By: Lauren Gould, 6th Grade Teacher, McFarland School District
It's that time of year again. Summer is winding down, and we in the education field are heading back to school. It's the time of in-services, professional development, team meetings, and curriculum planning. As a first-year teacher, the beginning of the year is particularly overwhelming. Not only am I trying to figure out how I want to set up my classroom, but I'm also required to attend additional trainings and seminars. I'm given more information and confronted with more choices than I know how to handle. Stressful? You bet.
As a recovering Type-A Control-Freak, here's how my stress response usually unfolds:
Receive a lot of information in a short amount of time. Begin to feel stressed. Acknowledge that I am feeling stressed. Take a deep breath. Feel more stressed because breathing isn't helping. Become stressed out about being stressed. Cue heart palpitations and a jumpy feeling in my chest. Become stressed that I am stressed about being stressed.
You get the picture.
How Being Stressed Can Help You
However, about six months ago I stumbled upon a TED Talk by Kelly McGonigal entitled "How to Make Stress Your Friend." Her talk revolutionized the way in which I view stress. I highly recommend viewing the video in its entirety, but the basic premise of McGonigal's argument is that stress doesn't have to be bad for you. She argues that your body's physical response to stress-increased heart rate and breathing rate-prepares your body for action.
Furthermore, your hormonal response-the release of oxytocin, the "cuddle hormone"-is a reminder to reach out to other people. It's a reminder that you are not in this alone and others are there to support you. Ultimately, McGonigal argues that your body's physical response to stress is very similar to the response to joy, and when you view your stress response as positive, stress can actually be helpful to you, giving you the energy you need to overcome life's challenges.
Positive Stress Exists
In addition to starting to view the physical effects of stress differently, my perspective on stress changed when I learned about the difference between eustress and distress. Eustress is positive stress, while distress is negative stress. Eustress comes from a constructive place rather than a destructive one. For example, for me, curriculum planning provides eustress. While it can be a daunting task to plan the first few weeks and months of school, it's a task I want to complete. I love teaching, so the stress of completing my planning adds to my life. The stress energizes me and provides me with the motivation to engage in meaningful work.
What to do if you feel stressed
Armed with this knowledge, I am no longer stressed about being stressed. Now, when I begin to feel my stress response kick in, I respond in the following manner:
1. I thank my body for preparing me for action. I acknowledge the physical response I am having, and I recognize it as giving me energy to overcome a challenge.
2. I remind myself that I can reach out to my teaching team, friends, and family for support and reassurance.
3. If the stress I am experiencing is eustress, I mentally express gratitude for the sources. I am thankful I have meaningful activities in my life that motivate me to work and create change.
In a career like teaching, I know stress isn't going away anytime soon. But the good news is that now I know I can handle it. In fact, I can use it to my advantage. So next time I'm feeling stressed, I'll take a moment to be grateful that the stress is helping prepare me, motivate me, and equip me with the tools I need to overcome life's challenges.