Stress is a physiological state involving the fight-or-flight response. Whenever we face something threatening or unpleasant, our body naturally speeds up its heart rate, rushing blood to vital organs, pumping adrenaline, and allowing us the extra strength and energy to fight or flee.

This fight-or-flight response worked well for our ancient ancestors, who faced deadly predators and other life-threatening situations. But today, we can't fight or flee from disruptive students, demanding parents, critical administrators, or any of a hundred teaching stresses we face daily. Instead, we must learn to deal with them. And perhaps even more important, we must learn how to relax afterward; if we don't, the tension and residual effects of the adrenaline start to accumulate in our bodies. When they do, illness and disease can result. Heed the warning signs of too much tension, including:

  • racing heart
  • headaches, including migraines
  • persistent neck, jaw, shoulder, or back tension
  • general irritability
  • racing thoughts and the inability to concentrate
  • insomnia
  • fatigue
  • digestive and bowel problems
  • loss of appetite
  • excessive or binge eating
  • difficulty making decisions
  • excessive worrying
  • feeling weak or dizzy

Your personal well-being depends on how successfully you handle the inevitable job-related stress. Stress-management experts and veteran teachers offer these tips for reducing tension:

  • Recognize that stress is part of daily life and that you must learn to manage it
  • Monitor, think about, and try to improve the way you react to stressful situations. Instead of becoming angry or upset when a student is defiant, for example, try to stay calm. Or instead of becoming frustrated when an activity flops, try to laugh about it.
  • Schedule your day to including something fun. 
  • Set realistic goals for yourself, just as you do for students. Take smaller steps and savor the successful completion of each one.
  • Support your support system. Encourage your colleagues to share their ups and downs. And, let others share yours.
  • Pick your battles wisely. And don't waste time worrying about the little things.
  • Be at least as tolerant, encouraging, and nonjudgmental of yourself as you are of students and colleagues. You have the most control over the stress you place on yourself.
  • Unwind from school before facing your responsibilities at home. Take a walk, talk to a friend, or spend a few minutes alone.
  • Write angry letters, but don't send them. The process of simply writing the letter can release tension.
  • Let friends, family, and colleagues know when they've hurt your feelings. Tell them specifically what hurts.
  • Make time during the school year for hobbies. Don't wait until summer break to relax and enjoy yourself.
    Apologize when you're wrong.
  • Learn and use relaxation techniques.
  • Don't forget to exercise regularly, eat a healthful diet, get enough sleep, and avoid too much caffeine or alcohol. Living a healthful life can keep your resistance and tolerance high.
  • Just say no — to commitments and duties you can't handle comfortably with your present workload.
  • Don't forget to laugh. Humor really is the best medicine, especially for situations we can't control.
  • Stay home and take care of yourself when you don't feel well. Poor health lowers your emotional as well as physical stamina.