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“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” – William James

Is anyone else climbing into this boat and dropping anchor? I know I am. My life has been turned upside down since January with personal struggles, professional struggles and just day-to-day struggles that seem to be heavier than usual. I ebb and flow in a constant state of stress, anger and depression. I even earned myself a stay at the mental health hotel. Email me. I’ll save you a co-pay and share my story so you don’t have to experience it yourself, unless, of course, you have “stay at the psychiatric ward” on your bucket list and want to cross it off.

Teachers have been told ad nauseam about “how to relieve stress” right? Mindfulness training, changing your thoughts, exercise, blah, blah, blah. Blech. I don’t know about you, but those tools seem to be a short-term solution for an ongoing serious problem. Physiology tells us that the effects can be measured, but psychologically that stress is just hanging around building momentum and waiting to tackle you when you skip a day at the gym.

So let’s look at a few additions to our de-stressing that does not require us needing a packed gym bag or medication app for your phone.
1. You are what you eat.You’re going to eat anyway, so you may as well eat well. Exchange that bag of chips for string cheese or yogurt. Bypass that second soda for a bottle of water.

2.  BREATHE yep, you definitely must do this, so do it right. Sit up tall, breathe in through your nose and blow out through your mouth. Expand your ribcage. Breathe deeply throughout your entire body. All the time. Not just during ‘brain breaks’ or times that you think you need to.

3. Jot it down. My teaching table is covered in sharpie notes. As soon as I think of something I need to do I write it down with permanent marker and push the thought out of my mind until I know I will either do it or can add it to the appropriate list. I also do this with those fantastic lesson plan ideas that seem to drift in and out of my head and can’t be recalled when I actually have time to open my lesson plan folder. And it gives me a feeling of accomplishment when I take my alcohol swabs and erase tasks!

4. Get your Vitamin D. We are so fortunate to live in Oklahoma where the winter has been very mild this year. Those states where winter didn’t get the memo from Mr. Groundhog might need to begin creating your own sunshine. Just adding a UVB light bulb into your desk lamp, or other place that you spend quite a bit of time working, that mimics the sun’s natural rays can make a huge difference in mood, for everyone.

5. Be Creative. you know the coloring book fad that all of us early childhood teachers have already known about forever, but just didn’t cash in on? Yeah, this creativity has scientific merit to it, so just do it.

6. STOP bringing work home. Hey you! Yes, YOU! The one carrying the overloaded teacher bag on one shoulder, an overloaded purse on the other shoulder and arms full of state testing practice packets. PUT. IT. ALL. DOWN. I know it has to be done. I know testing is coming up. I know that you have meeting upon meeting and duty upon duty that you HAVE to do. But if you’re not here to test, meet and do ‘everything’ is the world going to fall apart? Don’t you dare say yes it will because we all know we are replaceable. Your health is not though. You are not replaceable to your family. Your family will miss you if you are not there. Take care of YOU. Make an effort to retrain your thinking about this.

7. Give it an hour-sixty small minutes of your life. Go through your list at the end of the day and create another list prioritized REALISTICALLY with what you can accomplish tonight and then leave everything else at school. Trust me, it WILL still be there to do the next day. And the day after. (If you are the lucky one to have a desk fairy who comes at night and does your work for you, then you either have a heck of a lot more to concern yourself about or you need to share with the rest of us. Because after all, sharing is caring!)
The mental health hotel is NOT where one wants to end up, but I’m sure glad it is there for when it is needed. However, the information I received was a huge wake-up call to not only the state of mental health of our adults, but also the legacy we are leaving our children. Children learn what they live. The idea that I am modeling behavior for my students that could potentially cause a breakdown in their mental health was an eye-opener. You can bet I’m taking steps to change my behavior. We need to remember that psychologically, chemically, our students’ minds are very fragile. We do our best to protect them physically, shouldn’t we take measures to protect them psychologically as well?

Paula has a Masters degree in education with an emphasis on child development and child behavior....

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