How do you stay calm in your stressful job?
March 3, 2014 7:31 AM   Subscribe

Looking for: Ideas of how to deal with stress while at the job (counting, reading, taking my lunch time alone) and ideas on how to deal with the stress once the job is technically over (running, skating, reading, gardening, going to church, etc.)

I am a teacher in an inner-city high school finishing out the second year of my teaching. Thus far it’s been difficult to get through it all I am not gonna complain because I know my job is not as stressful as that of some other individuals and that’s why I’m seeking out their advice. What are the best ways you use to keep the stress at bay in your job? Idea for this post came from my own experiences and this article.
posted by caudal to Work & Money (14 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
A short guided meditation on your lunch break might help. There are lots available as videos or audio files, and you can find ones as long as 30 minutes or as short as 10, depending on what your schedule will accommodate.
posted by EvaDestruction at 7:38 AM on March 3, 2014

I am a very anxious person with a stressful job. Constant pressure to get things done yesterday. My phone is ringing off the hook this morning but I still have a smile on my face. Here are my coping methods:

1. Stopped drinking so much coffee. I limit myself to two a day. If I overdo it, I get anxious and my productivity crashes.

2. Have snacks on hand so I don't get hangry (hungry/angry) when I'm working hard and skipping meals. Eat good, healthy food and avoid sugary, carby treats.

3. Exercise regularly. About 4-5 hours a week keeps me sane. I also do stretches in the office while I'm alone. A good stretch for about five minutes at a time really puts the mind at ease and helps me jump back into what I need to do.

4. Sleep regularly. This is directly tied to #3 for me. The more I exercise, the better I sleep. The better I sleep, the more focused I am at work.

5. Compile a to-do list on a weekly basis. I'm a lot more productive when I'm checking items off a list, as opposed to just trying to tackle AWHOLEBUNCHOFSTUFF.

6. Think about the bigger picture. I take a few moments to do this every day. I remind myself that there are lots of awful things happening in this world and that my work "problems" don't count. I also try to think about the things that were bothering me six months ago. Guess what? I don't even remember what they were.

7. Stay calm and professional always. I work for our family business and my father has been a great role model in this respect. When a crisis arises, his attitude is "Forget blame or anger, let's put our heads together and fix this."

8. Leave work at work. It's hard sometimes, but my solution was turning my phone off early in the evening. I don't check e-mails after 7:00pm. I am fully available to our customers for 40-50 hours but evenings and weekends are my time and they can't have it. That's my time to decompress, do my hobbies, and socialize.

Good luck!
posted by futureisunwritten at 7:52 AM on March 3, 2014 [13 favorites]

YMMV, but I find I have a globally more serene perspective on stressful life situations when I'm in the midst of reading gripping historical or classic fiction-- specifically, works that involve relatively dramatic relationships and a certain amount of suffering for the main characters (lots of 19th century fiction is great for this-- think Jane Eyre or Ruth-- but I'm guessing there must be good recent stuff, as well). There's something about vicariously touring other people's complicated relationships and serious hardships (poverty, illness, injustice) that's both cathartic and perspective-promoting, especially across the comforting distance of a couple of hundred years.
posted by Bardolph at 7:57 AM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Drinking green tea helps relieve stress, I swear by it.
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 8:11 AM on March 3, 2014

1) I live by to do lists, and I live for crossing stuff off my to do lists. I will often write something down on my to do list even after I've done it, just so I can cross it off. Nothing calms me down like seeing shit get done.

2) lots of little breaks, including Metafilter time, or Words with Friends, or checking my email. I try to space them out.

3) In a really stressful moment, I walk up and down the stairs for an exercise boost. I'm in an office building, so going up and down double-digit stairs is a good way to burn off anxious energy.

4) smoke 'em if you got 'em. I quit years ago, but that was a nice way to chill out when I had a few minutes.

5) a walk around the block for a change of scenery, even if it's not really exercise.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:20 AM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I once went to a seminar about dealing with stress. Their recommendation was to do something a bit social and something a bit active most or every day. Could be two separate things or combined, eg going for a walk with a friend.

I would also suggest finding a hobby which requires your full concentration such that your brain has no room to think about anything else whilst you're doing it. For instance, when I'm swimming, I'm so focused on breathing properly and staying afloat that I have no more brain space to worry about anything else. Playing music or sport has this effect for me too. Find what it is for you, and do it regularly.
posted by pianissimo at 8:22 AM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I only lasted two years as a public school teacher because it IS THAT STRESSFUL.

One thing that helped me preserve my sanity was to be sure to not bring my work home. That meant getting it all graded and done at work. I devised lessons such that I could grade while the students were doing their activity.

I automated as much as possible, for example, I had 4 editions of each test (to prevent cheating) and ran them through scantron.

I had my lesson plans all devised and ready to go, based on "sunshine standards' the "six traits of writing" and the textbook. I assigned essays and gave extra credit for those who turned them in early so that I could get a jump on grading.

I did a lot of classroom activities that promoted kids teaching each other.

Even then, with my shit 100% together, I could not hack the broken-ness of public school. I had too many kids in my classes, I had no back up from administrators and my frustration lead me back to the private sector.

