4 Ways to Manage Anxiety and Lower Stress
This year has hardly been traditional. Among the most obvious evidence of that has been COVID-19’s effect on schools.
I’m a college counselor who helps high school juniors and seniors figure out their next step, and this year, I also had to suddenly become a history teacher. I’ve been navigating these changes, as have thousands of my teaching colleagues across the country.
Additionally, like many people with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, I manage anxiety, so it’s been important that I keep tabs on my stress level this fall.
A driving factor I have in common with almost all teachers is the desire to do my absolute best for my students. Let’s just put it out there and say that I’m a perfectionist. I’m the classic type A, so I never do less than my best, plus a little more.
I’m hard on myself when things don’t go perfectly. That’s me in a nutshell.
That’s one reason it’s been so hard for me to jump into teaching U.S. history with virtually no prior notice. I never like to do a subpar job, and my anxiety level when I found out I would be teaching went about 10 notches higher than it already was from starting a new school year in the age of COVID-19.
First and foremost, I didn’t want to let my students down. I love history and didn’t want my class to be boring lessons that students hate. It’s also important to me that I make sure my lessons open students’ eyes to a variety of perspectives.
While the U.S. is diverse and multicultural, the stories told in traditional history classes often don’t match reality, and many voices are overlooked. I want to ensure that my students learn to analyze the past from all sides, not just one. These objectives are important to me, but they also cause stress.
I’ve gotten much better at managing my stress and anxiety the past couple of years, thanks to a lot of dedicated effort and the help of professionals, family, and friends. What I’ve learned has come in handy this year while working through my new role as a teacher in addition to my regular job.
Following are a few anxiety-reducing tips that have worked well for me.
1. Take a quick break and go outside.
When I’m feeling overwhelmed, I find that taking even a few moments away from work can really help. A walk around the outside of my building takes only about three minutes, but that literal and figurative step back from my stressors can help me return refreshed.
I try not to think about what’s upsetting me. Rather, I notice what’s around, and ask myself, “What do you see, hear, and feel?”
2. Turn a negative into a positive.
Finding even small positives can help me rebalance. It’s important to note that this doesn’t mean ignoring life’s difficulties. Instead, it’s choosing to focus on something good for a few moments.
3. Reframe the picture.
Many with anxiety constantly imagine the worst-case scenario. One of the best pieces of advice I received a few years ago from my counselor was to take that worst-case scene and turn into something ridiculous.
J.K. Rowling illustrates this trick far better than I do; if you’re not familiar, watch how to get rid of a boggart. It never ceases to amaze me how effective it can be to reimagine scary scenarios.
4. Recognize that imperfection isn’t failure.
Rather, not learning from mistakes is the real downfall. For example, some of my history lessons have been great, while others have flopped, but most important is that I walk away having learned something that I can use to do better in the future.
Anxiety is never easy, but with the right tools it can be mitigated. With the help of these strategies, I’ve been able to start enjoying my time in the classroom.
Now I’m excited to be teaching U.S. history, and I won’t let anxiety get in the way!
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