Spring can feel like sprinting a marathon. You are trying to move as fast as you can, but still have many miles to go and your attempts to recharge in the water stations aren’t working! You cannot feel your legs, but are afraid to stop running, because if you do, you know you won’t be able to finish what you started.
If you are feeling this way, you are not alone. This school year has been especially challenging for teachers. They are feeling burned out, overwhelmed and are having a hard time finding the joy in teaching.
When educators are exposed to high levels of stress for extended periods of time, the stress hormones overwhelm their bodies and brains. Everyday situations in a classroom, like getting students’ attention or a change in the daily schedule, can trigger a fight-or-flight response. The stressors that are generated in their bodies override the rational parts of the brain, making it hard to regulate emotions and behaviors.
When people experience stress responses frequently, they don’t go back to a normal (calm) state as easily; their baseline shifts, hovering much closer to a near-constant survival response. They might often feel impulsive, overwhelmed, and reactive. Their ability to access their prefrontal cortex gets diminished, which means that thinking clearly or being attentive to others becomes increasingly difficult.
Over time, educators may have difficulties focusing, concentrating, remembering things or engaging their creativity. If these high levels of stress go untreated, they may lead to developing mental health issues such as depression, anxiety or substance abuse. If that’s you, make sure to ask for professional help. Attending to your mental health is important, and something that cannot wait.
While it may feel like there’s nothing you can do to change your stress level, there are several elements that can help you buffer the negative effects of stress in your brain and body. Take a look at this list:
Regular exercise/physical activity
Mental health care
Which one are you already doing? Which one could you intentionally incorporate in your life?
You are probably thinking that there is no way you can add anything else to your day. I hear you! However, think about what may happen if you continue doing things the same way. Ask yourself, what would you tell a friend in the same situation? You would probably tell them to be kind to themselves and try to do one little thing to feel better.
Think about one thing that you could do for 5 minutes to address your stress. You can walk around your block while listening to your favorite music, text a friend or sit down with the lights off and focus on your breath.
It won’t change the reality of how hard this time of year is, but it may give you a space to pause, breathe and connect with yourself. Give it a try and let me know how it goes.