How to Breakthrough Stress Before It Breaks You


Educators are feeling more pressure than ever as longer hours, personal responsibilities, additional work obligations and all the many externalities of the pandemic are adding up to a breaking point for many. According to NPR, a 2013 Gallop poll revealed that teaching was already one of the most stressful occupations right after nursing. In a country where turnover in the education industry is already high, experts are justifiably concerned that this additional stress will lead to burnout which will result in many educators walking away from the classroom for good1.

When selfcare itself feels like a burden, what can be done to mitigate the added stress brought on by the current environment? Forget the bubble bath and yoga, sometimes it is all about hitting pause right where you are, in that moment. Here is the part where you anticipate being told to breathe. So…

Breathe. Inhale slowly through the nose, hold for a count of four and slowly exhale through your mouth.

Now that’s out of the way, let’s talk about being mindful. According to Resilient Educator, mindfulness is the act of recognizing our emotions in the moment, pressing pause on taking reactive actions and making space to contemplate and choose with intention how to respond. By getting into the habit of pausing to assess your emotional state, working the parasympathetic nervous system (ie, breathing, see above), and then deciding how to proceed goes a long way to feeling more in control of those decisions and emotions2.

Being mindful is an acquired skill, so even while practicing it there will be times when pausing just does not come into play. So, in the event you forget to breathe, why not laugh it off? According to Everyday Health, laughter actually is a kind of medicine for the mind and body. In fact, laughter changes brain activity; it helps to reduce inflammation and stress hormones, enhances the immune system and improves circulation3. So, for all those times you forget to breathe, turn to humor with a YouTube compilation of cats squeezing into small containers or even your favorite comedian.

Finally, a practice recently divulged by MICPA president and CEO Bob Doyle as a personal go-to could be how to begin your day on the right foot, easing you into the ability to be mindful, breathing and laughing more easily. According to Psychology Today, the practice of gratitude can lower cortisol levels (the primary stress hormone) in the body by 23%, averting some of the negative consequences of long-term stress4.

In a recent conversation on the Branch Out podcast, Doyle talked about his daily gratitude ritual which includes waking up early for some alone time. “I do some journaling and I also write down something I was grateful for in the previous day. Something that made me think – Wow! I was grateful! – whether it was a great meeting I had at work, or time with my kids, or a great conversation I had with a friend.”

Conversely, he added, “One thing you can also sometimes be grateful for something that wasn't necessarily good that happened. One thing I learned is you always want to be grateful for both the roses and the thorns, because the thorns is what help you grow.”

Indeed, daily gratitude exercises are emerging as potent coping strategies in dealing with stress. Journaling is one of those gratitude exercises but acting on feelings of gratefulness can also strengthen the effects of gratitude – that lower cortisol, reduce stress and anxiety, increase happiness and life satisfaction – especially when adopted as routine4.

  1. Cardoza, Kavitha. “We Need to be Nurtured Too…NPR. 19 Apr. 2021. Accessed on 20 Apr. 2021.
  2. Gunn, Jennifer. “How Educators Can (Really, Honestly) Unplug…Resilient Educator. 2018. Accessed on 20 Apr. 2021.
  3. Migala, Jessica. “How to Laugh More Every Single Day…Everyday Health. 7 Dec. 2020. Accessed on 20 Apr. 2021.
  4. Khorraml, Najma. “Gratitude Helps Minimize Feelings of Stress.Psychology Today. 7 Jul. 2020. Accessed on 20 Apr. 2021.

Source: MICPA

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