.  Here are two important areas of focus to consider.

Take care of your body

I don’t know about you, but I really feel the impact of being back at work on my body.  This can be in the way my pinky toes complain that they don’t have the freedom of flip-flops they had all summer, or the way my back hurts from standing.  Then there are the stress-induced aches, which for me show up in my neck and shoulders.  Even my throat is scratchy from talking so much this week. 

So, what can we do?  I try to pay attention to what my body is telling me.  This time of year, I go to bed surprisingly early – like 8:00pm early.  I know that can be hard, especially for those of us who are caregivers of any sort.  But consider going to bed early, even if it is only one night a week, to give your body some extra rest. 

I try to eat healthfully, but I don’t get too crazy about it.  I don’t try to sustain a super-strict and unrealistic diet, and I also make sure I don’t stress-eat “to make myself feel better.”  The same is true with drinking.  I’ll have a couple of glasses of wine but will exercise some restraint.   I have found that at times of stress there is a temptation to indulge “because I’m working so hard” and “I deserve it.”  Notice if your inner voice is saying something similar and know that sometimes that inner voice doesn’t have your best interests in mind. 

Similarly, I encourage you to move your body in whatever way feels right for you.  A walk outside during lunch or after school works great for some people.  For others, a more formal group exercise is what they need.  With this, as with eating, listen to your body and don’t feel like you have to maintain a rigid exercise regimen at this time of transition. 

This next suggestion can have some financial barriers for people, (particularly teachers who are just starting out) but I highly recommend getting a massage.  We all know that it’s good for us, but I sometimes think many people choose not to get a massage because it feels like an indulgence.  Fine, it’s an indulgence.  But your body and your state of mind will thank you. 

Which brings me to…

Take care of your state of mind

People joke that “the struggle is real” when it comes to first world problems.  You have a job as an educator that you chose because you want to make a difference in the lives of young people.  This job, however, is filled with unique, daily challenges, and it can sometimes leave you mentally exhausted in spite of its other rewards.  I would un-ironically offer that the struggle IS real, and as a result we need to attempt to mitigate the negative impacts it can make on our mental wellness. 

Instead of asking what we can do, I would recommend asking yourself, “What can I stop doing or do less of?”  This may seem like an odd question, particularly for educators.  We work in schools because we care about kids and teens and we want to help them in every way possible and will give them every support we’re capable of giving.  The key words in that previous sentence:  care, help, give, and support. 

Educators are caregivers and we say “yes” to caring, helping, giving, and supporting.  I would invite you to consider trying a “no” now and then.  I’ve written more extensively about the power of no, so I will be brief here:  when you say “no” to something you are asked to do but don’t feel is terribly important, it frees you up to say “yes” to what is important, like having time to recharge, having the time to connect with your family and friends, and having the energy to devote to whatever feeds your soul.

A related element to this is to consider what you do at work (or even at home) that you really don’t need to do as much, if at all.  My colleague and I began the year considering this question and have chosen to let go of a few projects that have neither been fruitful nor something we particularly enjoyed.  See if you can pare down and then be vigilant about preventing something trivial from filling the void.  Creating “space” in this way can be an opportunity to deepen something that is working already so you can take it to another level.    

Speaking of creating space, (wait for it…) I also invite you to incorporate formal and informal mindfulness into your day.  Since I’m a mindfulness coach, you are probably not surprised that this recommendation made the cut.  In all seriousness, though, I cannot stress enough how helpful meditation is when it comes to taking care of your state of mind.   Giving yourself 10 uninterrupted minutes to just rest your awareness on your breath, body, or sounds will allow you to become more aware of your state of mind.  Getting to know what’s going on in your mind allows you to decide if these thoughts are useful and to choose how you will respond to them.

Your body and mind are closely connected, and I would encourage you to notice what may need more attending to from day to day.  It could be getting extra sleep or waking up 10 minutes earlier to meditate.  It could be taking a walk or saying “no” to a non-mandatory duty at work.  The important thing is for us to actively practice self-care, so that we can better care for our students, colleagues, friends, and family members.