Stressed, Stretched, and Just Plain Overwhelmed

Stressed, Stretched, and Just Plain Overwhelmed: A Guide to Managing Your Stress and Developing a Greater Sense of Work-Life Balance (Glen Allen, VA: Boitnott Coaching, LLC, 2015)

Stretched, Stressed, and Just Plain Overwhelmed is available from Amazon, but it is also available as a free download if you provide a working email address if you go to http://kittyboitnott.leadpages.co/ebook/

 

Stressed, Stretched, and Just Plain Overwhelmed

 

This ebook offers information about the toll stress takes on the human body and offers 7 specific strategies for building resilience so that when life throws challenges your way, you are in a better position to handle them. Written by a teacher who experienced her own burnout, this book is for people who are feeling overwhelmed by life and want to learn how to manage their stress more effectively in a proactive manner.

Here is what a few readers have offered after reading this book:

By S.P. on August 19, 2015

Format: Kindle Edition

Great Read! Are you stressed?, then take the stress test. The author paints a clear picture of the different levels of stress that one can experience. Whether it be acute, chronic or episodic, we all experience stress at some time in our lives—in one form or another. The author also offers 7 simple steps to better manage stress. Here you will learn the various methods needed to effectively manage and overcome stress.I would recommend this book to anyone needing to reduce the stress in their lives. After receiving news that my job was being outsourced and finding myself unemployed, my stress level was at an all-time high. I sought ways to take control of the situation, and I found having a process in place was paramount.

My thanks to you Kitty for sharing your personal experiences and for writing this book to help others.

Format: Kindle Edition

As a full-time employee, mother of two teenagers, a volunteer at church and a home owner, I have often found myself stressed. I even have experienced some health related issues from years of chronic stress. So, when I found Ms. Boitnott’s book I was ready for some productive suggestions about managing the stress in my life. The research she includes makes a strong argument for why it is essential to manage the stress in our lives. The seven suggestions are simple and practical. I have tried to incorporate all of them into my daily routines and am finding life is much more manageable.

I highly recommend this book!

Format: Kindle Edition

This is the first time I felt compelled to write any kind of Amazon review. I am writing this review because I think this book my Kitty Boitnott was extremely helpful to read during this time in my career. Entering middle age and strongly desiring a career transition is daunting but is also filled with elements of excitement and positive possibilities. In the mean time, I am keeping my stressful job until I find a better fit. This book has help me with my attitude in the workplace and has help me organize more balance in my life outside the workplace. Kitty is a very sensitive writer and Career Coach and the bottom line is…. she knows what she is talking about. Read this book/it will help.

Another Teacher Resigns Over Low Pay and Lack of Respect

Another teacher–this time a National Board Certified Teacher with 13 years of experience–resigns because she can’t pay her bills on the low salary she was earning in North Carolina. She is tired of trying to make ends meet, and she is really tired of the disrespect being offered to teachers in NC, not to mention the fact that teaching is no longer fun, given the over-emphasis on testing and reliance on data. See the interview and read her letter of resignation which she addressed to the Governor of North Carolina along with others here.

Another Teacher Quits in Frustration

custom_stack_of_books_11960On March 23, Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post offered another article that caught my attention and then ignited my interest and finally touched my heart on a deep level. She offered the perspective of a Massachusetts kindergarten teacher who is, in my opinion, both a “teacher in distress” and a “teacher in transition.” After 25 years of teaching kindergarten, Susan Sluyter has decided she has had enough. She knows in her heart and soul that the obsession with data that is driving our school systems of today, thanks to wrong headed initiatives and generally bad education policy, is not serving children, and she just can’t participate in the farce any longer. Below you can see her letter of resignation. We have clearly lost another dedicated teacher because of these poorly thought through initiatives. When will the administrators and policy makers hear us? When more teachers like Suzi Sluyter make their voices heard. At least, that is what I believe. I don’t want to believe that it is too late…but I do fear that time is running out. More teachers need to find their voices and speak up…not just for themselves and the damage that has been done to our profession but for the children who are not being served by this current data obsessed system.

My favorite line from Ms. Sluyter’s letter is here:

“The overall effect of these federal and state sponsored programs is the corrosion of teacher moral, the demeaning of teacher authority, a move away from collaborating with teachers, and the creation of an overwhelming and developmentally inappropriate burden imposed on our children.”

The entire letter is worth reading, however as is the entire article.

Please feel free to share widely. I know that this letter will resonate with every teacher (especially the ones who remember what it was like to teach before No Child Left Behind).

Here is Ms. Sluyter’s letter in its entirety.

February 12, 2014

I am writing today to let you know that I am resigning my position as PreK and Kindergarten teacher in the Cambridge Public Schools.  It is with deep sadness that I have reached this decision, as I have loved my job, my school community, and the families and amazing and dedicated faculty I have been connected with throughout the district for the past eighteen years.  I have always seen myself as a public school teacher, and fully intended to work until retirement in the public school system.  Further, I am the product of public schools, and my son attended Cambridge Public Schools from PreK through Grade 12.  I am and always have been a firm believer in quality public education.

