How teachers can reduce stress when using self-care properly

Not self-care again I hear you say!

It seems that this has become the ‘buzz’ word of the last year. Everyone telling you to self-care! Hard to do when teaching expectations seem to be changing constantly on a daily basis – right?

So here I am telling you to self-care to reduce stress – so am I any better than everyone else who has been banging the self-care drum this year?

Well firstly, I started looking into feeling healthier and happier a few years back (way before the pandemic hit) because I was feeling stressed and burned out. I had always loved teaching music to my students but was struggling to keep hold of this passion when under so much stress. In hindsight, I didn’t realise how stressed I was and I certainly didn’t know how to get rid of it. In fact, I was made to feel not good enough that I was finding my role stressful.

What I didn’t know was that I was stuck in unresolved stress cycles. Going from one stressful situation to another without a way of putting my body back into ‘safe’ mode. So the flight / fight mode of the brain was always active. When I talk about stress – it can be opening the emails, your drive to work, unexpected meetings – it doesn’t always have to be a dangerous or angry situation.

So why does this happen? Well our brains haven’t really evolved much over millions years but our environment has. So no longer do we need to watch out for dangerous animals in the 21st Century but the amygdala still kicks in to keep us safe. It loves to keep us in the flight / fight mode and as musicians we are aware of it when we perform in public. We teach our students about controlling this when performing but the amygdala really is at work all the time!

When faced with a trigger, stressful situation, or trauma we need our brain to realise we are back in ‘safe’ mode from the danger. If not, we carry this unresolved issue in our thoughts and our bodies without always realising. No wonder I was stressed all the time! Like so many teachers I was rushing from one activity to another with often very little time to eat and go to the bathroom, let alone rest my brain and train it back into ‘safe’ mode. BUT, this is the problem! We are led to believe as teachers that working at anything other than 100 miles an hour is not good enough. In fact we are judged constantly on how much work we do, how frazzled we are and how ‘outstanding’ we are today. No wonder we carry so much unresolved trauma around in our bodies, ready to catch us out and drag us into depression, burn out or mid-life crisis!

So why does self-care help?? Well truthfully it is a way of helping YOU release the stress that builds up during the day and allows opportunities for you brain to understand that you are safe and to allow the trauma to work out of your body rather than stay stored.

Steps you can use to self-care properly:

  1. Recognise when you are starting to feel stressed, down or unhappy
  2. Instantly up the self-care routines for you to begin to release the stress and help move your mindset back to positivity
  3. Write a list of activities and hobbies that you love – try to come up with 10 – 20 on the list. This is your starting point for self-care.
  4. Then, try to do 3 short activities during the day just for you – have a bath, walk the dog, meditate, journal, cook nice food, exercise, read, play music for you, sing loudly, etc.
  5. Keep the self-care routine up everyday – keep boundaries in place for yourself and say no where needed to others
  6. If you fall off self-care for a few days it’s normal but it’s okay to just start again – just like practising an instrument šŸ™‚
  7. Use meditation, journaling and breath work to help heal and resolve old traumas that you have been carrying around unknowingly for a while
  8. Remember you are worthy, good enough and loved!

When I started my journey to understand and heal from stress; self-care was the term that was mentioned over and over. I was sceptical at first, especially as I had never heard teachers talking about it, but when I really dug into it I realised that I had rarely self-cared, especially in term-time. It was a huge mental shift and took a lot of practice and discipline but it did make a extraodinary difference to how I was feeling and mindset. I also know after a particularly stressful day (I do have a lot less of these now!) I must do self care. Once I have, I am better for everyone around me and approach any work I need to do for school positively.

I am happy to be banging the self-care drum because I don’t want any other teacher to feel how I felt. I believe we need to have much more open and honest conversations in teaching about stress without shame, guilt, blame or judgement. If we do, we can help each other by sharing good practice that works. That to me makes those hard conversations worthwhile!

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