Breathe and reboot

4th July 2008 at 01:00
Give yourself a good talking to and take back the responsiblity for your stress. It's not as hard as you might think, says Linda Blair

Give yourself a good talking to and take back the responsiblity for your stress. It's not as hard as you might think, says Linda Blair

Teaching can feel stressful more than most professions - why? The reason can be summed up in one short phrase: loss of control.

Feeling out of control has strong repercussions. Psychologists have been aware for some time that when people start to feel they've lost the ability to influence what happens to them, they become frustrated, anxious and, sometimes, sadly resigned.

If this feeling of helplessness continues, and if it starts to affect their daily lives, they can become vulnerable to depression and chronic low self-esteem.

However, the good news is that teachers can take affirmative action. The sheer effort of doing something to improve the situation helps regain a sense of control. Start by routinely putting 15 minutes aside every Sunday. Write down the three people or circumstances that are most powerfully influencing your sense of helplessness and unhappiness.

Next, for each "stressor", write down one specific way you could make a positive difference during the next week. It doesn't matter how small that difference is; just make sure it's something you can accomplish before the end of the week. For example, for an undermining colleague, you could write: pay them a compliment to see if it eases their defensiveness, or instead speak in confidence to the head of department.

Be patient, however, when looking for results. It takes three to six weeks for techniques to become a habit. Nonetheless, once they're established, you'll enjoy regular calming effects. Benefits should last for up to two hours each time at least.

There may be other areas beyond "control" that contribute to stress. Teachers I've spoken to felt they didn't have much say in what, when and how they teach - so speaking to an understanding head or line manager about your timetable, workload or anything that directly effects you, may help in this respect.

The first thing to focus on when you're stressed is yourself. Check for signs of stress as you would a physical ailment. Symptoms may manifest themselves in sleep disturbances, greater irritability, panicky feelings, minor illnesses or a non-specific sense of dissatisfaction or restlessness.

If you experience two or more of these symptoms regularly for more than two weeks, see your GP.

Linda Blair is a chartered clinical psychologist and has worked as a cognitive therapist for more than 25 years

PACED BREATHING

Time Needed: Three minutes.

Application: Do this anytime, anywhere.

Purpose: To relieve the physical symptoms of stress (feeling breathless, nauseous, dizzy, or sweaty).

Method: Breathe in slowly and steadily through your nose, counting 1001, 1002, 1003, 1004 to yourself. Now exhale, slowly and evenly, through your mouth, counting 1004, 1003, 1002, 1001 to yourself. Repeat 30 times.

POWER NAPS

Time Needed: 10 minutes

Application: You need a quiet place where you'll not be disturbed. Power naps are most effective if taken in the early afternoon, but after work may be the only practical time. If home is too hectic, sit in the staffroom for 10 minutes before you leave, or even in the car before you go into the house.

Purpose: To refresh and restore energy; to draw a line between work and home life.

Method: Sit or lie down on your back, somewhere reasonably warm and comfortable. Loosen tight clothing and turn off your mobile. Set an alarm for 10 minutes. Close your eyes and do paced breathing, but instead of counting breaths, concentrate fully on your breath as it fills and empties your lungs. Feel your arms and legs lengthening comfortably. You don't need to fall asleep to benefit from this exercise.

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