In this disturbing era of testing and data collection in the public schools, I have seen my career transformed into a job that no longer fits my understanding of how children learn and what a teacher ought to do in the classroom to build a healthy, safe, developmentally appropriate environment for learning for each of our children.  I have experienced, over the past few years, the same mandates that all teachers in the district have experienced.   I have watched as my job requirements swung away from a focus on the children, their individual learning styles, emotional needs, and their individual families, interests and strengths to a focus on testing, assessing, and scoring young children, thereby ramping up the academic demands and pressures on them.  Each year, I have been required to spend more time attending classes and workshops to learn about new academic demands that smack of 1st and 2nd grade, instead of Kindergarten and PreK.  I have needed to schedule and attend more and more meetings about increasingly extreme behaviors and emotional needs of children in my classroom; I recognize many of these behaviors as children shouting out to the adults in their world, “I can’t do this!  Look at me!  Know me!  Help me!  See me!”  I have changed my practice over the years to allow the necessary time and focus for all the demands coming down from above.  Each year there are more.  Each year I have had less and less time to teach the children I love in the way I know best—and in the way child development experts recommend.  I reached the place last year where I began to feel I was part of a broken system that was causing damage to those very children I was there to serve.

I was trying to survive in a community of colleagues who were struggling to do the same:  to adapt and survive, to continue to hold onto what we could, and to affirm what we believe to be quality teaching for an early childhood classroom.  I began to feel a deep sense of loss of integrity.  I felt my spirit, my passion as a teacher, slip away.  I felt anger rise inside me.  I felt I needed to survive by looking elsewhere and leaving the community I love so dearly.  I did not feel I was leaving my job.  I felt then and feel now that my job left me.

It is with deep love and a broken heart that I write this letter.

Sincerely,

Suzi Sluyter

Possible Remedies for Teacher Burn Out

For the last couple of days, I have been following a thread of discussion on LinkedIn. The topic is teacher burn out and what might be done about it. Some solutions that were offered in one article were pretty superficial, I thought. The suggestions included offering a social time for teachers, for example, so they could get together and relax every once in a while. The other suggestions  were okay as far as they went, but they didn’t go nearly far enough in my opinion.

Teacher burnout is a serious issue and it is one that needs to be treated seriously although I don’t think enough people are truly paying attention to it. The fact is, however, that a growing number of teachers are feeling disillusioned about their chosen profession. What I hear on a regular basis from the teachers I work with is that they still love their kids, but they don’t feel like they are teaching anymore. They are, instead, delivering a canned curriculum and then administering test after test after blasted test. The fun has been sucked out of teaching and it is a sure bet the children they are teaching aren’t having much fun either.

I felt compelled to offer some thoughts on the thread and this is what I said:

“While it is certainly important that teachers be offered times to socialize and de-stress, feeding teachers’ souls is a lot more complicated. The teachers I know who are stressed and might be in danger of ‘eating their children’ are overburdened by paperwork, impossible demands at every level, lack of support from administrators and parents, debt because of low and stagnant salaries, feeling berated by people in power like the Secretary of Education who misses no opportunity to criticize teachers, and strangled by policies that have sucked absolutely all the fun out of teaching. I am also a life coach and a stress management coach whose niche are teacher leaders, teachers in distress and teachers in transition. When I conduct my workshops I always run into the same overall theme. Teachers feel overwhelmed, under appreciated and generally maligned. A social hour with colleagues will help to bond the colleagues together, but they need a lot more than TLC to help them feel better about themselves and their profession. They need to feel respected, and they need to be paid a professional salary while they are treated like professionals instead of widgets in the larger system that is doing no one any good…least of all the students they teach.”

I really believe that we are in the middle of a serious crisis with regard to public education in our country, and I fear for its future. Just today, I heard a snippet of an interview with Arne Duncan that pertained to what the President might say tonight in his State of the Union speech. One of the things I heard Secretary Duncan say was that we have been making progress…graduation rates are up and drop out rates are down…but he went on to say that the progress we have made isn’t enough and we “need to be changing faster.”

The trouble with Mr. Duncan’s premise is that he assumes that the changes we are currently making will get us where we need to go…that his policies and those coming out of his Department are actually doing anything other than creating more and more demoralization among teachers and students alike. Mr. Duncan loves to talk about our “failing schools” and how we are lying to our students when we tell them they are doing well. He also loves competition, so all of his major initiatives are based on the false notion that in order to promote public education and equity for all we need to make it about racing to the top and innovating around more and better tests instead of focusing on authentic teaching and learning.

If anyone were really serious about addressing teacher burn out…and I don’t think anyone really is serious about it or they would be doing something about it…they would stop telling teachers to “do more with less.” They would lighten up on the testing regimen because there are only so many tests that a child can take that they even have any meaning. They would forget the crazy notion that a child’s test score is a measure for whether or not to keep an otherwise effective teacher on the payroll. And they would stop fighting about Common Core and let a few states pilot it without drastic negative consequences for everyone involved in the meantime.

