Stress-reduction techniques to help you rest, relax, and recharge right away
SEL

15 stress-reduction techniques for teachers

Fred Rogers famously said that in scary times, we should look for the helpers. As a teacher, you play that role for your students, helping to comfort and guide them when times are stressful. But what about your own stress levels? With the onslaught of new challenges you and other teachers are facing since the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for stress-reduction techniques has grown monumentally. 

Along with typical work stressors, you’re faced with increased class sizes, changing roles, new policies, and student behavior issues brought on by the pandemic. You may also be experiencing secondary trauma from dealing with the firsthand trauma of your students and colleagues. This can lead to symptoms of anxiety and depression, such as lack of focus or burnout.  

You may feel isolated, but you’re not alone. One survey found that teachers are now more than twice as likely to report symptoms of mental health distress since the start of the pandemic.  

Are you experiencing any of the following?  

  • Difficulty making decisions 
  • Feelings of low energy or exhaustion 
  • Emotional numbness 
  • Mental distance from your job 
  • Feelings of negativity or cynicism  
  • Secondary trauma 
  • Feelings of burnout 

If this sounds like you, then you can benefit from the 15 stress-reduction techniques Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Mental Health Professional Lisa Dunham shares below. These practices can have immediate effects on your well-being. Here are just some of the ways they can help:   

  • Creating new and healthy neuropathways in your brain 
  • Improving sleep 
  • Reducing toxic emotions like resentment and frustration 
  • Helping to regulate stress 
  • Decreasing depression and anxiety 

Make a habit of practicing two or more of these stress-reduction techniques every day to help relieve some of the pressures you’re facing.  

15 stress-reduction techniques for teachers

Download a PDF with these exercises to share with fellow educators.

Practice 5- to 10-minute stress-reduction techniques 

Repeat the loving kindness meditation 

  1. Settle into a quiet place. Breathe slowly and soften your gaze. 
  2. Repeat the following cycle two times each: 

    • May I be happy 
    • May I be well 
    • May I be healthy 
    • May I be safe 
    • May I be loved 
  3. Then repeat the exercise with the name of a loved one, someone you’re having difficulty with, or a group of people in your school. 

    • May (insert name) be happy 
    • May (insert name) be well 
    • May (insert name) be healthy 
    • May (insert name) be safe 
    • May (insert name) be loved 

Practice the square breathing technique 

  • Inhale for the count of four and hold it. 
  • Exhale for the count of four and hold it. 
  • Inhale for the count of four and hold it. 
  • Exhale for the count of four and hold it. 
  • Continue for one minute. 

Just breathe

  1. Set a timer. 
  2. Determine if you’ll do square breathing, counting breathing (up to 10), awareness of breath, or something else.  
  3. Focus on your breath.  
  4. If you lose focus, bring it back (training our brains is like training a puppy to stay). 

Set your intentions 

  1. Take five minutes to set your intentions for the day (or week). 
  2. Write them down and keep them posted as a reminder. 
  3. Rather than a to-do list, consider a list of values or ideals that you would like to work toward in the day (or week), e.g., approach with optimism, seek opportunities where there doesn’t seem to be any, be open to others’ opinions, listen with compassion, and mindfully participate with friends and family.  

Practice gratitude

  1. Take time daily to write a gratitude list of three things you are grateful for. These could be big things or small things.  
  2. You can also take a few minutes to write a gratitude note to a friend, colleague, mentor, or student.  

Focus on your senses with 5-4-3-2-1 

Ground yourself by thinking of the following:  

  • 5 things you can see 
  • 4 things you can hear 
  • 3 things you can feel 
  • 2 things you can smell 
  • 1 thing you can taste 

Follow your “why” 

  1. Think back about why you became a teacher.  
  2. Share this with a colleague or group of colleagues. 
  3. Ask them their “why.”  
  4. Use your “why” as your compass or guiding force when you are stressed about a decision, task, or interaction at work.  

Allow yourself to take on one task at a time 

We all multi-task every day, but sometimes it helps to slow down and just focus on one task at a time to help you focus better. If a grocery list or a call you need to make for an appointment is distracting you, give yourself 10 minutes to tackle the task.  

Tackle a task with a clear beginning, middle, and end 

  1. Find a task that is very clear-cut with a beginning, middle, and end, such as crafting, cleaning a cupboard, laundry, or taking a walk. 
  2. Allow yourself the satisfaction of seeing your progress. 
  3. Reinforce yourself with positive praise for accomplishing the task.  

Exercise 

Increase endorphins by doing something physical, such as the following: 

  • Take a walk.  
  • Ride a bike. 
  • Practice yoga or stretching. 
  • Have a dance party with friends or family (or by yourself!).  
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Take 10 minutes to do something mindful 

  1. Take 10 minutes to do one of these three things: observe, describe, or participate.  
  2. Do these things nonjudgmentally, mindfully, and effectively. 
  3. This could be any of the following: eating, walking, doing a body scan, using guided imagery, watching nature, counting breaths, coloring, or playing with children without any interruptions. 

Make the transition from school to home easier 

  1. Take a different driving route home after a stressful day. 
  2. Change your clothes right away. 
  3. Take a moment before you get out of the car. 
  4. Take the dog (or yourself) for a walk. 
  5. Create a mantra. For example: Today is for today. Tomorrow is for tomorrow. 
  6. Leave your work bag in the car. If you have more work to do, do your best to disconnect from school first, then do what you need to do and put your work bag in the car or a room with the door closed when you’re done.  
  7. Take off your invisible backpack (all the worries or responsibilities you are carrying with you from school).  
You’ve probably heard that it takes just one person to change a child’s life. It can feel like a tremendous amount of pressure to be “the one” for everyone around you.

Set boundaries and limits for stress reduction 

Decide whether you need to step up or step back   

  1. Take a moment to decide whether you need to step up and contribute something or step back and allow others to participate.  
  2. Try this team activity: Make a list of roles on your team and have the leader stand up and read them aloud. You and your colleagues can “step up” or “step back” to learn others’ likes, dislikes, strengths, and areas for growth.  

Be just one of the ones  

You’ve probably heard that it takes just one person to change a child’s life. While often true and inspiring, it can feel like a tremendous amount of pressure to be “the one” for everyone around you.  

Take a step back and know that you are “one of the ones” who is having an impact on a child’s life. You are one piece of the puzzle that creates an outcome, and it is not selfish to take care of yourself as well. 

Practice FAST  

  1. Be fair. (Is it your turn to do something or have you given more than others already?) 
  2. Don’t apologize for putting your well-being first.  
  3. Stick to your values. (Does this follow your “why” or the value you are placing on your wellness?) 
  4. Be truthful. (You can say no and add that you need to respect your own mental health right now.) 

As a helper, you’re used to putting yourself last. However, taking care of your own well-being will allow you to better take care of others around you and ensure you are able to show up for others when needed. Put these techniques into practice today and share them with colleagues, friends, family, and even your students.  

Learn more by watching Lisa Dunham’s full Nasco Education webinar below.  

3 thoughts on “15 stress-reduction techniques for teachers

  1. Thank you for your sharing. I have learned knowledge from your article. This article enables me to quickly adjust my mood and use good mood to teach students every day.

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