101 Ways to Cope with Teaching Stress

By Britney Wilkins

Teachers have one of the most stressful jobs, despite their long vacations. Besides being responsible for large groups of hormonal or destructive students all day, teachers also have to abide by strict government and school district guidelines, attend after-hours workshops and meetings, call parents, submit lesson plans early on, worry about school security and put up with loads of homework thanks to grading, grant writing and certification renewal classes. To help teachers cope with all of this stress, we’ve compiled a list of over 100 different ways you can relax and get centered, whether you’re in the middle of a lecture or already home and trying to forget about your hectic day.

Health Habits

Staying in good health greatly affects your stress levels and helps you cope with anxiety and long days.

  1. Stop smoking: That little buzz you get from a cigarette may calm you down temporarily, but the nicotine that’s blowing into your system will actually make you jumpy and over alert. In the long run, that’s not good news for your stress levels.
  2. Minimize your caffeine: Teachers may thrive on coffee breaks, but consider cutting back to just a couple of cups a day. Even better would be to substitute at least one cup of coffee or soda for green tea. The tea can boost your immune system and contains less caffeine than coffee.
  3. Eat breakfast: Eating a good breakfast not only boosts your metabolism, it also keeps you focused so that you’re more productive throughout the entire day.
  4. Snack right: It’s easy to grab whatever snacks are in the vending machines or school cafeteria, but it’s also important to eat right while you’re at school. Physically, a diet of fatty, greasy foods will make you feel weighted down, bloated and tired, while your emotional state may be at risk too if you feel guilty about wrecking your diet.
  5. Set realistic goals: As a teacher, it’s easy to get caught up in saving your at-risk students from failure or sponsoring every club each semester. Set realistic goals for yourself and you’ll be able to find a less stressful balance.
  6. Visit the guidance counselor: If your school’s counselor isn’t a mental health professional, he or she may still be able to refer you to a local psychologist. Even if you aren’t suffering from depression, talking things out with an unbiased medical professional is therapeutic.
  7. Cut back on worrying: Worrying takes up too much time and energy; plus, it makes you even more stressed about things that aren’t in your control.
  8. Open up the windows: When it’s nice outside, open up the windows to give you and your students a rejuvenating breath of fresh air. Sunlight will also improve your mood, so even if your windows don’t open, crack open the blinds.
  9. Aromatherapy: You can use this recipe for aromatherapy bath salts at home or at school. Just one whiff will help you feel relaxed and back in control.
  10. Practice anger management: Even teachers with the purist of hearts sometimes can’t wait to send their students home for the day. Practice these anger management tips to prevent yourself from totally losing it.

Goodies for your Desk

Keep a stash of healthy snacks, photos, and even stickers in your desk when you need to indulge between classes and remind yourself what you’re working for.

  1. Chocolate: Sneak a little piece of chocolate once or twice a day to give your brain a boost of endorphins and indulge your sweet side. Dark chocolate is supposedly the best.
  2. Stickers: Stickers are just for the kids, right? Keep your own sticker sheet or rewards card and give yourself a sticker every time you handle a crisis in the classroom or finish the week on a good note.
  3. Favorite tools: Your supplies drawer for the students can have a mish mash of pens, crayons, scissors and notecards, but save the best for yourself in your locked drawer. Even something as simple as getting to write cards with your favorite colorful pens can make you feel better.
  4. Healthy snacks: Pack a survival kit full of healthy snacks before you leave for school each day, and you can munch and crunch away without feeling guilty. Many of these foods like almonds, baby carrots and tuna will also help your focus.
  5. Lunch menus for take-out: Some days you just need to treat yourself for lunch. Keep a stack of nearby restaurants that deliver healthy take-out meals and indulge yourself between the bells.
  6. Vacation calendar: Whether you’ve just highlighted all your vacation days on the school district calendar or you actually have a countdown to your next trip, sneak a peak at a vacation calendar to give yourself motivation.
  7. Goal presents: If tales of the greater good aren’t getting you through a really tough time, remind yourself of the practical reasons why you’re sticking with your job. Keep a picture from a catalog of the new shoes you’ll buy with your next paycheck, or the new TV you’re saving up for.
  8. Photos: Put pictures up of your friends, family and pets to make you feel close to your personal life even when you’re at work.
  9. An organization system: A cluttered desk will make you feel stressed as you frantically look for lost papers, contact information and your stash of dark chocolates.
  10. Stress ball: Don’t underestimate the power of a stress ball. These days, they come in all kinds of funny shapes and characters, and a quick squeeze now and then can help you calm down.

