Stressed. This is the one word response I hear most often when I ask my teacher friends, "How are you?" It's been a heavy year for educators as the stressors of our field seem to be reaching a tipping point.
I could write about ways to manage our stress, to cope with our stress, to eliminate our stress. I could write about the ways nutrition, sleep, exercise, and our relationships impact our levels of stress. I could tell you that eating better, sleeping better, moving better, and breathing better would help. But we know that already.
Something we understand less is the fact that our bodies are talking to us all the time. What if our stress response is our body trying to give us a message?
Most educators know about growth mindset and the work of Carol Dweck. But did you know that there are other types of mindsets? I recently had an "Aha!" moments as I listened to Stanford psychology professor Dr. Alia Crum talk about stress mindset on a recent Huberman Lab podcast. She highlighted that stress is connected to the things we care about. So rather than managing stress, avoiding it, or coping with it, we should lean into it. Leverage it to make an impact in the things we care so deeply about. Dr. Crum outlined three steps which I'll elaborate upon with my teacher spin.
Step 1: Acknowledge it
Acknowledge the stress response the same way we would acknowledge the frustration of a child. We tend to view stress as inherently bad, then fight against it, adding more stress to ourselves and the situation. Without judging the stress as good or bad, we can be a detached observer of the stress.
Step 2: Welcome it
Ask yourself, "What is it that I care about here?" What in the situation do you really care about? Is what's causing you stress too much work or not enough time spent with your family, your hobby, or caring for yourself? Is the stress from a student behavior issue? An interaction with a colleague? It may be a relationship that you care about. Understanding the "why" behind what's causing you stress will give you tremendous insight into making a change.
Step 3: Utilize the stress response to achieve the thing you care about
How can you leverage your stress to achieve the change you want to bring about? If you're stressed about having too much work, and you recognize that what you care about is spending quality time with your family at home, your dog, or whatever it is for you, then maybe you can utilize the stress response to set some boundaries with your time. Maybe this means asking a colleague who seems to leave work a little earlier how she minimizes her work load.
There's no one right answer here. Ultimately we all have to figure out what works best for ourselves. As teachers we ask our students to reflect on their learning. How often do we take the time to reflect? I know I don't reflect nearly as much as I could. Ask yourself, “What is the one thing that is causing me the most stress right now? What one actionable step might I take in making a change for myself?” Your answer is going to have a ripple effect on your students, your friends and family, your coworkers, and on your school.
This is not #toxicpositivity. It's not about bearing our stress or wearing it as a badge of honor. That narrative has got to go. This is about a shift in mindset from that of suffering to being an agent of change. From victimhood to empowerment.
This might sound counterintuitive, but what if the next time we feel stressed, we shift our perspective to one of gratitude? “Thank you, body, for ringing the alarm, for reminding me that I need to do something differently.” What might change for us?
I would love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments below. If you’re looking for help finding a work/life balance, reach out to the coaches at Edjacent.