We are mostly through September, and that means that pretty much everybody, even us NYC late-starters, are back in the trenches. Just because the first day of school is over doesn’t mean we’re done with the jitters. Parent nights! Conferences! IEP meetings! District walk-throughs! Observations! Fall testing! The Teacher High Stress List seems endless, and the opportunities to defuse the ticking bomb of your blood pressure seem few. So here are a few suggestions for de-stressing on a busy schedule, organized from quickest to most leisurely.
If you have no time at all, get back into your body:
1.Take a breath. Sitting in a meeting with Satan? Blood pressure going up? Take a deep breath, counting silently in your head, 4-6 counts in, 4-6 counts out, while you smile and nod like the professional you are.
2. Stretch. Inconspicuously. If you’re sitting, push your feet out and rotate those ankles. Standing, try rolling your shoulders slowly. Feel the pull on all those muscles and tendons. Notice how your feet/shoulders feel. Tired? Sore? Pinched? Silently thank them for all the work they’ve been doing for you. This is great to do while you’re making the “quiet” signal and waiting for everyone to notice.
If you have 5 minutes or less:
3. Visualize. Employ that imagination. Find whatever quiet spot you can, sit with back straight and feet flat on the ground, and do the deep breathing thing from #1, but add your favorite visualization. This can be as accessible as a favorite movie scene that calms you down or makes you laugh. Or try a more abstract one that I’ve found energizing: Imagine a light, about the size of a tennis ball, hovering in front of you. It’s the brightest, purest, whitest light you’ve ever seen. Watch the light enter into your body. It grows with each breath, spreading its purity to the very tips of your body, pushing out everything negative. With every breath, you take in joy, light, acceptance, compassion, laughter, etc., and with every exhale you breathe out darkness, stress, fear, tension, worry, sadness, anger, etc.
4. Tell yourself a story. Someone unreasonable making your blood boil? Take three minutes to brainstorm at least 5 reasons they might have to treat you the way that they have. They don’t have to have any basis in reality, this is not a story you’re telling anyone. Go for wild, bizarre, comical, farcical, sad. Whatever makes you laugh or cry or put their behavior into perspective. Maybe his dog died. Maybe she has a scorching case of herpes. Maybe he has a secret addiction to Oreos and he didn’t get his fix this morning. Whatever helps you brush it off and remember sometimes it’s not you.
5. Sing a little song. Alternatively, do a little dance. This accomplishes a few things. First, singing forces your throat to relax. Did you know you carry a ton of tension in your throat? This is a great one to do in the car or the shower, but you can hum in the office in a pinch. Second, dancing loosens you up. Especially if it’s a silly dance. It’s hard to stay nervous when you’re doing a silly dance, even for a minute. No one has to see it. In fact, it’s probably better if no one sees it, because then you won’t have added anxiety over what people will say. This is between you and the floor and the rhythm of your heart. Or your mp3 player. Third, doing either of these things might make you laugh, which is also a great stress reliever.
If you have a 10-20 minute break:
6. Take a walk. Preferably in nature. They’ve actually researched this and it changes your brain.
7. Color. Or doodle. Sometimes giving your hands something low-stakes, repetitive, and a little silly to do can be meditative and relaxing. They even make some great adult coloring books now.
8. Make a 3-song playlist – your Chill Out/Calm Down/Vent/Let It Go playlist. Which definitely does not have to include “Let It Go.” Although it could. No judgment. Listen to it while you’re visualizing or taking a walk or coloring. Or do a silly dance to it. Or find a closet and sing along.
9. Journal. List out everything that’s bugging you, no matter how petty, and without judgment. Just bleed it onto the page and out of your system. Somehow, just the simple act of naming these things makes them smaller and more manageable.
If you have an hour:
10. Take a yoga class. Be picky about your instructor. There are few things as painful as a bad yoga class. My sister (the one moving in Florida) will walk right out of one if she doesn’t like it. Life’s too short. With that said, a GOOD yoga class can open up your chakras and make you feel at peace with the world. I’m not even sure I believe in chakras (I certainly haven’t figured out what they are), but I do completely enjoy the slightly woozy, utterly relaxed, cleansed feeling I have after a yoga class. If yoga’s not your thing, see if you can find a conscious dance class, like Dancing Mindfulness or Journey Dance, or any other exercise class that can help you sweat your troubles away.
11. Take a nap. Sleep is very important to healthy mental and emotional functioning. A tired brain is a cranky and anxious brain, and a moody one too.
12. Paint a picture. Not a big one. Not necessarily a good one. Not even a REAL one. The rhythmic motion of moving a brush across a page or a canvas is very soothing to me. It doesn’t have to be a picture OF anything in particular, although it can be. I actually have a whole collection of canvases that are just “stress drawings,” where I needed to settle down and just move paint across a surface. A lot of times I end up using these as the base canvases for other paintings, because the already-painted base gives it a more interesting texture.
13. Find out what story you’re telling yourself. This is based on some of Brene Brown’s thoughts. (Seriously, click that article if you’re at all interested in this. Brene Brown is fabulous). Do some more journaling. Dig a little deeper. Unearth the narrative you are telling yourself about your day/week (“The eruption in discipline yesterday means I’m a bad teacher,” “That parent gave me a weird look, she must not like me,” etc.), and release the parts that are fiction. Re-write the parts that you can to be more compassionate and hopeful.
14. Give yourself a recess. Recess has been proven again and again to provide cognitive, social, emotional, and psychological benefits to children, and it looks like it’s probably healthy for adults as well. Give yourself permission to chill out without multi-tasking. Read something that gives you pleasure, rather than something that develops you professionally. Indulge in your favorite TV show without also grading papers. Have coffee with a friend without checking for emails from your administration. When you come back to your inevitable stack of work, you’ll be more focused, more efficient, and less frustrated.
What about you? What do you do when you need to chill out/wind down/relax in a hurry? Share your wisdom with a comment!