There are many things you can do to combat the stress hormone, Cortisol. As teachers, we are constantly bombarded by stressors, whether they are coming from demanding administrative edicts, bad behavior from students, or parents who just don't understand that we have their children's best interests at heart. Teaching can be stressful!
Michael Linsin published an important article yesterday; How Not To Feel Resentment Over Difficult Students. One thing I will add to his ideas is that when kids are ugly to each other or to the teacher, this has the potential to create a toxic atmosphere (especially if the teacher is reactive).
I have always been extremely sensitive; I soak up people's emotions like a sponge. I used to think I was a bit of a freak until I heard about an empirical study done on sweat (kind of gross!) where scientists found that people can actually smell fear! Check out Vanessa Van Edwards' Ted Talk, "You Are Contagious."
It is a scientific fact that people spread emotions just like we spread germs. When we are training to be teachers, nobody prepares us to deal with the negative energy that can so easily overwhelm us. How can a teacher overcome all that negative junk and create a positive atmosphere, especially immediately after a student has a meltdown?
A while ago I learned that "highly sensitive people" are born with a longer form of the Serotonin carrying gene. Simply put, it takes much longer for our bodies to produce Serotonin after a stressful event and calm down. It was a huge relief for me to learn that there is nothing "wrong" with me. I am just wired this way; a highly sensitive person is actually gifted in the areas of detailed planning and "what-if" scenarios BECAUSE we suffer from so much anxiety. My greatest curse is also one of my greatest gifts, as my dad always told me.
As a highly sensitive person who has battled anxiety for many years, I have found some things that can help reduce Cortisol levels significantly. Anyone can release Dopamine, Serotonin, Endorphins, and Oxytocin with these tips.
Here are a few ways to create a safe haven for students (and yourself!):
1. Shake students' hands or give them a high-five when greeting them at the door. This simple touch releases Oxytocin, the relationship chemical, and it also builds trust. It will help both you and the kids to fight the stress hormone, Cortisol, keeping all of you calm!
2. Find something to smile or laugh about! This releases Endorphins, the calming chemical Serotonin, and it also releases Dopamine (the happy chemical). If you can discipline your mind to focus on GOOD things instead of on all the bad, you can change your internal barometer right back to happy and calm instead of allowing it to fester in anxiety, anger, fear, or resentment. It isn't easy to find something to smile about, but if you can do it, you will be amazed at the change in the classroom dynamic. It literally feels like a beam of sunshine just swept through the room and it is such a relief! I have seen it happen time and time again, just because I made the choice to find something positive to focus on.
3. Have things that smell good, like a nice lotion or even essential oils. Also, I have found that eating a bit of chocolate helped to reduce the stress and anxiety; eating releases Dopamine! Just a small piece of candy can stop the flood of emotion. Teaching can be overwhelming, especially when you have a lack of support and are serving kids with trauma; there have been several times that I needed that strategy! (Editor's note; be careful when using strong scents in the classroom as they have sometimes been found to be a migraine trigger. This has not been my experience, personally, but it has for others.)
4. "Sharpen the Saw:" using a dull saw takes a ridiculous amount of (wasted) energy. Don't make the mistake of neglecting your health; eat right, exercise, get plenty of sleep, and drink lots of water. Spend time with friends, get creative, avoid social media, and start regularly writing in a gratitude journal. Change your mindset to focus on the positive.
Note: if you are in a situation where you do not feel safe, I highly recommend that you consider leaving the school. It is not worth your safety, whether physical or mental, to remain in a position where you feel you are in danger. There are plenty of other jobs out there!
Take care of yourself.
Click on the links to read the articles, "Staying Calm" and "Avoiding Burnout:" there are many more tips here.
Managing the Art Classroom Playlist; Burnout, Youtube
Secondary Traumatic Stress For Educators: Understanding and Mitigating the Effects, by Jessica Landers, KQED News
Hacking Into Your Happy Chemicals: Dopamine, Serotonin, Endorphins, and Oxytocin, by Thai Nguyen, theutopianlife.com
Boost Your Natural 'Feelgood' Chemicals, psychologies.co.uk
Vanessa Van Edwards on Impact Theory, YouTube (How To Liberate Yourself From Social Anxiety), Tom Bilyeu
"Learn from the certified fraud examiner, body language expert, and author as she shares practical insights for decoding human behavior in this episode of Impact Theory with Tom Bilyeu."
Simon Sinek has a wonderful piece on leadership, Cortisol, and the "happy" chemicals here:
Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek, YouTube
Also, Tim Feriss has a couple of great Ted Talks about fear: