Break these 10 habits to stop your stress
As a teacher leader do you work long hours? Too long hours? Do you have an endless to-do list that you diligently try and work your way through? Do you worry about all the things you haven’t done? Do you end up doing school work and miss out on family, personal or social life?
You want to do right by the children and the school, yet there is so much that could be done and that others want to be done in the few hours available, it becomes overwhelming. It becomes a struggle to keep your head above water and you start to feel disillusioned and doubt your abilities and your desire to do the job any more. You lose sight of your vision.
Overwhelm leads to stress which can lead to burn out. In the UK, teaching is consistently ranked third in terms of stress levels, right behind healthcare and uniformed services. Teacher attrition worldwide from burn out is worse now than at any other time in the last 35 years, the time period they have been keeping global data.
Stress negatively impacts on performance because it reduces energy levels. We then become less effective and all that extra effort may not have the desired effect of raising student outcomes.
Ironically, Ofsted, the most cited cause of unsustainable workload, tried reducing teacher stress by issuing new guidance, but findings suggest it has made little difference. Research suggests 64% of schools do not even conduct surveys of staff wellbeing.
Most of the causes of stress that teachers cite are external expectations. As we can’t control others only our response to external influences, managing our mindset and thereby our emotions is key to managing that overwhelm.
A few changes could prevent the resultant stress and the potential burnout, keeping your leadership dreams alive.
If it’s your school that’s the source of the problem because it has a culture of monitoring and judging, micromanaging and making last minute demands, consider what boundaries it would be helpful to establish, speak to your line manager and be prepared to move to a school with a different culture if that doesn’t bring about change. Because there are schools out there who do things differently.
But before you put in that hard work of changing schools, or even careers, consider what you can learn about you from this experience and what’s great that you want to take with you and what was unhelpful that you want to leave behind. Sometimes it is an aspect of us, our inner world, our thoughts, beliefs and values that contribute to our overwhelm and keep us stuck in an unhelpful pattern.
Understand your stress pattern
Take some time to reflect on how you ‘do stress’.
- What are your thoughts and beliefs and behaviours in the moment?
- What are your triggers for this pattern?
- And what is ‘not stressed’ for you?
With that information, you can start to create a plan to manage your pattern.
- intervene before the triggers can set the behaviour off
- interrupt your behaviour when it starts with a new behaviour, such as slowing your breathing or repeating an affirmation, and…
- designing a self-care plan to increase your experience of ‘not stressed’.
Identify your behaviours that lead to overwhelm
When you identify your behaviour that contribute to your overwhelm and ask yourself what this belief is that underlies that behaviour, you can start to challenge your habits and create new beliefs that allow you to break the pattern and find a new way or working or being.
1 - Working long hours
Antedote: We are told from a young age that success can only be achieved through working hard and that often gets translated into working long hours. Instead of working hard, decide to work smarter. We know that rest and play are important to replenish and restore our energy so that we can work more effectively. What would it look like if you applied the Pareto Principle to your job? What is the 20% of what you do that has the most impact? If you focussed your energies on these activities, you could work less hours and have even more impact. Link in with others who are already doing this.
2 - Judging your worth by what you achieve at work
Antedote: Define a new version of success, one that is more helpful to you, one where you are not judging yourself by other people’s achievement criteria. Make sure you have small goals to achieve each day and each week so that you are always celebrating wins and focussing on your progress rather than just seeing the gap between where you are and where you want to be. Have personal goals as well as work goals.
3 - Being unable to decide
Antedote: Sometimes we get tied up with find the ‘right’ solution to the problem which can lead to decision paralysis. Decide on the criteria your solution needs to meet and have a cut-off point for thinking things through. Measure them against your criteria and choose the top three ideas and then choose one. There is never a right answer, just the best answer at that moment in time.
