5 Stress-Management Tips for Principals
Start a Stress Diary
You don’t like the sound of this, do you? “A diary?” you say. Call it whatever you want, but if you’re serious about managing your stress, the first thing you need is to be cognizant of its root.
You may think you know what’s causing you anxiety, but documenting your triggers can be a real eye-opener.
There are innumerable ways to keep a stress diary, but here’s what I do:
Throughout the day, list the situations or events initiating the stress response. For each event include:
- Source of stress
- Time and place
- Level of perceived stress (1 = Slight, 2 = Moderate, 3 = Strong, 4 = Intense)
- Thoughts and feelings about the stressor
- Coping strategies you used to deal with the stressor
At the end of the day, reflect on these two questions:
- What was your major source of stress for the day?
- What is your personal assessment of how you managed stress today?
Let Go of Fear
Boil it down and you’ll find that stress is simply another word for fear—and fear, as Victorian iconoclast Samuel Butler once said, “Is static that prevents [you] from hearing [yourself].”
Most of us blame external factors—the mortgage, low test scores, low-performing teachers, needy parents and troubled students—for our stress. But these things, these people are just a part of your everyday life. They only become stressful when we fear them, when we fear that we will fail to meet the expectations of others. These ideals are burdensome—and very often they aren’t ideals of your own making. Let go of them. Let go of fear and carry on, my dear.
Give Yourself Completely to One Task
Our culture takes pride in its multitasking “proficiency.” Funny enough, research is almost unanimous in finding that people who chronically multitask (and claim to be proficient at it), are not only terrible at it, but more stressed and disorganized because of it.
Instead of dividing your attention between several tasks, give yourself completely to one thing. Immerse yourself in it until you’ve completed it to the best of your ability.
A coffee problem is a self-diagnosed disease and I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve got the bug. I picked up the coffee habit in graduate school. I was waiting tables full-time, tutoring students in the university writing center, and taking two graduate classes at a time. To stay awake, I’d pound coffee all day, which not only dehydrated me, but made me wired, jittery, restless and in actuality, more stressed out. I’m still weaning myself and cutting down my coffee intake, but when I’m successful at it, there’s a noticeable difference in how I feel.
Clear to Neutral
We’re very good at scolding students about waiting until the last minute to find their research or write their essays, but let’s be honest, educators are (covertly, of course) some of the best procrastinators out there. But why do we procrastinate? One of the biggest reasons is because we have to jump through a number of unpleasant hoops to get to the main task. Let’s illustrate:
You have to cook dinner, which means that you need the cutting board, clean knives, dishes and pots to get the job done. Unfortunately, all of the tools you need to make dinner are still filthy and sitting in the sink. So before you can get to what you set out to do (cook), you’ve got 20 other things to do (clean and scrape pans) before you can actually start on the main task (cooking). What happens? You’re frustrated. Now apply this to the sundry, and perhaps unpleasant, tasks that await you as principal.
Here’s where Clearing to Neutral (CTN) comes in. CTN simply means that every time you finish an activity, you engage in a routine, a setup, so that the next time you start the activity, your environment is ready to go. No prep, no cleanup, no frustration…just a clean slate.