This week marks the beginning of a new academic year for many. Whilst the new term brings a fresh start, fresh ideas and exciting challenges; for many teachers, this period can be a great cause of stress. With 67% of teachers claiming that their job has adversely impacted on their mental or physical health, it's important that proactive measures are implemented to help manage stress effectively. With this in mind, I have put together 7 top tips to help you stay cool, calm and collected whilst in the classroom.
- Go for a walk
Studies have shown that long periods of inactivity can make us feel tired and apathetic but physical activity can increase the hormone epinephrine, which gets blood pumping faster. Also, longer periods of exercise (30 minutes or more) can actually increase endorphins, the hormone of happiness! That short 5-minute walk can instantly make you feel more active and put you back in control.
Regular physical exercise is associated with lower rates of depression and anxiety across all age groups so the more time you find to exercise, the better.
- Watch your caffeine intake
You may believe that the coffee you had today helps you concentrate on the tasks at hand, but unfortunately it can also make you feel much more stressed. Recommended daily caffeine intake is 400mg, roughly four cups of coffee. Caffeine interferes with the GABA neurotransmitter, responsible for regulating mood and emotion, which can lead to anxiety problems. Caffeine also increases levels of stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine in the long term. Although a cup of coffee can increase focus, usually the effect only lasts about 30 minutes. The rest of the focus you feel after your morning cup comes straight from you! Physical exercise or controlled breathing can also improve concentration.
- Eat well
There's a lot of evidence that eating well can directly reduce stress but it may be difficult to choose the healthy option in your school canteen. Avoid caffeine (for reasons above) and fizzy drinks. The carbon dioxide in fizzy drinks can aggravate stress and high sugar content in the blood increases tension. There is also evidence that high vitamin content in food can reduce the physical and mental effects of stress. Some foods known for reducing stress include yoghurts, fish and herbal products so it could be beneficial to add these to your diet.
- Make time for yourself
Alone time can seriously improve your productivity, make you feel more engaged with your work and give you something to look forward to during working hours. Go for your walk at lunch. Try to finish your tasks before you help someone else with theirs, so you don't have to work longer than you need to. Allow yourself to take an evening off to have 'me time' occasionally and feel better for it!
Perhaps it's difficult for you to get physical exercise at work for one reason or another. If so, have no fear- you can actually reduce stress and tension by doing a short relaxation exercise. Just 3-5 minutes of deep, controlled breathing can relieve headaches, tension and anxiety symptoms, and can improve concentration. For your free mindfulness audio, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Make time for sleep
It's often the way that the busier our lives become the less time we have for sleep. For many of us it is the first thing to put on the back burner, however, studies show that if we are even slightly sleep deprived our concentration levels will be lower resulting in the simplest of tasks seeming tough. Here are a couple of simple changes you can make which will improve your sleep;
Prioritise your sleep by sticking to a regular schedule. Go to bed and wake at the same time, even at weekends. This consistency will reinforce your body clock's cycle and encourage better quality sleep at night.
Try not to go to bed with unfinished business on your mind. Your thoughts will race and your sleep is likely to suffer so get into the habit of writing down your worries before you go to bed. (Find out more www.theinsomniaclinic.co.uk)
- Take control, but remember that you can't control everything
No one is leading your class but you. You are the best person for the job and you can take the initiative to complete the tasks at hand. It's true that things will constantly change, pupils will misbehave and problems will arise, but that's not your fault! You can't control everything, or everyone. However, you can really excel at what you're doing as long as you remember to make time for yourself and time to relax. You're doing a great job, keep it up!
To find out more about how you can better manage stress and build resilience, check out our Resilience course here