Burnout tends to creep up in teachers’ lives about once every five years. Many teachers just persevere through these ‘down’ times and wait for their energy and creativity to return. The ideas in this article have helped many teachers reduce and even avoid these cycles of burnout. I hope they will help you, too!
Do you lose things? Procrastinate? Get frustrated easily? Feel tired too often? Do you enjoy teaching less than you used to?
Burnout is a teacher’s occupational hazard. During many years of exploring burnout — and leading workshops to help teachers reduce stress and restore the joy to teaching — I have discovered some good news: it is in our power to reduce burnout and even to avoid it. Here’s how.
Realize How Stress and Overwork Reinforce Each Other
When we are stressed we work harder (and less efficiently). When we are overworked, we become increasingly stressed.
How can this cycle be broken? Most people begin by reducing their workload but soon return to the same too-busy pace. Their habitual level of physical stress does not change, so the pattern of overwork quickly reestablishes itself. Many experts on overwork and stress-reduction agree: to make lasting change, reduce stress first and let overwork follow.
Realize the Nature of Stress and Know That It Is Within your Control
We may think of stress as inevitable, given the difficult circumstances we are dealing with. But there is good news: we are not that helpless! Stress is nothing more than a set of physical symptoms, such as faster pulse and shallow breathing. And we can control these things. Doing so is quite simple (not easy at first, but simple). Try a few relaxation techniques until you find one or two that work for you. Then use them regularly until they become habits. Here are a few suggestions:
- If you are a fast walker, try walking slowly instead.
- If you rush from one task to the next, try pausing in between. For example, bring in the groceries; then sit for 3 minutes. Put the groceries away; then sit for 3 minutes. Cook dinner, then – by now you know what to do. Do not read or watch TV while you sit; just sit and breathe.
- Take a 2-minute vacation. Relax, breathe deeply a few times with your eyes closed, and revisit a place you remember where you felt entirely safe and at peace. Linger with one sense at a time, noticing the things you can see, hear, feel, smell and taste. Do this a few times each day, or do it whenever you notice the symptoms of stress.
Now watch this video …
Have you tried things like this before? Maybe they felt un-natural or even irritating. That’s not surprising; our habitual sense of urgency causes most of us to feel strange when we first practice these techniques. It’s a change, and change is uncomfortable. But the discomfort doesn’t last long. You can notice that you’re uncomfortable and do the practices anyway. The act of slowing down soon brings internal changes in how we think and feel and act –- changes for the good. The proof is in the doing.
Do you ask yourself, “I don’t have enough time as it is! How can I can afford the time to do these things!” Well, maybe we can’t afford NOT to. Relaxation techniques take very little time. And they make it easier to prioritize, to make decisions. As we relax more often, we become more efficient and actually get MORE done. Again, the proof is in the doing!
One last note: If these particular techniques don’t work for you after several tries, you can easily find others on line. Try a few . . . you’ll quickly know which ones work for you!
How about you? What kinds of things do you do to decompress? Leave your comments and suggestions in the box below. Don’t forget to subscribe to follow this series, and receive updates.
Laurel Pollard has been a teacher for 40 years and is enjoying it more all the time. Her books include Creative Questions, Zero Prep: Ready-to-Go Activities for the Language Classroom, Zero Prep for Beginners, Now You’re Talking, WOW! Stories From Real Life (a low- beginning multi-skills reader), and Finding Family (a high-beginning textbook for teens and adults). She leads workshops all over the world for ESL/EFL teachers and mainstream content teachers.
Laurel shares perspectives and practical strategies that help teachers relax, reflect, and recover their teaching vision – and provide students with tools for success. Further information about Laurel can be found on her personal website.