Mottoes and Mantras

Stay motivated by reciting these mantras and reading these inspirational teacher quotes every morning.

  1. Recite a spiritual passage or motto: Many mental health and stress experts encourage individuals suffering from stress to pursue a spiritual path that makes sense to them. Common messages from different spiritual leaders include compassion, inner peace, and "a notion of caring for themselves," according to Dr. Edward T. Creagan, a Mayo Clinic oncologist.
  2. Meditate: Take a minute or two to meditate at your desk or even at the dry erase board when students are pushing you to your limit.
  3. One thing at a time: Try to only tackle one task at a time, and you’ll work down your to-do list much more efficiently.
  4. Summertime, Summertime, Sum Sum Summertime: This classic oldies song will have you counting down the days until summer vacation and picturing yourself on the beach or by the pool, away from students and lesson plans.
  5. "Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths theater.": Gail Godwin’s quote may make you feel less guilty when you suddenly feel unprepared.
  6. "What the teacher is, is more important than what he teaches.": This quote from Karl Menninger can help you through irritating state tests and other required lessons that make you feel like you’re wasting your time.
  7. "The best teachers teach from the heart, not from the book.": Toss out your dreary textbooks and get creative with each new unit.
  8. "It’s easy to make a buck. It’s a lot tougher to make a difference. ": The next time someone makes you feel guilty for not earning as much money as them, remember this quote from Tom Brokaw.
  9. "He who opens a school door, closes a prison.": Victor Hugo’s quote is especially relevant for teachers of at-risk students and those who feel frustrated when trying to inspire stubborn kids.
  10. Inspirational quotes for teachers: Check out this list for even more inspirational quotes just for teachers.

Organization Tools

Staying organized will also beat back stress, as you’ll be able to meet deadlines, remember projects and field trips, and have more time for yourself.

  1. Google Calendar: Set up events and schedules for lesson plan submission dates, in-service workshops and more by using Google Calendar.
  2. ubernote: This cute tool lets you dump lists, contact information, event plans, special project ideas, field trip materials and more into several different notepads that keep you organized and on track.
  3. Notesake: This tool is great for teachers who are pursuing a higher degree, going to workshops or earning more credit hours for their certification. You can take notes faster and organize your notes so that you’ll be able to find them once you want to plan a lesson.
  4. eFax: Keep your runs to the teachers’ lounge to a minimum by using eFax, which lets you send out permission reports, progress reports and anything else you need signed over the Internet.
  5. Backpack: This very popular tool lets you "centralize and share information" with other teachers in your department. You can maintain a department calendar, share pages and a to-do list.
  6. Toodledo: Toodledo sends reminders to your mobile phone so you never forget a task.
  7. Project Stat.us: Keep your principal and supervisors updated with new project information or your certification process with this collaboration tool that lets you organize your progress online.
  8. Evernote: Use this beta tool to capture images and websites on your computer or your mobile phone. You can then organize your notes and presentations for class wherever you are.
  9. Tools and Templates: If you don’t have time to design your own certificates, game tools, or work sheets, pull from this list of tools and templates for teachers.
  10. Google for Educators: Here you’ll find some of the best available Google tools and apps just for teachers.

Inspirational Podcasts and Sites

Visit these websites for teacher support and ideas for managing unruly classrooms and parents.

  1. Teachers at Risk: Dealing with Stress: Read these posts to learn better ways to deal with stress.
  2. Thoughts on Teaching: Commiserate with this teacher who blogs about classroom management, department meetings and more.
  3. Teacherscreech: Here, you’ll find "rants and musings about dyslexia, learning disabilities and other challenges."
  4. Poem of the Day: While English teachers can use this site as a teaching tool for students, it’s also a good way to start the day, just for yourself.
  5. Teacher Lingo: Find teacher blogs, lesson plans and more on this teacher community online.
  6. Hip Teacher: Check out the daily adventures and discouragements of this "hip" teacher.
  7. Pro-Teacher Community: Get teaching ideas or teaching support here.
  8. It’s Not All Flowers and Sausages: Read this blog "for teachers who rock and are frustrated by the day to day drama that gets in the way of our interactions with children. Don’t get me wrong," she writes, "I love my job, but sometimes a girl has gotta vent…"
  9. Teachers.net: Access chatboards, project ideas, a calendar and more on this site.
  10. New Teacher Support: The UNC – Chapel Hill School of Education lists several tips and reality checks for new teachers here.

