10 Stress Busting Secrets of Great Teachers

10 Stress-Busting Secrets of Great Teachers

If I look through a window pane and see teaching as weather, teaching would be the thunderstorm. And as we sail our classroom ship on this maelstrom of hormones, stress, conflicting priorities, and distractions, it takes rock-solid habits of mind and life to be the kind of self-assured captain who can weather the storm.

“I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”
JRR Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Health professionals believe that 80-90% of all disease is stress related. Gallup’s 2014 State of American Schools reports half of teachers claim they have significant daily stress. (The highest of all careers polled.)

[callout]This month's Global Search on Education question is “What are the quick ways to combat teacher’s stress in a classroom? ” You'll see all of the answers collected here. [/callout]

Here are some time-tested research-proven ways to be that Teacher-Captain with nerves of steel.

Stress busting secret 1: Acceptance

Teacher Stress Busting Secret #1: Kill Worry By Accepting the Worst and Working to Improve It

“Worry is a cycle of inefficient thoughts whirling around a center of fear.” Corrie ten Boom

Many teachers house an internal storm between their ears. Worry rips through peace and electrocutes purpose.

The best technique for dealing with anxiety comes from Dale Carnegie’s How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. Carnegie interviewed Willis H. Carrier the engineer and founder of the Carrier Corporation, the company many of us use for our air conditioning system. Early in his career, Carrier had made a mistake and installed a massive air handling system that didn’t work. After nights of not sleeping, Carrier adopted three steps that changed his life.

  1. Analyze the situation fearlessly and honestly and figure out the worst that can happen as a result.
  2. Accept the worst outcome
  3. Calmly devote time and energy to improve upon the worst which has already been accepted mentally.

When I’m worried, I grab pen and paper and start by listing the worst thing that can happen. I go ahead and accept the worst, and then, I start improving it. As it says in Luke 12:22,

“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”

Interrupt negativity to bust your stress.

Teacher Stress Busting Secret #2: Interrupt Negative Thought Loops and Replace Them With Positive Ones

Your thoughts can swirl into a tornado — taking you to places of purpose or pathetic places of self-induced agony.

Your thoughts create a mental momentum that spills over into your physical world.

On a recent episode of Every Classroom Matters, Sir John Hargrave, author of Mindhacking, talked about “thought loops.” Thought loops are those repeated loops of things we say to ourselves. Part of self-awareness and metacognition is the ability to pull back and observe your thoughts from a distance.

For example, early in my career I was struggling with classroom management. I found myself thinking “I can’t manage my classroom.” The more I said this, the more helpless I became. I quickly switched this stinkin’ thinkin’ to “I will learn how to better manage my classroom and become a better teacher.” I did.

Gandhi said,

“I will not let anyone walk through my mind with his dirty feet.”

Sometimes we're the one with dirty feet and the negativity comes from ourselves. Sometimes our thoughts echo negative things people have said to us that we won't let go. We can master our thoughts and redirect our abilities. Interrupt your negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones. Even if you have to talk to yourself. Redirect your thoughts and regain your mind.

Looking for joy is like looking for a color. When you look for the color blue, you see it everywhere. Start noticing and writing down things that bring you joy. You'll re-set your mindset and become happier.

Teacher Stress Busting Secret #3: Keep a Joy Journal

Looking for joy is like looking for a color. When you look for the color blue, you see it everywhere. Start noticing and writing down things that bring you joy. You'll re-set your mindset and become happier.

Research has shown that keeping a joy journal will improve your “long term well being” more than winning a million dollars in the lottery.

Most of us are naturally tuned to notice certain things. Some people always see the negative, like old Eeyore in Winnie the Pooh.

Winnie the Pooh: Lovely day, isn’t it?

Eeyore: Wish I could say yes, but I can’t.

Some of us just need to re-set our mindset. Listing five things a day will have you looking for those things. The kind word, the fun time you had playing with the dog, the romantic dinner you had last night, the surprise phone call from an old friend. We all have moments of joy if we start noticing them instead of feeling blue.

