Debra Buszko – Guest Blogger
It seems we have all become accustomed to living with stress. We take it as part of daily life. Worries about work, families, finances and other pressing responsibilities ruminate through our minds day in and day out. Stress is a part of everyday life, and a small amount of stress may, in fact, be beneficial. But the stress I’m observing lately is chronic stress. The stress that people hardly notice because they have become so used to living with it, and it could be wreaking havoc on their personal health and wellbeing without them even recognizing it.
Being a school administrator is one of the most challenging, demanding, and stressful jobs you can imagine. It is also one of the most empowering and rewarding jobs as well. But balancing the demands and the rewards of the job is a constant strain. Being accountable to so many competing constituents is a difficult task. Managing time and meeting deadlines seem, at times, impossible. Balancing the needs of family and school is a constant internal battle. But in order to live a healthy and fulfilled life, recognizing the symptoms of stress and learning to practice stress reduction techniques is a must.
The first step to controlling stress is to know the symptoms of stress.
But recognizing stress symptoms may be harder than you think. Most of us are so used to being stressed, we often don’t know we are stressed until we are at the breaking point.
Stress is the body’s reaction to harmful situations — whether they’re real or perceived. When you feel threatened, a chemical reaction occurs in your body that allows you to act in a way to prevent injury. This reaction is known as “fight-or-flight,” or the stress response. During stress response, your heart rate accelerates, breathing is faster, muscles become tense and your blood pressure is higher. This is your body’s natural response to being threatened.
The symptoms of stress are multifaceted. They can be physical, emotional, behavioral, or cognitive. They can also imitate serious illnesses. If you are experiencing chronic difficulty relaxing your body or mind, aches and pains, difficulty sleeping, constant worry, an inability to focus, changes in your weight and/or alcohol, consumption, you may be experiencing symptoms of stress.
It’s easy as a school administrator to establish habits that lead to perpetuating our stress.
Rushing to leave the house and getting to work, we often start our day with little breakfast and a caffeine boost. Missing too many meals and having too much caffeine often contribute to our feelings of being on edge. Once on the job, we sit at our desks and try to sort out the countless e-mails, all something to do or to delegate. At the same time, we’re interrupted at least a dozen times with people who have their own priorities and need a decision, comment or encouragement. By late afternoon, we’re spending hours catching up on work that didn’t get done during the day and needs to be done without interruption. Hours later we’re looking at the clock realizing we just spent 3 hours on the computer screen. Running home, we skip the gym and grab a bite to eat, because we’re just too tired. Finally, we fall into bed, only to wake up a few hours later with the thought of all that needs to be done the next day.
Before long, administrators are feeling the physical and emotional strain of the stress. Complaining of headaches, muscle tension, and pain, feeling continually exhausted, anxious and irritable, they begin to lose their motivation and joy in the work of being a principal or assistant principal.
But recognizing the causes and symptoms of stress can lead us to do something about stress. With putting yourself first and making time for breaking some of the negative habits and replacing them with positive habits, administrators can reclaim their personal and professional health.
Here are a few lifestyle changes that you can try to begin this new year and regain the joy in the work you do every day:
- A healthy diet can restore balance and reduce the effects of stress on your body. Lean proteins, fruits, vegetables and healthy fats help regulate your stress hormones.
- Finding an exercise that you enjoy is an additional way to reduce stress. The release of endorphins during movement is important.
- Be ready to face the day by getting enough sleep. To ensure you have 7-8 hours of sleep, unplug and try relaxation techniques at least an hour before bedtime.
- And finally, breathe, just breathe deeply and stay calm.