How to Help Teachers Manage Their Stress and Anxiety

Header - Denman - Stress and Anxiety

Being an educator can be incredibly stressful at times and the shift to remote work has only amplified this. Luckily, Shelby Denman and Kaila Albright generously provided a few ways to identify teacher stressors as well as some different techniques for coping with them. 💆‍♀️


et's be honest, 2020 has been a year, right? For the first time in modern history, schools have had to shut down for prolonged periods of time, causing teachers to shift their instruction online and acquire new skills in the process. It's a lot to ask of anyone, and as an instructional coach you're probably feeling the strain too.

But we all know that teacher stress and anxiety are nothing new. In 2014 the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) conducted a survey which found that educators expressed feeling stressed 61% of the time, and almost a quarter of respondents indicated that work was always stressful. A 2017 survey by the same organization revealed that 58% of educators characterized their mental health as "not good" for at least a week out of the last month, up 24% from 2015.

As a coach, addressing teacher stress and anxiety is two-tiered. To care for teachers, you must first care for yourself. A burned-out match is useless for igniting a fire: In the same way, a coach who has nothing left to give is no help to those around them. Secondly, you must directly address your teachers' stress and anxiety to have a stronger instructional influence. A teacher's stress level affects their ability to receive and respond to new information. The following strategies are provided to empower you to address stress and anxiety within yourself and your teachers.

Recognize the feeling

Both stress and anxiety take a mental and physical toll on the individual. Stress is the body's way of responding to a demand or threat and often activates a "fight, flight, or freeze" reaction in the body. Anxiety, on the other hand, is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease regarding an uncertain outcome. People with anxiety are typically inundated with recurring thoughts or concerns.

Stress and anxiety can manifest in many ways. You might experience feelings of restlessness, become easily fatigued, have difficulty concentrating and sleeping, experience an increased heart rate, or begin to breathe rapidly.

Counselors often suggest that naming the feeling can empower the individual to address the causes and effects. Take an inventory of yourself and recognize if you are feeling overly stressed or anxious, then help your teachers to do the same. Once you have recognized the stress and anxiety, you can start to look for sources and solutions.

Identify and address sources of stress

Educator stress and anxiety has many potential sources. We're listing three of the most common below, along with a variety of research-backed solutions, based in structure and self-care, that can help address educator stress and anxiety.

Lack of control

Lack of control is a universal trigger for stress and anxiety. We're living in a time of uncertainty in both everyday life and in education. Procedures, protocols, curriculum, class lists, and schedules all change constantly—and often without notice. Educators have to be flexible and adjust to new ways of doing things. This lack of control can be detrimental to your mental health if you're not careful to address it and recognize the source of your frustration.

  • When a situation becomes overwhelming, take a minute to practice deep breathing. Focus on controlled inhaling through the nose and exhaling from the mouth.
  • Take a few minutes outdoors to get some sunlight and be invigorated by things in nature. Look at the colors, take note of the temperature, notice how calming it can become to clear everything from your mind.
  • Recognize that you can't control what is happening around you, but you can control the response that you have to it. Control what you can, and let go of the rest.

Imbalance of work and life

In a study by Career Development International in 2018, 85% of educators indicated that a work/life imbalance was affecting their ability to teach. This imbalance can affect relationships at home as well as at school, and this is especially true with the new virtual nature of teaching. The line between work and home can easily blur when you're working from home.

Structural solutions can help by organizing your time and your workspace to separate work from home and protect your time.

  • Try arriving at school early for a little productive quiet time before the day begins.
  • Set a goal for the time to leave work and then leave the work there so that your time at home is truly restful.
  • Leave school on Friday with the next week fully prepped, and enjoy a work-free weekend.
  • Close the door during prep periods to avoid socializing instead of using valuable work time. Or if you need socialization more than work time, choose to make that a positive decision to benefit your mental health.
  • Share the workload with other teachers by planning together.
  • Avoid over-commitment with extracurricular activities.
  • Assign a family member or friend as a lifeline and accountability partner. Use them as a resource when you need someone to listen to your concerns and advocate for your time.

Secondary Traumatic Stress

Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS) is an emotional stress that results when an individual hears about the first-hand trauma experienced by others. These types of trauma could include death, abuse, neglect, family dysfunction and natural disaster. Oftentimes, educators are affected by the traumas of students, students' families, and co-workers. Even if the trauma does not directly affect you, it can still have a deep emotional impact.

It's okay, and often encouraged, to express gratitude, take time for yourself, and practice breathing and mindfulness to help counter these feelings. Focusing on gratitude can impact mental, physical, and relational well-being.

  • Take time each morning to consider three things for which you are grateful.
  • Making self a priority is immensely important. This could include visiting a local coffee shop with a favorite book, making an appointment at the nail salon, exercising before or after work or even taking a quick weekend trip to get away. Find what fills the heart and recharges the soul, and make it happen!
  • A traumatic situation can cause you grief, even if you weren’t directly associated with it. Recognize the presence of grief and acknowledge its impact on you.
  • Allow yourself to mourn the impact of the trauma.
  • Start journaling as a means of processing your feelings.

Final note

High levels of teacher stress and anxiety contribute to a loss of talent in the field, and the support of an instructional coach can make all the difference! By taking care of your own stress and anxiety and addressing the stress and anxiety of fellow educators, we can lighten the load—together.

About our Guest Blogger

Shelby Denman, M.Ed. is the Learning Specialist at Crosby Elementary. She is passionate about partnering with teachers on their professional journeys, seeking justice and equality in education, and making learning memorable and fun! In her spare time, she can almost always be found drinking coffee, reading, and/or hanging out with her husband and two daughters. 

Connect with Shelby on Twitter @shelbyndenman!

Kiala Albright, M.Ed. is the counselor at Crosby Elementary. She is passionate about building student relationships and promoting social-emotional health in young children. Outside of work, Kiala enjoys visiting Starbucks, soaking in the sunshine, and spending time with her husband and two daughters.

Read more from our guest bloggers

Banner graphic by Mixkit.

Topics: Tips and Tricks, Guest Blogger, Practical Advice, Overwhelmed, Teacher Retention, Remote Work, Self-care, Stress and Anxiety

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