Set an evening alarm to remind yourself that it is time to go to bed. Sleep loss makes it harder to think, harms your health and worsens your mood. It can even make you more obese. Put sleep on your schedule and aim for seven to eight hours a night.

Teacher Stress Busting Secret #4: Make Sleep a Priority

A tired teacher is a powderkeg looking for a match. Set an evening alarm to remind yourself that it is time to go to sleep. Sleep loss makes it harder to think, harms your health and worsens your mood. Women who sleep less than seven hours a night are more likely to be obese. Norbert Schwarz says,

“Making $60,000 more in annual income has less of an effect on your daily happiness than getting one extra hour of sleep a night.”

Brooks and Lack found that a ten-minute nap was ideal, but that even a five-minute snooze was better than nothing.

Take time to drink water. The effects of dehydration are real and especially detrimental to those who must stay positive and think clearly. Put a glass beside the sinks in your home and drink a full cup every time you stand at the sink. Make drinking water part of your habits and feel better.

Teacher Stress Busting Secret #5: Drink Enough Water

Take time to drink water.  Seventy-five percent of Americans suffer from chronic dehydration.  Dehydration is shown to impact your mood and cognitive processes negatively. The effects of dehydration are real and especially detrimental to teachers who must stay positive and think clearly.

Many suffer not from lack of water, but an inability to take time to drink it. Apply the “mud puddle principle” and put a glass by each sink in your home. Drink a whole glass of water at the beginning of break and lunch. Drinking water must become part of your habits, so you do it automatically.

Exercise Outside: Sitting is the new cigarette. Every 90 minutes a human needs to move. Just five minutes of exercise gives you a positive mood-boosting rush. Exercising outdoors will boost your mood even more.

Teacher Stress Busting Secret #6: Exercise (preferably outside)

Sitting is the new cigarette. Every 90 minutes a human needs to move. We're not stuck on a ship, after all, we can walk around the building or visit a friend across campus. Some of us can even walk to work.

Just five minutes of exercise gives you a positive mood-enhancing impact.  Exercising outdoors will boost your mood even more.

stress busting faith Research-proven ways of handling stress include meditation, deep breathing, aromatherapy, listening to music, visualization, and prayer. A strong correlation exists between religion and positive mental health.

Teacher Stress Busting Secret #7: Make Time for Faith

“If patience is worth anything, it must endure to the end of time. And a living faith will last in the midst of the blackest storm.” Mahatma Gandhi

A strong correlation exists between religion and positive mental health. Research-proven ways of handling stress include meditation, deep breathing, aromatherapy, listening to music, visualization and prayer.

Mother Teresa worked in the harshest of situations with the poor in Calcutta. If there has ever been a person sailing a ship on the red blood of despair, death, and poverty, it is this precious woman. She said,

“The simplicity of our life of contemplation makes us see the face of God in everything, everyone, and everywhere, all the time.”

08 relate deeply As humans, we need intimacy. Gossip and negative talk about problems can bring you down. But mutual enjoyment and common pursuits can lift your spirits. Develop deep relationships and improve your life.

Teacher Stress Busting Secret #8: Develop deep relationships

As humans, we need intimacy. But just being together is not enough. Be careful that your stressful career doesn't ruin your close relationships. While journaling your problems is shown to reduce stress, just talking about them with another person is not. And cynical gossip has an intensely negative impact on your life.

Build healthy relationships of mutual respect and common interests. Do fun things together. Take time off from work-worries and just be a human being, not a human doing.

touch others reduce stress Physical touch reduces stress. Hug those close to you. Take time to pat another person on the back. Appropriate physical touch can boost your mood and the mood of those around you.

Teacher Stress Busting Secret #9: Make Physical Affection Part of Your Day

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” Leo Buscaglia, Author

Kissing, hugging, and even massages are proven ways to reduce stress. Even a simple, appropriate hug or pat on the back can help.

teacher stress secret 10 unplug - Constant interruptions can make you feel like a human doing and not a human being. Stop using electronics one hour before bedtime. Recharge devices away from your bedroom. Set do not disturb times during your week to get away from technology.

