Recently a series of funny memes titled “What People Think _____________s (fill in the blank with a job title) Do” made the social media rounds. The meme for educators “What People Think Teachers Do” went like this: What My Friends Think I Do was followed by a picture of a cowboy hat wearing ukulele player surrounded by happily singing children. What Society Thinks I Do was followed by a margarita drinking sun bather lying in a hammock on a palm lined beach surrounded by sparkling blue water. What My Students Think I Do was followed by a blanket covered person dozing contentedly beneath a desk. What I Think I Do was followed by a tie wearing professor engaged in meaningful dialogue with his raptly engaged students and finally What I Really Do was followed by a frustrated person sitting at a paper covered desk with his head in his hands.
It is safe to say that a majority of educators experience the last scenario more often than they would like. The inherent stressors of this career are painfully obvious to hard working educators while perhaps not as noticeable to those outside the field. Educators often feel overwhelmed, dejected and hassled. These emotions can lead to physical symptoms like head or stomach aches, muscle tension and sleep problems while also negatively impacting one’s mood and making one feel depressed, angry, anxious and/or demoralized.
If any of these physical or emotional symptoms describe you, it is necessary to address the symptoms immediately so that they do not worsen. Usually, the first thing you want to do is prevent a situation from arising in the first place but the nature of education, especially when teaching abroad in an environment that may be very different from what you are accustomed to, is that there may be several factors that are beyond your control. Therefore, take charge of what you can…yourself.
An immediate stress reduction technique is called diaphragmatic breathing. Inhale deeply through your nose & breathe out slowly through your mouth. Do this a few times while mentally telling yourself positive comments like “I am peaceful” or something similar. Deep breathing counteracts the stress response of rapid, shallow breathing that can lead to anxiety.
Another effective technique that you can use to calm down while in the middle of a stressful situation is called progressive muscle relaxation. This is done by clenching and unclenching various muscle groups. If you are in the classroom during a stressful episode it is easiest to practice this technique using your hands. Discreetly clench your fists for several seconds, release, and then shake them out. Do this a few times until you begin to feel yourself relax.
Laughter is excellent medicine. Do not forget to cultivate your sense of humour and laugh as much as possible.
Taking control of your responses to a stressful situation is the best way to retain your power, stay physically and mentally healthy and deepen your enjoyment of your work.
By Aisha Shakti Hakim
For more great tips from Shakti, check out her book, The Busy Babes Guide to Wellness: 8 Steps to a Healthier You Now!