Contributed by Jack Singer
Stress and the education profession typically go hand in hand. In fact, this is exactly the reason that I wrote The Teacher’s Ultimate Stress Mastery Guide. In the past few years, a new category of stress mastery skills has emerged with much new research in neuroscience behind it: mindfulness exercises, directed at actually re-wiring the brain for maximum resilience and wellness.
An educator focuses on a stressful event that happened with an angry, disruptive student in her class yesterday or she worries about the resultant parent conference that will take place tomorrow. Will the parent accept responsibility for disciplining her youngster or will she say what she said the last time she was called in (“You’re the teacher, so it’s your responsibility to straighten out my son!”)? This focus on how she felt inside when the student was disruptive and how she anticipates she will feel during the upcoming parent conference, leads to an over-focus on bodily sensations and anxiety. So, the teacher talks herself into feeling anxious.
Anxiety, by nature, is usually focused on what has already happened or what one anticipates will happen. It is rarely the result of focusing on the moment. In the moment, when something bad or anxiety-provoking is happening, you are probably dealing with the situation, not experiencing the anxiety. Your physical symptoms of anxiety take place after the situation ends and you reflect on it, or as you anticipate another situation occurring in the future.
A close cousin of various meditation and Zen techniques, Mindfulness is defined (in an article in the American Psychological Association’s ‘Monitor’ in March, 2015) as “paying attention to one’s experience in the present moment. It involves observing thoughts and emotions from moment to moment without judging or becoming caught up in them.”
Mindfulness represents being fully present in the moment in which you are living, rather than what has passed or what you anticipate will happen later.
New research shows that even simple mindfulness practices, such as focusing on our breathing, and becoming aware of what’s going on inside the body as we breathe, rather than on anxiety symptoms, re-focuses our attention away from the anxiety enhancing symptoms, gives us a sense of control and strengthens our capacity for self awareness and self compassion, two important ingredients for building resiliency to stress.
A Mindfulness Exercise
So how can teachers benefit from mindfulness techniques? Here is a simple technique, which can be practiced easily. I suggest that every school have a “Whine and Geez” break room, with recliners, calming posters, etc. But mindfulness can be practiced even while sitting at one’s desk.
Find a comfortable posture, allowing your eyes to either gently close or stare in a trance-like gaze. Focus your attention on the feel of your clothes against your skin, the walls in front, back and on either side…then focus on and become aware of your breath flowing gently in and out of your nose into your lungs, feeling the sensations at the tip of your nose as the air flows in, and notice your stomach expanding and contracting with each breath. Also focus your attention on your awareness itself. You may find your attention occasionally wanders as you focus on your breathing. If that happens, just re-focus on your breathing for at least one minute. Be confident knowing that even one minute of such practice we begin to change the wiring of the structures inside your brain to bring maximum calmness and resilience. When you are through, simply open your eyes and move on to your next activity.
Jack Singer, Ph.D. is a Professional Psychologist and a Professional Speaker for Educational Associations and In-Service Programs. The author of “The Teacher’s Ultimate Stress Mastery Guide,” and hundreds of articles in educational, business, psychological and medical periodicals, Dr. Jack’s most frequently requested keynote or workshop program is entitled, “Powerful Proactive Prescriptions to Prevent Hardening of the Attitudes in the Professional Educator.” Email Jack at firstname.lastname@example.org