Learn how to use the power of happiness to prevent or stop stress. You might have heard about teachers experiencing stress and burnout but you shrug it off. You or other teachers you know might claim it’d never happen to you or them but it does.
You know how during the holidays, students are happy, and parents are glad to have their children around. It can be a different story for teachers as that small voice keeps checking in about what to do for next term. The trick is to let the power of happiness drown out the stress.
Research identifies five features you need to utilise the power of happiness in your teacher life: gratitude, journaling, exercise, reflection, and acts of kindness.
“Hey, are you okay there? You look a little stressed,” Mike’s girlfriend, Linda, said as he stared blankly off to the side.
He couldn’t be stressed, Mike thought to himself. After all, he loved to teach. How could he ever feel burnt out by something he adored? Oh, how wrong he was.
What made Mike realise hadn’t been his students. He was creating a test from scratch; the printer had packed up and wouldn’t print out. He felt his heart pump loudly in his chest as his blood boiled over. Mike had to take a few moments to himself before going back to the printer and trying again.
I totally lost myself there, Mike thought.
“Are you really okay?” His girlfriend, Linda, asked him as she handed him a warm cup of tea.
Was he okay?
“Maybe a little stressed,” he said, admitting it.
As the words escaped his lips, he felt his world fall apart. How could he have ever let this happen? Despite trying very hard not to feel like a failure, he did.
A great psychologist and researcher, Shawn Achor, suggests using the power of happiness to kill stress. He states that happiness is not just a fleeting emotion. It is a choice to have joy; you feel moving towards your potential – even when your situation is not good. Inner joy brings true happiness.
It costs nothing to show gratitude. Just saying thank you to those around you shows your appreciation.
Take a moment to think of at least one thing you can be thankful for, each day. Each morning write a quick text or short email to someone praising them.
During the holidays, make time to do something entirely different and separate from work. I make sure there’s a particular time set aside for my husband. He goes fishing while I draw and paint.
We can go at it a whole day and not realise the time. We get to eat lovely fish and possibly enjoy viewing a new painting of the place we visited. We take the time to sit and relax on the verandah, chatting about stuff and enjoying being together.
Humour, naturally, provides instant relief and a soothing feeling, at least for a moment. As long as the intention is not to mock others, it allows us to step back and take everything, including ourselves, less seriously. So practice the art of finding the ludicrous, paradoxical and nonsensical in daily events.
And laughing itself creates the power of happiness. A belly laugh changes biochemistry and clears out emotional gunk like little else.
Keep a journal of all the things you can remember that are causing you stress right now. Create two lists from your journal: things you can control and things you can’t.
Here comes the task; focus on searching for solutions to the things you can control. From your list, select the one that will have the most significant impact on your stress levels.
What can you do to tackle this issue?
Set yourself a goal to manage it and write it down using positive language.
It’s a valuable thing to know what you can and cannot do. You love to be perfect, and that’s okay, but sometimes, you need to wrestle your perfectionism to the ground.
Also, don’t let idealised expectations influence you into doing more than you can realistically manage. It’s difficult not to, but it will pay dividends. Learn to say no and set your limits.
In the end, the power is in getting the thing done, which creates happiness and decreases your stress.
Try as much as possible to do all those things you know are right for your physical well-being: get regular exercise; take it easy on the caffeine, sugar and alcohol; get enough sleep; eat healthy food — you know this stuff. Caring for your body is the baseline of stress reduction.
Oh and don’t overeat ice-cream, chocolate, pastries and cakes, you will only have to work them off later.
It might not be summer where you are, but your body still needs to get out in the fresh air. You’ve spent months inside the classroom, so there’s no excuse to stop you from getting out there. A change in the environment makes all the difference.
Make time for a walk each day in a place you haven’t been before if you can’t get away on holiday. You might even meet someone and make new friends outside of work.
Find an excellent book that will relax you. That will engulf your mind in another world. It can be anything, but not one that evokes stuff about school life.
Remember this is supposed to be a break from all things school.
Give your brain a break and read something entirely different from school stuff. Make time for your mind to recharge. You will be more amazing next term for doing this.
In the big summer break, I also try to read one educational book that will improve my teaching.
How many times do you hear teachers worrying about who will be teaching next door to them? That teacher is probably just as anxious about you.
We can increase our power of happiness according to how well we manage our mind.
There are only really two possibilities. The teacher next door will either be worse than I thought or just the most beautiful colleague to partner.
I choose to love others and treat them just as well as I would like to be.
A kind word can make all the difference. Even if it doesn’t, it is still better to be kind and be a friend.
Each year my upper primary class learn what it is to do random acts of kindness. Each week we study how someone did an act of kindness. Then each student chooses someone they don’t know in class to do something kind.
One week it might be to talk with someone they don’t know for 10 mins each day. Another week do something kind for their mother or guardian, or for a teacher they don’t know. They must not tell the person why they are doing the act of kindness.
Each week students journal their experience and what they learned.
During the first semester, I try to do a lot of curriculum planning for the whole year while assessing students needs. It reduces any stress, and I only have to spend 3 to 5 days in the mid-year break, writing it up as a curriculum document for the second half of the year.
Just brainstorm the things that have caused you stress. Find ways to improve them on one sheet of paper and circle three things.
I always take too much time grading, so I’m still on the lookout for better solutions.
Now I use a digital teacher planner which makes everything move fast. During the school break, I also like to organise my digital resources into files on Google. This way, my materials are always at my fingertips.
Plan your ideas for morning routines and classroom procedures.
Don’t just reflect on how you want your classroom arranged. I like to sketch it out to scale. I think through how my students will walk around and get supplies. During week zero, I set it up, and you’ll find students learn to maintain the classroom.
One of my main tasks in the holiday is to make time to sort, store, and discard stuff in my home office. During school time, so much stuff accumulates at home with the different projects I’m trying out.
Starting this way, while I’m still in work mode, makes for a lovely relaxing environment for the rest of the holiday. Since I use half my holiday for school prep and half for relaxing but we’re all different so do what works for you.
There are numerous ways that one can make time to relax in the holidays.
So, make time, set aside part of the time to plan and rest a lot.
It’s especially crucial around holiday time.
When trying too hard to do too much can create the exact opposite of the holiday feeling you’re striving for, and you morph into the cranky, resentful, martyred, overworked nightmare you swore you’d never be.
Shawn Achor talks about the power of happiness.
Use the power of happiness to dispel stress. Learn to set up boundaries and unplug yourself from the expectations of teaching.
During the holidays, take the time to hang out with your closest friends and go for a walk. Laugh together until your belly aches, and your cheeks hurt from cracking jokes.
Take the time to journal any worries and problems they won’t seem so daunting as they did in your head. Rather than focusing on everything at once, journaling will help you to prioritise, and problem solve.
Naturally, you may still agonise over the upcoming year and everything you need to do. But rather than let it go unchecked, manage the stress without getting overwhelmed.
Overall, you will feel fulfilled after discovering the secrets of battling anxiety with happiness.