7 Techniques for Managing End-of-Year Stress

Here’s how to keep calm, focused and on track until June.

Happy teacher in a hallway filled with students

by NEA Member Benefits

Although many people think the weeks leading up to summer break are a breeze for educators, it can be, in fact, one of the most stressful times of the year.

“There’s an incredible amount of paperwork for teachers to do and students often take advantage of that,” says educational consultant Angela Watson, who worked as a classroom teacher for 11 years. Getting it all done while maintaining control of the classroom can be a challenge—but it’s not impossible.

We’ve gathered seven stress-relieving tips to help you greet summer vacation with your sanity intact.

1. Snap out of it

Stress isn’t so much about your situation as how you perceive it, explains psychologist Jack Singer, Ph.D., author of “The Teacher’s Ultimate Stress Mastery Guide.” Negative thoughts increase our susceptibility to stress. Change your perception and you will lower your stress levels. Then you can better cope with getting your to-do list done.

To let go of negative thoughts, wear a rubber band on your wrist, and snap it every time you notice a pessimistic thought, says Singer. Then, replace it with a more rational thought. If you’re thinking you can’t get your students’ grades in on-time, remind yourself that you’ve always met your deadlines. According to Singer, this practice of consistently replacing negative beliefs with empowering ones will help you feel in control and keep stress at bay.

2. See a better future

If an upcoming situation is making you fret, visualize success, says productivity expert Helene Segura, a former teacher and author of “Less Stress for Teachers.” “Visualize your day on the way to school. Run through your lesson plan and picture it going smoothly,” she explains. Athletes use this type of mental rehearsal to improve performance. It can help you feel like you’re in the driver’s seat.

3. Cut out busy work

As a teacher, Segura wondered every Monday how she would survive another workweek. Then she streamlined her schedule. “I am a firm believer that you don’t have to overload the kids with work that overloads you. If a third-grader can’t do 20 problems, they won’t be able to do 100. Find ways to assess their learning that won’t take a million hours for them to complete or you to grade,” she advises.

4. Be a clock watcher

Become a productivity whiz by mastering the art of the to-do list. Figure out what needs to be done for the next day and, beside each item, write down what time you will finish it. “If I didn’t have a time on there, it would be a list that never got done,” says Segura. Keep in mind, you may need to readjust your schedule until you know how long each task takes you.

5. Express yourself

When you keep stress inside, it can come out in unhealthy behaviors, angry outbursts or chronic headaches, body aches or stomach issues. That’s why it’s important to give yourself five to 10 minutes to vent. First, acknowledge that you’re stressed or angry. Then, go into analytic mode: Ask yourself why you feel this way and problem-solve it for next time, says Segura. Just remember to keep it constructive; if it devolves into a complaining session you’ll feel even worse, warns Watson. And if the faculty lounge is a haven for negativity, stay away. Research shows that one disgruntled employee can ruin the morale of an entire team.

6. Sweat it out

The more a person exercises, the more capable she is of handling emotional distress. That’s because working out is a bona fide mood booster and self-esteem builder. Think about how good you feel after an intense sweat session at the gym or even just a brisk walk around the block. “Anything that gets your heart rate up will burn off stress and anger,” says Singer.

7. Be kind to yourself

Having unrealistic expectations of yourself will elevate stress levels no matter how well-behaved your students are. If you feel like a failure each time you don’t put in 110 percent, you will burn out quickly. Treat yourself as you would a friend, says Singer.

Use past successes as a reminder of your ability, suggests Segura. “Reflect on the good things that happened this year and write them down. Note the glitches and think about how to resolve them for next year—and then go enjoy your summer.”