Put the Brakes on Year-End Burnout

Power through the end of the school year using these short- and long-term strategies to help you stay positive.

Female teacher and students using a laptop in their classroom

by NEA Member Benefits

With promises of less work, longer days and lots of sunshine, what’s to fret about? Truth is, the weeks leading up to the end of the school year are often fraught with tension, anxiety and overwhelm.

It’s one of the most stressful times of the year, says Mike Anderson, author of “The Well-Balanced Teacher: How to Work Smarter and Stay Sane Inside the Classroom and Out,” citing end-of-year assessments, paperwork, committee meetings and outside-of-the-classroom tasks that pull educators away from their students.

Experts agree it’s easy to get bogged down in “to-dos” when school sessions come to a close. Add antsy kids who may have already checked out for summer break to the mix, and it’s no wonder educators are stressed.

Here, short-term strategies to power through the end of school, and long-term strategies to ensure you stay on top of your game while school is out.

Short-term sanity-saving solutions

1. Take a recess. Don’t underestimate the power of play. “Even two minutes of looking at the sky through the window can be incredibly refreshing for your mind and your spirit,” says Kate Hanley, mindset coach and author of the upcoming book “A Year of Daily Calm.” Don’t have time to indulge in a massage, play fetch with your dog or walk around the block? Don’t stress. A few simple stretches, three deep breaths or even a lap around the hallways during an off period can reboot your mind and give you things to look forward to during the day.

2. Learn to say no. “If you’re looking at your to-do list and cringing, ask yourself, honestly, ‘What can I minimize, outsource or ignore?’,” suggests Hanley. When you offload some of your responsibilities—including household tasks like grocery shopping, laundry and cooking—you not only enable others to contribute to the greater good, you also give yourself a chance to do more of the things you truly love.

3. Be positive. A growing body of research suggests that putting a positive spin on any situation floods the body with feel-good chemicals that boost the immune system. Of course, negative energy has an equal and opposite effect, wreaking havoc on your health. Stress isn’t so much about your situation as it is how you perceive it, says Hanley. So, instead of tuning into the negative voice that says, “you’re not doing enough,” focus on the many things you accomplish during the day.

Long-term tweaks

1. Establish mindfulness. “Too often you’re being beeped, tweeted and texted, and you can’t be present in your own life,” says Caroline Adams Miller, MAPP, author of “Creating Your Best Life,” Positive Psychology expert and coach. Mindfulness requires directing your attention to your experience as it’s unfolding, moment-by-moment. In fact, studies show that mindfulness reliably and profoundly alters the structure and function of the brain to improve the quality of both thought and feeling. Teachers report reductions in stress, a greater sense of wellbeing and increased kindness and compassion toward others.

2. Make a plan. Before you dive into a new project, set a reasonable timeline and create measurable goals along the way. “Instead of creating a goal to catch up on sleep, make a goal to go to bed by 10 p.m. every night. Instead of having a goal to connect more with colleagues, set a goal of having a ‘walk and talk’ session every Thursday,” suggests Anderson.

3. Reward yourself. “Instead of using the end of the year as a focus for reflection and celebration, we beat ourselves up for our shortcomings,” says Anderson. Why not turn that around? Just as you would reward your students for a job well done, get into the habit of patting yourself on the back, too. Rewards can be as simple as a gold star in your calendar or as extravagant as a weekend getaway. Pick something that’s unique to you and makes you feel good.