4 Tips for Teachers to Manage Anxiety and Worry During the "Unknown"

Tips for Teachers Managing Anxiety and Worry

Millions of human beings are facing an unprecedented amount of stress, anxiety, worry, and fear as COVID-19 grips our planet.  While it may feel pretty lonely sometimes - especially as so many of us are literally alone, in our apartment, for weeks at a time - we are not alone.  In our shared connection is a resiliency and a strength that we may not have tapped into before.  In this unknown, there is possibility.

Teachers especially are facing a huge amount of stress, anxiety, and fear.  Not only are they navigating the uncharted territory of online distance learning, but they are doing it with little to no training and resources, and in less-than-ideal conditions (such as their own children or loved ones needing also to be taken care of).  Parents and administrators (and teachers themselves) are pressuring teachers to continue "instruction" at a time when ALL OF US are merely trying to figure out which end is up. 

So how do we move through this? Here are 4 tips:

BREATHE

I’m talking real breathing.  Practiced breathing.  Mindful deep breaths.

4 counts of deep breath in, hold it for 4, 4 counts blowing it out, wait for the count of 4 (breathing normally).  Do this three times in a row, several times throughout the day.  For real.  Whenever you feel like you're going to lose it, of course, start that breathing...but you can also be proactive about it.  Set a timer until you get on a routine.  Set that timer for every 3 hours, and simply stop what you're doing and do three rounds of breath.  4 counts of deep breath in, hold for 4 counts, then blow out slowly to the count of four.  Do this 3 times.  Who cares if you're on a Zoom call...I dare you to stop your students and do this with them when your timer goes off.  Not only will it support you, but it will surely support them as well.

ACCEPT THE PRESENT MOMENT

We don’t have to like what’s going on.  We don’t have to want it.  Or approve of it.  We get to choose how to be about THIS moment. Simply moment to moment.  We can choose to be stressed, and angry, or frustrated, or we can choose to simply be in surrender and acceptance.  We cannot control this virus.  We cannot control schools being closed.  We cannot control parents being frustrated, or no materials or training being made available.  But we can control how we let it affect us.  We can control our own reactions to it all.

Notice I’m not saying, “oh, just think positively!”  Or just “be positive.”  That idea of “thinking positive” is all well and good.  I am saying that it may not be positive.  It may be total shit.  But we can either be angry and lash out at others for the situation we are in, or we can surrender and be in acceptance of what is occurring.  Accepting that this is what it is… that it’s going to look this way for a while, and that I can’t control when it ends…is going to bring it’s own possibility for peace.  It will also put you in a better space.  A space that fosters calm, connectivity, peace, creativity, and more.

We can either take to social media (or our online staff meetings) and rant and rave about how we’re being wronged, or we can be in a higher vibration - that of connection and contribution and service to ourselves and to others.  All of that is choice, and being a force of good.  BEING LOVE. BEING ACCEPTANCE. BEING PEACE resonates far better in this world and can literally create healing in your own body and those around you.

GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK

First, when you feel yourself starting to panic, or get edgy or freak out.  STOP.  Breathe, and tell yourself that you are doing the best you can with what you have been given at this moment.  If someone else is triggering you. STOP. Breathe. Remind yourself that that person is doing the best they can with what they have at this moment. Put that moment into perspective.  Is it all going to fall apart if you don’t get that worksheet uploaded before the end of the night?  Is everything going to be a disaster if you don’t answer that parent email right away?  You are a human being.  You get to breathe and be human.  And that means giving yourself an allowance.  This is not the time to put extra stress on your body, as it will only put you more at risk for the virus.  Keep reminding yourself.  You are LITERALLY keeping yourself healthy by not pushing yourself.

Second part of this:  literally give yourself breaks.  I recommend an app called Focus Keeper by PIXO.  There is a free version and paid version.  Allows you to time out work time and break time.  Break time - walk around, stretch, breathe, meditate, do the dishes, snuggle with your cat…. something else that is NOT work.  Then, when that time is up, go back to work.  Set limits on the number of hours per day you will work.  Allow yourself the break to BE COMPLETELY DONE when you are done with your “day.”  Decide that you will work a certain number of hours, then hold yourself to that.  I work throughout the day in this way, timing myself out.  I do 45 minutes straight working, 10 minute small breaks, 3 times in a row.  Then I take an hour break.  Once that hour is up, I rotate this 45/10 cycle 3 times in a row, again.  Then a two hour break, and when that is up, I rotate another 45/10 cycle of 3 times in a row.  This adds up to approximately 7 hours of work, split up by 90 minutes of small breaks, divided by 3 hours long breaks.  Once those three rotations are done, I am done for the night, and Netflix and Facebook can take over!  CAVEAT: I am in a unique position!!!  I do not have children at home (just an 11-year-old who is quite independent) and I am not currently teaching.  You will need to decide a schedule that works for you.  I am simply suggesting that you build in breaks for yourself, and allow yourself to “call it a day” at some point where you allow yourself to do things other than writing lesson plans, chatting with students, or emailing parents.  You will find your flow by allowing yourself some leeway in the learning curve!

CONNECT

It is within our most basic psychological human needs that we feel connected to each other (think Maslow’s Hierarchy).  We need to have relationship.  That’s why I’m having these calls.  So we can connect and learn and grow and simply BE HUMAN together.

Make the time to call and/or Facetime or Zoom with family and friends.  Simply posting or reading social media is NOT ENOUGH.  That can simply turn into a depressing mind and energy suck...  especially with some of the negativity and politics and conspiracy theories out there.  BE with people.  Be that love and peace and acceptance and connection with people. 

Be mindful about the person you are being out in the world, even if it's within your own apartment.  Be the source of self-care, connection, and breath.  If we can keep moving forward, keep pressing onward, like Heroes on our Epic Journey, we will get through this and come out stronger, more innovative, and feeling more connected than we ever have.  We have the capability to be stronger and discover possibilities that we never knew existed within us, and within the human race.   

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