Stress is something every human feels on a monthly, weekly, or daily basis. Yet some professions evoke stress more often than others. According to a research report from 2021, surveys found that a substantially greater percentage of teachers reported stress and depression during the pandemic than the general U.S. population (Steiner, Woo).
Stress does impact the classroom, and the pandemic has affected educators’ stress levels and burnout. So, let’s dive into why distressing is so important and ways educators can destress in the classroom.
How Stress Impacts the Classroom
Stress that teachers feel impacts the classroom in many ways. For starters, educators who are stressed cannot instruct in the way they might otherwise if they were cool, calm, and collected. They might be more irritable, have less patience, and don’t have as high of energy levels.
Because of this decrease in instructional ability when stress occurs, student academic outcomes are impacted. They might not learn the material as well as they normally could. The teacher may also not have as much time to put into small groups (especially if they are dealing with behavioral issues), and students will feel the teacher’s stress and take that on.
Teacher stress also leads to more educators leaving the profession, nearly one in four, an increase from a pre-pandemic year (Steiner, Woo). This can have a domino effect on other teachers’ stress of hiring newer teachers with less experience who may need more professional training and teacher development.
Along with the usual teacher stress factors, the COVID-19 pandemic has placed an even greater stress level on educators.
How COVID has Impacted Teacher Stress Levels
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on teacher stress levels. Teachers have been stretched thin by being asked to put even more time, effort, and energy into their jobs. Some educators have been asked to dual-instruct, teaching their in-person students while supporting their online pupils.
On top of that, some educators have high COVID anxiety and do not feel safe or comfortable being in the classroom. Educators may also have a hard time enforcing and communicating pandemic policies with varying views on the pandemic. Some teachers also had to care for their own children while teaching when the start of the pandemic school closures occurred.
With the visible impact of stress on educators, why is distressing so important to teacher wellness?
Why is Destressing Important?
With how many day-to-day stressors educators feel, the need to destress is critical. Being able to destress allows teachers to do their job to the highest of their capabilities. It makes the workplace a more comfortable environment and makes teachers happy to come to work.
We know that destressing is essential, but what are some ways educators can destress?
Ways to Destress as an Educator
Breathing can be an easy way to calm our bodies to feel more stress-free. When someone feels anxious or angry, they start taking short, quick breaths. This triggers their fight-or-flight response, and their anxiety begins to increase. Pausing to take some deep breaths disrupts the anxiety cycle and helps a person calm down.
To begin, educators should focus on slowing exhaling, almost doubling their average length of inhalation. As they do this, their blood flow will increase as their heart rate decreases. As the blood pressure decreases, teachers will feel calm and comfortable and ready to continue instructing. This can be done alone, or it may even be helpful to have the students join in with you.
Visualization is another good technique for managing classroom stress. Start by closing your eyes and creating a mental picture of something that makes you feel calm. This could be a favorite place like the ocean or the mountains, or it could be a comforting, home-cooked meal or a favorite pastime. With practice, visualizing this picture quickly and clearly will help slow anxiety when it is rising.
When classroom stressors occur, it is hard not to fixate on the problem. Yet, if educators change their mental focus, they can relieve and stop their stress. If possible, walk away from the issue at hand temporarily and return when you’re feeling calm.
Call for behavioral support if a student needs to be removed to give you some space. Try to stop thinking about that parent email that bothered you and revisit it later when you are less distracted or have time to confide in a coworker. By changing your focus, better decisions can be made and your stress can be better kept at bay.
Leave Work at Work
If breathing, visualization, and changing your focus are too tough to do on the spot, something you can try to put into practice is leaving work at work. This can be extremely tough, especially for educators; there can be some emotional baggage that comes with the job.
But with some practice, being able to walk out of your classroom and leave it to rest until the next day can help you destress. Use your evenings and weekends to relax, unwind, and be content. There will always be work left undone, and when you can make peace with that, stress will stay at bay.
Stress is something everyone feels. Educators particularly take on a tremendous amount of daily stress. Destressing is critical not only for an individual’s health but for the livelihood of the classroom environment. By putting into practice destressing techniques such as breathing, visualizing, focusing, and leaving work at work, teachers can continue doing the job they love for the students who love them.