Without question, education is a stressful profession. Teachers tend to experience more stress than most others professions. The combination of accountability for factors often beyond one’s control and an inability to always predict and control the actions and decisions of others, including students, can create powerfully stressful times. Yet, some people seem to navigate these challenges without seeming to become overwhelmed and burned out, while others become so frustrated and discouraged that their health suffers and they may even leave the profession.
The good news is that the skills and habits associated with managing situations such as these are learnable. Resilience is not confined to those who “were born that way.” However, it can be difficult to develop the attitudes, behaviors, and strategies that lead to resilience when we are already feeling stressed and exhausted.
Summer can be a good time to reflect on the current state of our resilience. Yes, it can be tempting to put the school year behind us, relax, and refocus. But, the absence of the intensity of our day-to-day work can provide the space to develop new skills, try out some new perspectives, and focus on strategies that can help us to be better prepared and build our resilience before another year begins.
The American Psychological Association identifies four key factors that comprise healthy resilience:
- The capacity to make realistic plans and carry them out
- A positive view of self and confidence in our strengths and abilities
- Skills in communication and problem solving
- The capacity to manage strong feelings and impulses
Experts have also identified a number of strategies we can develop and tap to support healthy and strong resilience. Here are six places to begin and on which to focus:
- Build trusting relationships with others inside and outside of education with whom we can confide and from whom we can receive advice and support. Just knowing there is someone who is willing to listen, understands us, and can provide us with another perspective and reassurance can make a big difference.
- Set goals in areas over which we have control. Having a focus for our efforts and seeing progress can provide confidence in our skills and abilities and foster a positive self view.
- Focus on the gap between what happens and our response or reaction to it. We cannot always control what happens around us, but we can choose what we will think and which actions we will take in response. Focusing on this element of control can help us to avoid “knee jerk” reactions that can add to our frustrations and feelings of regret.
- Begin an exercise program. Physical exercise can do a lot to counter the physical impact of stress and frustration. It can also lead to better sleep. An exercise routine can also contribute to a sense of control and positive view of who we are.
- Adopt a relaxation routine. Yoga, meditation, and even going for regular walks can provide important benefits. Consistency of engagement in a routine can signal to our minds and bodies that it is time to relax, even if we are feeling pressure and stress at the moment.
- Accept that we cannot control everything. Some things in our lives, personal and professional, are beyond our control and influence. The energy we spend wishing they were different and the frustration we allow to build in us can deplete the mental and emotional resources we need to be healthy and happy in other areas. Sometimes, our best strategy is to let go and focus elsewhere.
It might be tempting to file these strategies away and wait until fall to begin working on them. Yet the best time to develop the skills, habits, and attitudes to carry you through the coming year is right now. Consider choosing one, two, or three of the strategies and get started.
American Psychological Association. (n.d.). The Road to Resilience. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/road-resilience
Morrison, N. (2016, September 8). Eight Strategies for Building Resilience. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/nickmorrison/2015/09/08/eight-strategies-for-building-resilience/#b25245415ddc