Getting the Support You Need

Reach out to other teachers, your friends and family, and even your principal to get the support you need and feel less stressed about your decisions.

  1. Get to know the parents: Whether it’s a simple note home, a parent-teacher conference or a phone call, let the parents of your students know you care. Building up a relationship with them will also help you understand your student’s behavior and performance in class.
  2. Rely on family: Rely on family members for support when you’re really stressed: they’ll keep you grounded and will help you prioritize your needs as well as your job’s responsibilities.
  3. Let trustworthy students help: If you’re swamped with grading, decorating the bulletin board or running errands to different teachers’ rooms, ask a trustworthy student or two to help alleviate your burden.
  4. Get to know your principal: In large schools, it can be hard for new teachers to get to know the principal, but this tip will help you feel like you’ve got someone behind your back in case something happens with students, parents or other teachers.
  5. Use e-mail to connect during the day: Many schools have e-mail networks just for administration and teachers. Use this system to your advantage by staying connected with other teachers so you don’t feel so lonely or isolated in your room.
  6. Make the most of in-services: They take up extra time, but in-services and workshops can also help you get ahead with lesson plans and organization.
  7. Happy hour with other teachers: After school, kick back with your teacher friends and head to happy hour. You can rant about students and commiserate about standardized test prep.
  8. Ask for help: If you need help juggling all of your duties, don’t feel like it’s shameful to ask. Everyone needs an assistant now and then.
  9. Use substitutes: When you’re sick or just need a day to catch up, call in a sub to take over the daily grind while you rest up or finish some grading.
  10. Go online: There a number of teacher blogs and forums online that will help you find support in your community, offer advice for dealing with stress, and inspire you to keep going.

Tiny Tricks

These tiny little tricks, from hanging out with non-teacher friends to taking deep breaths, will help you de-stress all week long.

  1. Pursue your own hobbies: Stay grounded by pursuing your own hobbies outside of school, like horseback riding, running, blogging, or painting.
  2. Buy one frivolous things a week: Whether it’s a funky pair of socks, a new CD or some new perfume or cologne, buying something just to indulge yourself will keep your spirits up.
  3. Spend time outside: Walk to school once a week, take your dog to the park or do some grading on your patio to give your brain and your emotional well-being a boost.
  4. Pursue your own work in your field: Set aside a little time to organize an experiment, write an article for a professional journal or give a talk at a conference to give yourself even more career and intellectual satisfaction.
  5. Read a book just for you: The next time you pick out a book, don’t do it because you think it might be a good read for your students. Pick something out just for you as a way to unwind.
  6. Prioritize: Learning how to prioritize is a proven way to lower stress levels, get more tasks accomplished, and have extra time for yourself.
  7. Have weekly dinners with non-teacher friends: Get together with your non-teacher friends so that you’re not always talking about school and students.
  8. Sneak in a sick day: Even if you aren’t really sick, give yourself a personal day to stay home from school, go to the beach, catch up on errands, or get a manicure.
  9. Plan a vacation: Even if it’s just a weekend getaway, planning a vacation will give you something to look forward to and give you a chance to unwind.
  10. Breathe: Deep breaths can make you feel more relaxed and focused in seconds.

When You Go Home

Teachers have homework too, but when you go home, it’s important to unwind and focus on yourself. Follow these tips for de-stressing at home.

