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Is Stress Really The Enemy?

March 17, 2016 / by Crystal Morey

Last month, I made a concerted effort to think about managing stress through a series of challenges called #TchStressAway.

As I engaged in each of the challenges, and extended them to the 200 teachers that joined my journey, I became mindful of my own reactions to stress. I've since decided that stress is inevitable. An overachiever my entire life, I constantly stack too much on my plate, and I imagine this will most likely continue. In fact, I'm beginning to realize that I seem to seek out stressful situations. I take on responsibilities even when encouraged not to. I create "to-do" lists that I know I won’t be able to finish. And I dream up new ideas to explore, even where there's no reason to do so. Most of this is simply innate to me as an individual, so it's an aspect of my life I want to manage but not necessarily get rid of.

#TchStressAway Challenge 11

While I was researching how to manage stress, I came across How to Make Stress Your Friend. In this TED talk, health psychologist Kelly McGonigal introduces the audience to research that suggests that changing one's thinking around the value of stress can, in turn, change your body's response. Sure, stress can make your heart pound and sweat pour, but McGonigal says that doesn't necessarily mean something bad is about to happen.

What if we viewed stress as our body's response to prepare us for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead? What if stress communicated that we were on the precipice of a worthwhile opportunity? What if stress was our calling to take full advantage?

Furthermore, McGonigal suggests that when we reach out and seek support while under stress, we can recover more quickly. Human connections help us to understand that when faced with challenges in life, we won't have to face them alone. We have friends or colleagues who will help us maneuver the road ahead. Through human connection we can not only manage stress, but also excel in stressful situations.

As I continue to work on self improvement, I'm not necessarily trying to rid my life of stress, but rather trying to learn how to manage stress. Here are my next steps and current thoughts:

Take on a Winner's Mentality

Famous basketball coach John Wooden encouraged people to give themselves credit when credit is due and to relentlessly pursue improvement. As an educator, I need to be more intentional about celebrating my successes rather than shying away from positive responses. Honoring my contributions, efforts, and successes within the classroom, even if minimal, will continue to fuel me and push me forward.

In addition, I need to build my family of educators and friends who give honest feedback regarding my instructional strategies and modes of collaboration, and who don't shy away from challenging my comfort zone. Surrounding myself with mentors that I look to for honest and supportive feedback, will open my mind to rich and meaningful improvements while keeping my heart at peace. Feeling their support and encouragement will provide both motivation and comfort.

Continue Mindfulness Exercises In My Daily Life

Some of my stress is brought on by uncertainty. Should I make this decision or that? Is what I'm doing right or wrong? Will others see the value in my efforts? In response, I've been practicing mindful breathing exercises. This has allowed me to engage in focused thought rather than try to come up with a quick solution. When I breathe and listen with intentionality, I'm able to tune into my internal instincts and then I know what I need to do. As I work toward mental clarity, I find I have a sense of calm as I deal with stressful situations.

After reading about harnessing the positive side of stress, I realized that I viewed stress as a "threat" caused by too much on my plate, high expectations, and internal pressures. I used to think that either I removed stress from my life or I would continue to be overwhelmed by it. Now, I try to view stress as an often normal step toward achieving my goals. I'm still a work in progress. I still have moments where I worry late into the night, feel my heart beat through my clothing, and become overwhelmed by the work/mom balance. But I'm beginning to see these as necessary responses even as I practice mindfulness and create balance in my life.

Many thanks to those of you who joined me on this journey. Thank you for honoring the fact that we educators need to take time for ourselves. Perhaps our next campaign should be #ManageTchStress! Until then, continue to share resources, links, or your personal stress challenges with me either in the comments below or via my Twitter account: @themathdancer.

This work was made possible through support by the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust.

Topics: Professional Learning, Getting Better Together, Motivation

Crystal Morey

Written by Crystal Morey

Crystal Morey is a K-6 instructional coach in Kent, Washington. Crystal spent the past seven years teaching middle level mathematics. She's a strong advocate of inquiry based mathematics instruction, as well as increasing student voice in the classroom. Crystal has partnered with a variety of organizations on projects, including Illustrative Mathematics, Washington STEM, and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction in Washington State. When not teaching, Crystal is a mom to two energetic children. She utilizes her many life experiences to speak about the challenges and opportunities many educators face.

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