4 - Needing everything to be perfect
Antedote: Perfectionism can show up as procrastination or as spending ages on a task. These behaviours are linked to fear of failure, and we either don’t get started or we keep adding to our work to make it even better, or re-doing the work of others to meet our standards. This induces a feeling of overwhelm as we are worrying it’s not done, are annoyed with others or stressing that we don’t have time for other projects. Two affirmations that are helpful to interrupt these patterns are ‘just start it’ and ‘done is good enough’.
5 - Worrying what others think
Antedote: Research shows that people spend most of their time thinking about themselves. Given that we can’t predict what we will be thinking in any given moment, it’s a waste of energy worrying what others are thinking or will think! In addition, consider that what people say and what they do tells you about them and not about you, and that anything we judge others on is a reflection of something we have not resolved about ourselves.
6 - Helping everyone else first
Antedote: Prioritise your work and goals, then schedule in when precisely you will do it. Prioritise according to your values, what’s important to you as well as what needs to be done for others. Notice who asks you for help, when and why, then create a plan to avoid the situation or delay the situation. Plan phrases you can say when you are asked that are effectively saying ‘No’. If there are situations where you believe it is necessary to help, put them on your schedule.
7 - Creating an endless to-do list
Antedote: When you’ve created the perfectionist’s to-do list with every task you could and should do on it on it, grade the tasks in terms of urgency and importance and work out which to delegate, which to ditch and which to do yourself and when. And when you notice that an item is a big job, break it down into its smaller components. That is your master plan.
Limit how many things you put on your daily to-do list. Work out the optimum number for you. Perhaps start with 3. If find you do 3 with ease, without triggering overwhelm, you could add to it until you find your optimum number of tasks that balances that feeling of success without triggering overwhelm or exhaustion.
8 - Getting just one more job ticked off your list
Antedote: On the one hand we think we are being successful because we’re getting dopamine hits each time we tick an item off, yet being task driven links into problem one as we end up working long hours. Perhaps we end up leaving work late or possibly we even lose sleep as we are working on our list at night and we keep going until we’re too tired rather than when we need to go to bed to get enough sleep to function optimally. Observe if this behaviour of yours is linked in with problem 7 too. Set yourself a working time boundary : decide on a cut off time, what is a reasonable amount of time to spend working and then simply stop. This is not being ‘jobsworth’ or ‘clock watching’, it is ensuring you have a work life balance.
9 - Worrying about things that have already happened or that haven't happened yet
Antedote: Ruminating and catastrophising sap your energy and prevent you from focussing on what is important right now. Think of a kind and compassionate phrase you can say to yourself when you catch yourself in these thinking habits to bring yourself back to the now. Sometimes it is helpful to do something physical or with others to interrupt our thinking or to do something mindful to allow our unconscious mind to resolve it.
10 - Thinking negatively
Antedote: Negative thinking is exhausting. Repeatedly thinking or saying ‘I’m stressed’, ‘I’m tired’, ‘I can’t cope’, ‘I give up’, ‘I’m not good enough’ is undermining your identity as a successful woman. Instead acknowledge to yourself how you are feeling and decide what you can do to feel differently. Create an affirmation with the words ‘I am’ that focusses on who you are really rather than how you are feeling in that moment and use it to interrupt your negative thinking. Even better, create an affirmation to use each day to focus on what you want, “Today I am calm and confident and feeling in flow” and keep repeating it to yourself.
Making these changes is all about being clear on your values. When our values are out of alignment, it creates stress in our lives because what we are doing doesn’t match with who we are really. Get clear on your values, what is important to you, and you will find it easier to decide what to do and to stick to the boundaries you create for yourself.
Decide which one area would be most helpful to change first and come up with a plan. Be kind to yourself rather than judgemental, and just look to make small changes at a time. Big changes create overwhelm trying to keep to our new routine whereas small changes are easier to commit to and you’ll be surprised at the difference they can make.
If you would like support to get clear on your values, and create a plan to reduce overwhelm and stress in your life, message me and let’s explore how I can help.