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Reduce Back-to-School Anxiety Naturally

As an educator, one of the basic requirements is that you’re always “on.” In addition to preparing lesson plans, grading homework and working with active and excitable children, you’re expected to act as a caregiver, mentor, disciplinarian and mediator—that’s a lot of hats! Plus, with more students, fewer resources and greater demands, it’s no wonder today’s educators are anxious.

“Each year teachers and administrators face completely new groups of students and parents,” says Jeffrey B. Rubin, Ph.D., psychotherapist in New York and author of The Art of Flourishing. “There’s always the concern—will I be an effective teacher (or administrator) and get through the curriculum with my students so that these 20 (or 30) young minds will learn what they need in the coming year?”

The good news: going back to school doesn’t have to be distressing.

Here are 5 tips for taking the stress and anxiety out of “back-to-school”:

1. Be prepared. Life is busy, so most of us tend to wing it more than we care to admit, and that lack of preparedness is often what causes anxiety and stress and jitters. The key, says Caroline Miller, MAPP, positive psychologist, professional coach and author of “Creating Your Best Life,” is to fight stress before it starts by planning your day, your year and your life so that stress is minimized. So before you dive in without a life preserver, know what you need to accomplish to be effective on a daily basis in your school. And have a Plan B for every single contingency, suggests Miller.

2. Practice self-care. Educators are constantly catering to children, breaking up fights and trying to fulfill the demands of other teachers, administrators, demanding parents and even the government. The key: Remember flight attendants’ instructions: “put on your own oxygen mask before assisting the person next to you.” So don’t even think about taking care of anyone else before you take care of yourself. “Figure out what renewed you during the summer and decide how to build that into your life during the school year,” suggests Rubin. Maybe taking a walk in the evening clears your head, or maybe you need an hour on the phone with a good friend. Whatever rejuvenates you and helps you be your best in the classroom should be your top priority.

3. Meditate. You probably already know that stress ups your risk for virtually every chronic disease, but did you know that you can dramatically lower your levels just by meditating—even if you only do it for 10 minutes a day. “Meditation is the silver bullet of health and well being, particularly for people who need to relax and become more mindful in their own lives,” says Miller. According to a University of Pennsylvania research study, just 30 minutes of daily meditation improves the ability to prioritize and manage tasks and goals, re-focus attention and stay alert to the environment. Don’t have 30 minutes? Close your eyes for 5 minutes and breathe deeply to get back on track.

4. Use your mind. Take a few minutes and picture your ideal classroom or school. Make the picture as detailed as you can. Then visualize yourself making a positive impact on the students in your classroom or school. “Research shows that imagining yourself in the third person creates a greater likelihood of following through on goals,” says Miller. “Also, if you observe someone who has the behavior you want to create for yourself, you can begin to model their behavior.” You can even use your mind to escape if what you really need is just a mental mini-break! Just close your eyes and retreat to a place you love—then relax and let go.

5. Get moving. Studies show that exercise reduces stress and releases feel-good endorphins (and who couldn’t use more of those). Plus, it gives you a break from the rigors of teaching and administrative responsibilities and tasks. Can’t seem to carve out the time to clock in an hour at the gym? Take a brisk walk with a co-worker during recess; park at the opposite end of the parking lot; and work in some yoga exercises right at your desk. Every move you make provides an opportunity to reduce stress.

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