8 Tips for Managing Stress at School

Feeling stressed? With educators having more students, fewer resources and greater demands, you’re not alone. Keep cool with our step-by-step guide to taming everyday stress.

Teacher talking to teenage students in the school library

by NEA Member Benefits

Every possible societal malfunction from gangs and drugs to divorce and poverty affects the classroom. And with more students, fewer resources and greater demands, it’s no wonder today’s educators are stressed! In fact, studies show that in addition to service men and women, social workers and linguists, educators have surfaced as the most stressed workers in America.

“The really insidious thing about stress is that it starts to feel normal,” says Kate Hanley, founder of MsMindBody.com and author of The Anytime, Anywhere Chill Guide. And that new normal can wreak havoc on your body and mind.

Here, our step-by-step guide to managing stress at school and in the classroom:

1. Build awareness

Most of us are so disconnected from our bodies we don’t even realize when we’re stressed. That’s where Biodots come in. When adhered to the skin, these little dots act almost like mood rings, changing color according to your stress level. “Biodots work on the premise that when you’re stressed, your blood moves from your extremities to your core,” Paula Dowd, MA, CC, Mind Body Clinician in Redondo Beach, California. “So, unless it’s cold where you are, if your Biodot is black, you know you're stressed.” And once you have that information, you can change the color of your Biodot by slowing down and taking a few deep breaths. (Here is one example of where you can find them. Several companies carry them.)

2. Sing!

It may sound crazy, but singing out loud (not just in your head) can counter some of the ill effects of stress. In one study, singing enhanced mood and boosted immune function. What’s more, researchers found that just listening to choral music reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Do it now: Incorporate a group sing into your daily routine, or start class by singing an uplifting song.

3. Touch your heart or your belly

Touching your heart or belly shifts your attention away from your thoughts (which is where stress originates) and into your body (which is where you can tap into your intuition). Then breathe deep. “Breathing is the cheapest, greatest tool on the planet,” says Dowd. Even one deep breath can start to change the way you feel.

4. Laugh out loud

Belly laughs can lighten your mood and reduce the physiological effects of stress. In fact, research shows that laughter releases natural feel good chemicals from the brain. So put your class clown to work. After some giggles, you’ll be better equipped to handle the source of stress with renewed energy and restored focus.

5. Keep your feet on the ground

“Every mind-body tradition considers the Earth to be a source of support and stability,” says Hanley, “and we spend much of our time hovering above it.” Whether you’re standing in front of a classroom or sitting at a desk, take 5 minutes and put the soles of both feet to the floor, ground yourself and center your weight on both feet. You’ll feel instant relief.

6. Head down, time out

Cross your forearms and rest them on a desk or table in front of you. Then scoot your chair back so you can fold forward and rest your head on your forearms. “Resting your head in this way, quiets the mind and lengthens the spine, which creates space in the torso so you can breathe more deeply,” says Hanley.

7. Write it out

When you need an emotional release, pull out a notebook. Writing out your worries can help you work through problems, and see things in a new light. And you can do it almost anywhere.

8. Let go

Picture yourself sitting on the beach watching the sun set on the water. Soothing, isn’t it? While you may not be able to plunk yourself down on the sandy shores of the Riviera, you can observe a beautiful sunset in your mind. “Close your eyes and go to a place you love—a place that you find particularly peaceful,” says Dowd. Then relax and let go!