Teacher Stress Busting Secret #10: Unplug, Recharge, and Focus

A distracted captain can run his ship aground. A distracted person is a danger to himself and those he cares for most.

Constant interruptions can make you feel like a human doing and not a human being.

Unplug. First, we need at least an hour before bed when we are not looking at or around our brightly lit devices. Technology devices wake us up an interrupt our circadian rhythms, making it difficult to sleep. Stop using technology one hour before bedtime.

Recharge.  Charge your phone outside of the bedroom. Even in airplane mode and do not disturb, some apps can wake us up.

Have a Do Not Disturb Time. You need uninterrupted moments of DND (Do Not Disturb) time. Any time you're at an event and want to focus on the event, set your phone to DND, particularly if using your phone as the camera. This way, you won't be interrupted with an “urgent” email when you go to snap a picture of a never-to-be-repeated moment.  You will also be more productive at work. Teachers who mess around with computer instead of focusing on students, make a mess of great teaching opportunities.

Epic: The Life of a Teacher Here's to you teacher. May you weather the storm and laugh in the rain. This profession may be stressful but it is never boring. Our destination is purposeful. We captain a great ship on an epic quest to educate the minds of men and women. We sail towards tomorrow.

Teaching: An Epic Quest for Excellence

It would be nice to calm the storm and sail quiet seas all the time. But some of the most hated weather by sailors is dead calm. You have nothing to propel you forward — no wind. When you teach, you have to accept the weather we navigate. What you do not have to accept is that you have to stress out about it and have no quality of life.

For, when I read Walt Whitman’s words, I always think of a teacher.

Oh Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,

The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,

Here’s to you, teacher. May you weather the storm and laugh in the rain. This profession may be stressful but is is never boring. Our destination is purposeful. We captain a great ship on an epic quest to educate the minds of men and women. We sail towards tomorrow.

Tips for minimizing teacher stress

  • Discover 10 stress-busting secrets for healthy teachers. What simple routines will help you handle the stress?
  • Simple advice for coping with stress at work.
  • Learn tips to help you deal with difficult colleagues and students (even those who "hate" you -- yes it is possible!)
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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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Ashley Overcash June 17, 2015 - 12:44 pm

As a requirement for my graduated program I am to respond to a blog. I found yours very interesting and am checking to see if I have to ask permission to post.

Becky Hittner January 4, 2017 - 3:58 pm

I hope this goes for the school nurse too. It sure is a great read. Thanks Dawn

Vicki Davis January 5, 2017 - 5:31 am

I am not a school nurse but I would think so.

Jenny June 24, 2015 - 10:41 am

I absolutely love this article. I’m bookmarking it for next school year. I know I’ll need to read it again in November when conferences and report cards are upon me, in late January after midyear benchmark results freak me out, and April when deadlines and “end of the year drama” hide around every corner. I wrote an article reflecting on my failures and successes during a very stressful school year. I think taking a “Sabbath” from teaching is very important – whether it be a family day, worship, or just a full day of nothing school related. We have to force ourselves to shelf the stress. It’ll wait for a day.

Vicki Davis June 24, 2015 - 2:04 pm

I agree, Jenny! We all need a break. We all need time off the grid and time away from teaching. I really needed the time this summer. I’m glad that I’ve given myself time away from conferences and everything!

Kathie Yonemura June 24, 2015 - 2:31 pm

These are fantastic reminders!! I love how you incorporated quotes & research. We teachers need to take the TIME to take care of ourselves!! Thanks for this uplifting post!!

First School February 5, 2016 - 6:01 am

Thank you for sharing this article, Vicki Davis. These are some great tips to manage teaching stress. As a director of First School, sometimes I have to handle parents who are excessively caring for their children. I’ll pass these tips along to the rest of my staff.

julie faulise April 7, 2016 - 9:06 am

Can’t wait to catch up on past articles

Vicki Davis April 11, 2016 - 4:33 am

Glad you’re here Julie.