Once I was home, I didn't have to think about school, and that helped THE MOST!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:31 AM on March 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

Can you make a list of a few of the most stress inducing things students do and then make a mindfulness-type "plan" for how you will react to each type of thing?

That might help buffer some of the day's stresses.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 8:34 AM on March 3, 2014

In terms of teaching in inner-city public schools, in particular:

1) Realize that there is *actually* *no* *way* to do a perfect job at teaching, and that you need to draw a line for your own sanity. Like Ruthless Bunny, I eventually settled on "no work at home" policy at my first and worst job. That meant that I was at school until 6, frequently, and often arrived before 7, but that when I got home I wouldn't allow myself to worry/cry/fret about what I wasn't doing.

2) Find a mentor, one who teaches the same subject you do and possibly the same grade...not necessarily at the same school if that would be weird or stressful. Even better if there is an official district mentor who will get paid to pop in to your classroom occasionally and help you out (I do this for teachers in my district who request a mentor in my subject, and I love it even though funding has been cut some in the last few years). Teaching is *so* isolating, and having someone you can call during a HERE'S WHAT HAPPENED WTF WTF moment or ask for lesson plans etc. makes a big difference. Much of your first few years of teaching is reinventing the wheel, and having someone who can prevent some of that through their experience and extensive files is pretty rad. Having this available in my otherwise completely dysfunctional district during my third year of teaching is what made me realize that I might last in teaching as a career.

3) Exercise some even if you don't think you have time. My strategy for this was having my gym clothes in my car or backpack; if I had to go home to change first I didn't stand a chance at retaining my motivation. Sometimes on a particularly bad day I would change at school, go for a walk or run while it was still light out, and come back to school feeling much better about life.

It gets better! MeMail if you need a sympathetic ear.
posted by charmedimsure at 9:05 AM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I teach in special education, nearly all self-contained classes without any support or assistance. Needless to say it's nerve wrecking. I don't plan on coming back but my commitment is for two years. Also, I don't have much respect for what "special education" is in this country and find it extraordinarily harmful, naive, and entirely unrealistic. Most of my kids are not learning disabled or having any real issues aside from poverty and volatility at home. Classifying them as "Special Ed" does a disservice to real children who have various forms of mental or psychological impairments. I have 3 months left of the job and am trying to keep my bearings straight. For me the key is to find ways to deal with stress and finding methods to cope.
posted by caudal at 9:31 AM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Structure structure structure.

Structure in maintaining self care. The most important thing you can do is regulate your bodily needs. Eat right. Maintain sleep hygiene.

Structure in separating work feelings from home feelings. If you are feeling all the things all the time you go nuts.

Structure in maintaining a life outside of the job. You need something positive to work for.
posted by PMdixon at 10:01 AM on March 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

Work with the inclusion advisors. Find out what makes each of your kids tick and then work to that.

One of my kids was a mess, we worked out a system where I'd put masking tape on my wrist and make little tick marks every time he acted inapprorpiately in class. If he did well (five or fewer) I'd send him to his advisor for a can of soda. As weird as that was, it worked.

Do as many things as you can get away with what the kids like. Movies and TV. I had it worked out so that on the last day of our week (Thursday/4-day block schedule) I'd do a lesson plan around a movie.

Once I used the Simpsons Christmas Special for a Cause and Effect lesson. I was amazed at how into it they were, and the winner found over 200 instances of cause and effect. She EARNED her box of Hot Tamales.

As for you, this is about having the easiest possible life until June.

Drink only in moderation, or not at all. Now is not the time to combine stress with the damaging effects of alcohol.

Eat really nice food. Even if you have to go to the salad bar at Publix every night, make an effort to have fresh veggies and fruit in your diet.

Reward yourself with little treats. New nail polish, or a barrette. Cheap and cheerful.

Have a count-down calendar, where you cross off each day. Put stars on half-days, holidays and Spring Break.

Oh, and some context for all those impoverished kids in your class, the state and feds give parents stipends to help care for special needs kids. As awful as this sounds, some parents WANT their kids to have the diagnosis for the extra money. The school obliges because there's extra money in it for them too.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:16 PM on March 3, 2014

I started riding a bicycle to work every day. 10 km, 45 minutes to start, down to about 35 minutes these days. Stress instantly disappeared, I arrive full of energy, and going back home on my bike feels like a party.

The logistics can be hard at first, but the benefits are so amazing that you work things out pretty fast.

Plus, you are not taking extra time out of your day to exercise.
posted by Locochona at 6:26 PM on March 3, 2014

Many good ideas from teachers up there. I'm an inner-city teacher, as well, and I would echo what others have said about keeping work at work.

Additionally, I read a book that revolutionized my practice and also made it 150% less stressful. Teaching With Love and Logic outlines the different ways that teachers can inadvertently add stress to their jobs and how to avoid those pitfalls.

Example: student says, "I forgot a pencil." Instead of thinking "oh man, I don't have another pencil; what am I going to do? Where can I find a pencil for this kid?" a teacher might say, "How do you plan to solve that problem?"

The premise of the book is that teachers end up absorbing stress all day because we solve problems that students are capable of solving themselves. Might be worth a read.

Hang in there!
posted by brynna at 7:10 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

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