Taking Care of YOU: 14 Stress-Busting Strategies to Help You Avoid Burnout

No matter how much you love your job, teaching can be a high-stress profession. I read a sobering article the other day: according to a 2015 survey of 30,000 educators by the American Federation of Teachers, 78% of educators say they’re often “physically and emotionally exhausted at the end of the day.” And 87% say that their job demands “at least sometimes” interfere with their family life. Would you agree? Do your stress levels sometimes find you teetering on the edge of burnout–especially this time of year?

With the holidays upon us and stressors piling up faster than you can say Black Friday, I thought you might like some simple strategies for dialing back tensions and taking care of you. In her guidebook Little Kids, Big Worries, early childhood expert Alice Sterling Honig suggests a few dozen strategies teachers can use to reduce stress and avoid burnout. I’m adapting my 14 favorites and sharing them with you here. (These suggestions are for teachers of young kids, but they easily apply to educators at every grade level–and support staff, too.)

Even if you do some of these already, this list might come in handy when you’ve had a rotten day and need a quick tip for stamping out stress.

  1. FLING AWAY TENSIONS SYMBOLICALLY.  Imagine stress is traveling from your toes all the way up through your body. Fling out the stress by shaking each arm outward and visualize the tense feelings soaring away from you. (I know this might sound goofy, but I tried it at home yesterday and it actually worked pretty well!)
  2. DON’T OBSESS ABOUT PAST SLIGHTS. Let go of past criticisms and negative interactions. Think about the things you’re doing right now that are positive and life affirming”“”“like helping your students learn and grow.
  3. USE GUIDED IMAGERY. Find a quiet space and use concrete images to let go of your burdens–for example, imagine yourself walking all your stress to a dump and tossing it in the trash.
  4. EXPERIENCE FLASHES OF BEAUTY. Set aside a little time every day to focus on the beauty of the world around you. Lose yourself in a beautiful sunset. Notice the brilliant feathers on a bird. Seek out inspiring art in museums or books.
  5. APPRECIATE THE KINDNESSES OF THE CHILDREN YOU TEACH. Look for and enjoy the kind gestures you see your students perform. When you notice a child doing something loving for a peer, let the beauty of that generous gesture lift your spirit.
  6. KEEP A JOURNAL. A journal is a good place to process difficult emotions, express gratitude, and reflect on the roots of stress in your classroom. You might even come away with new insights and solutions to a persistent challenge.
  7. CARRY OUT AN ACTIVITY THAT MAKES YOU FEEL COMPETENT. What are you great at? Racquetball? Words with Friends? Singing both parts of “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” on karaoke night? Carve out some time to do something you know you excel at–you’ll feel refreshed, uplifted, and in charge of your life.
  8. LET GO OF PERFECTIONISM. You know no one’s perfect–the trick is convincing yourself. Forgive yourself when everything goes wrong. Remind yourself that all lives are made of difficult days, wonderful days, and in-between days.
  9. PUT ON SOME MUSIC. Music can be wonderfully therapeutic. Put on your favorite albums or songs to unwind your tensions. Sing in the shower, in the car, or while you do chores–perfect pitch not necessary!
  10. CONSIDER THEIR MOTIVES. When talking with a challenging child or parent (or anyone, really), considering the motives behind their behavior will help you devise a solution. Work hard to help them reframe problems, too, and see them in a new light.
  11. NURTURE ANOTHER PERSON. Do you have a friend or relative going through a rough patch? Helping someone who’s hurting will make you feel more competent and empowered and less focused on your own stressors.
  12. GET ENOUGH SLEEP. Chronic exhaustion is a major contributor to burnout. To help you drift off earlier, try cutting out late-night TV and replace it with a warm bath or a good comfort read.
  13. FEED YOUR BODY RIGHT. Do you start your day on a caffeine-and-sugar high? Keep stress at bay with a breakfast that lets your blood sugar level rise gradually over several hours (try juice, an egg, and a whole-grain cereal or bread).
  14. CALL A FRIEND. When was the last time you had a good long talk with an empathetic, caring friend? Social support lowers stress–talking to someone who loves you makes self-compassion come easier.




Like these ideas? Here they are in a shareable graphic, ready for Pinterest (or the old-fashioned corkboard in your office).


taking care of you stress-busting strategies to avoid burn-out



What strategies are in YOUR stress-busting repertoire? Share them in the comments below!

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