Mark Eichenlaub July 10, 2016 - 11:52 am

I just found this post while doing some research. This is a REALLY important topic and one dear to me as the overload of stress from the profession has done some permanent physical damage to my body.

I really don’t want anyone else to have to deal with that. Teachers PLEASE take care of yourself, even if it costs you not getting something else done. You aren’t much good to yourself, your family, or your students being burned out and run down.

Vicki Davis July 12, 2016 - 9:09 am

Wow, Mark. What powerful words!! I agree! Take care of yourself. You are speaking a truth, Mark and this is a tough one!

Joy Mumford July 28, 2016 - 10:34 pm

I loved your blog! I am doing some graduate work and I would like your permission to cite your blog as a resource I found very beneficial. I do however need to have a date as to when it was written. I didn’t see one, maybe I missed it,but could you please give me the date?
Thank you so much and keep up the great work!

Vicki Davis July 29, 2016 - 8:08 am

The date is at the very bottom of the post in the bottom right hand corner — this is the date for this one – Posted on Monday, May 25, 2015

Vanessa October 4, 2016 - 7:09 am

Hi Vicki
Thanks for your blog. I really enjoyed reading through and getting some great ideas. I am new to blogging and I was investigating the issue of teacher burnout and its effects on health and well-being.
I too have noticed an increase in teacher stress level here in NZ as teachers are burdened with a national standard mandate, increasing workloads, increased priority learners and less and less support. Thank goodness for amazing colleagues and school culture which keeps us going and keeps the children at the heart of our decisions. Thanks again.

Vicki Davis October 10, 2016 - 8:22 pm

Such tough issues. As one who has experienced it. Burnout is very real and hard. A great school culture can help teachers with this problem, for sure. Thanks for responding.

athena anderson November 5, 2016 - 5:26 pm

Thank you so much for this article. I am the lead mentor at my school. I am in charge of all the new teachers that pass through my school. This is a great read for them since our next meeting is on stress managment

Vicki Davis November 8, 2016 - 6:00 pm

Wow! What an important topic!

Jennifer March 6, 2017 - 7:16 pm

Thank you for the reminders of some of the ‘little things’ we can do as educators to help manage our stress. I could not have read this article at a better time, as the last few weeks of teaching for me have been very busy and very stressful. I find that I am often guilty of spreading myself too thin, and the resulting stress that accompanies taking on too many responsibilities is never enjoyable. I have to get better at saying “no” and work on not feeling guilty when I go to bed early or set time aside for me every once in a while. Thank you for the tips, advice, and reassurance! :)

Vicki Davis March 8, 2017 - 7:08 am

Please take time for quiet and to heal up! You must rest to be your best! Crazy times here too!

Mark E March 8, 2017 - 9:44 am

I STRONGLY encourage anyone reading this to get back to some basics for feeling better and having more fun teaching.

Get some fresh air…TODAY!
Get some sunlight…TODAY!
Get some exercise…TODAY!
Go meditate (Calm.com is fantastic)…TODAY!

You will feel better AND be a better teacher for those kids you love and care about.

gary March 14, 2017 - 7:27 pm

Nice article -great reminders for all, not just teachers .

Grace Larkin February 7, 2018 - 4:45 pm

I really enjoyed your blog post! Being a future educator who already has stress related problems, this gave me an insight on how to deal with those future stress situations I may endure while teaching or in general life.

Elizabeth March 4, 2018 - 5:56 pm

I was meant to find your fabulous resources today! Cannot thank you enough for your kind words of support and the truth you speak in your posts! Keep being a champion for Educators!

Vicki Davis March 8, 2018 - 11:58 am

Thank you, Elizabeth! I’m glad to be helpful.

Karlicia D. Berry May 4, 2019 - 7:39 pm

One of best stress busters was lots of laughter in the classroom. Each day a child would tell a joke, that passed muster with me. Sometimes I would show comics. I would tell personal stories that were funny. Our classroom would ring with laughter throughout the day. It was marvelous!


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Vicki Davis writes The Cool Cat Teacher Blog for classroom teachers everywhere