  1. Only do the extras: As a teacher, you know it’s pretty much impossible not to bring your work home with you, but if you can, limit your homework to projects that allow you to get ahead, not catch up. You’ll feel less rushed and more pleased with yourself doing this kind of work, even if you’re at home.
  2. Time for yourself: Between the grocery store, last minute study guides and exam preps, and spending time with your family, make sure you carve out a little time just for you, even if it’s just to read a book before bed, watch the evening news or paint your nails.
  3. Have other interests: Besides teaching, find something new to talk about with your family, like gardening, movies or even mindless celebrity gossip.
  4. Don’t check your school e-mail: When you get home, try not to check your school e-mail. Unless you’re waiting on an important message, the e-mails you receive will just cause you unnecessary stress for problems that won’t be able to be solved right then anyway.
  5. Pamper yourself: Take a bath, shop online, make dessert or give yourself a facial to feel good about yourself and forget about school work.
  6. Do something constructive: When you get home, the only thing on your mind is probably to plop down on the couch and watch TV. Doing something constructive, though, will keep you energized and promote personal growth. You can start an art project, tutor a friend or work on a home improvement project.
  7. Keep the rest of your life organized: If you’re super organized and always on the ball at school but your home is a mess and you never see your friends, you need to work on striking a balance. Clutter in any part of your life will make you feel stressed all the time.
  8. Go out: Your life needs to be about more than just home and school. Try to get out at least once a week on a school night to meet friends for a drink, head to a coffee shop, take a night class or go out dancing.
  9. Have sex: Having sex is a fun and healthy way to relieve stress.
  10. Volunteer: On the weekends or after school join a volunteer program to meet new people, forget about your school life and keep your struggles in perspective.

Diet, Exercise and Sleep

Having a regular routine for diet, exercise and sleeping is important to managing your stress levels.

  1. Yoga: Besides the relaxing but effective exercise moves, yoga also promotes a calming quality of life.
  2. Dance lessons: Spice up your exercise routine by burning stress and calories with a dance lesson or a night at a salsa club.
  3. Go to bed early: If you’re totally exhausted, don’t stay up to watch late night TV. Just cuddle up and go to bed early to catch up on sleep.
  4. Keep a regular schedule: A regular sleeping schedule lets your body get the most out of sleep, helps you fall asleep faster, and wake up on time more easily.
  5. Don’t overindulge on the weekends: It’s a good idea to catch up on your rest on the weekends, but don’t sleep so much that you get behind in your chores or social activities: that will just lead to even more stress.
  6. Kickboxing: This aggressive exercise is great for when you need to release a lot of stress and frustration.
  7. Avoid sleep disrupting foods: Heavy, rich foods and some spicy foods disrupt your sleep patterns, so don’t indulge in these treats right before bed.
  8. Don’t work in bed: While it may seem like a comfy solution to annoying homework, avoid working in bed. This may make it harder for you to fall asleep or associate your bed with unpleasant emotions.
  9. Eat fish: Fish is known to be "a stressbuster" food that also helps your brain focus.
  10. Vitamin C: Vitamin C is boosts your immune system and lowers stress levels.
  11. Red wine: Red wine can help you unwind and relax after a stressful day, and when drunk in moderation, it can also deliver health benefits like good antioxidants.

Improving Your Game

While some of these tips may cause you to work longer hours, they will help you become a more qualified teacher and give you a stronger sense of your professional achievement, making you feel less overwhelmed and more confident in your position. By sponsoring a club or getting your students involved in a big project, you can also find the time to realize your own dreams and pursue your own hobbies.

  1. Don’t resist change: Resisting new technology trends and teaching styles will just make you feel left behind and disconnected. Implement new tools, blogs, and multimedia presentations to connect with your new generation of students and younger teachers.
  2. Go to teacher conventions: Be on the cutting edge of your field and education by going to teacher conventions and connecting with other educators.
  3. Apply for grants: Even if you don’t get it, you will at least have the satisfaction that you had enough drive to complete a grant writing project.
  4. Be proactive: Be proactive about your students and your career, by looking for extra responsibility, applying for a promotion, and researching exciting new projects.
  5. Get your students involved in a cause: From starting a local recycling project to linking up with students from another country, you can toss out ideas to your students that also appeal to your own interests.
  6. Go back to school: Earn a higher degree or renew your certification by taking night classes or going to summer school.
  7. Sponsor a club: If your school doesn’t offer a club that is interesting to you, offer to start one and be the sponsor. It doesn’t even have to be related to academics: you could share your talent for cooking, sewing, building models or web design.

Staying Stress-Free Everyday

You’ll undoubtedly have tough days dealing with students, parents and even other teachers, but these last tips will help keep you centered.

  1. Laugh: Laugh along with your students or share a joke of the day to keep the mood in your classroom light.
  2. Listen to music: In the car and between classes, turn on the radio or play your favorite CD to escape for a while.
  3. Remember that there’s always tomorrow: No matter how bad your day was, remember that when you get home, you can just go to sleep and wake up with a fresh start.

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