Public education is a value that I grew up believing in. I grew up poor, but because of educational opportunities and my belief that an education would provide me with an opportunity to thrive economically, I have thrived. As public school funding shrinks in favor of ideological arguments for choice, vouchers, and charters, I fear that the poorest children will get left behind and dropped through the cracks. We are at a real crossroads in this country, it seems to me. While the haves continue to thrive, the have nots are struggling. In the past, getting a solid education was the ticket to a better life. That seems to be growing less and less the case these days.

I know that teacher burn out is a real thing. I just don’t think that offering a social hour is the answer to it.

Preparing for Another New Year

I am not one to set New Year’s Resolutions. I have tried them in the past, and they are a waste of time. Back when I did attempt to make them, I would inevitably fail to keep them, and then I would beat myself up for being such a slug. Who needs that extra pressure?

Not setting New Year’s Resolutions shouldn’t mean that one does not set new intentions for a better, healthier, and more balanced life in general, however. Everyone needs to be paying attention to their overall health and sense of well-being, whether or not they are doing it because it is the end of one year and the beginning of another.

Recently, I have been teaching teachers how to manage and reduce the stress in their lives by setting new intentions around six key practices. They include (1) staying properly hydrated; (2) eating nutritious whole foods instead of highly processed ones; (3) getting restful, uninterrupted, and adequate amounts of  sleep; (4) engaging in adequate and appropriate exercise; (5) having FUN by pursuing a hobby or past time that is relaxing and rejuvenating; and (6) engaging in a practice of mindful prayer or periods of meditation. Getting present in the moment can be an important key to putting things that are happening in your life in proper perspective; and practicing gratitude for the many blessings you already have may help, too.

These six practices can be extremely helpful in reducing and managing stress in proactive, healthy ways. If you are interested in learning more, contact me at admin@teachersintransition.com for a free 25-page report on why these practices are so important and how to go about incorporating them into your life in the new year.

In the meantime, Happy New Year. May it be all that you wish it to be.

Handling Stress at Work

I recently ran across an article by Karen Salmansohn, author of several books on happiness, relationships, and resilience including Instant Happy:  10-Second Attitude Makeovers. The title of the article was “How to Reduce Your Stress Levels at Work.”

In the article, Ms. Salmansohn acknowledges (as do I) that we are all subject to feeling stressed some of the time, and many of us are, unfortunately, feeling stressed much of the time these days. In spite of the fact that we have the luxury of technology at our fingertips–technology which is presumably designed to make our lives easier–more and more employees report that now that they are more accessible through technology, their employers have higher expectations of them regarding when and how they can be contacted and how quickly they are expected to respond. As a result, many of us never feel that we are away from work even if we are at home or on vacation.

Some of the de-stressing tips offered in Salmansohn’s article include the following:

Try Some Deep Breathing: While meditation or yoga can be used successfully to help people de-stress, very often people will complain that they “aren’t very good” at meditation OR yoga which ironically adds to their stress. Salmansohn recommends blowing up a balloon. The action of blowing up a balloon taps into the same breathing benefits received in meditation and yoga, and while you are concentrating on the task of blowing up the balloon, your mind temporarily lets go of the stress that you were facing in the moment. So, keep a few small balloons in your desk drawer, and the next time you feel overwhelmed, take a couple of minutes to try this. The recommended method for blowing up the balloon is as follows:

  • Blow into the balloon with 3 breaths for a total of 3 seconds
  • Hold the balloon’s “tail” so the air doesn’t leak out
  • Catch your breath in 3 breaths for a total of about 3 seconds
  • Then get back to work

Smell the Lavender:  You may or may not already know that the sense of smell is the one that is the most connected to your emotional center. What that means to you is that if you can change what you smell, you can change how you feel. Lavender is widely recognized as a mood relaxer and energy re-balancer. Purchase a lavender-scented candle or a small bottle of lavender oil for your office. When you feel stress creeping on, light the candle or take a whiff of the oil.

Look at the Sky for Calm and Inspiration:  Research indicates that the color blue is calming. If it is a pretty, clear day, take a few moments to stare out your window or step outside to just look at the blue sky. In addition to the calming effect of the blue sky, the image of floating clouds, according to researchers, will remind your subconscious about the importance of saying “light.” Additionally, the image of the infinite skies will remind you of infinite possibilities. If it’s a gray and rainy day, trying wearing something blue, and stay clear of the windows for the day.

Listen to Music:  The music of Mozart can calm the mind and may help you think more clearly, but if you have a favorite song or group of songs that would work to pump you up and make you feel stronger and more confident, go with that.

Employ a Little Pet Therapy:  Research is very clear about the calming effect of our animals. Petting a dog or cuddling with a cat can help to de-stress you from an otherwise stress filled day.

Make a List of Your Accomplishments: You have many accomplishments of which you can be proud, and you have been successful in your endeavors; but when we are stressed, it is all too easy to forget all that. Make a list of the things you have accomplished and of which you are particularly proud. Be sure to include things that prove that you can overcome obstacles as they come up. These reminders will serve to shore up your fears and lack of confidence in any given moment. Keep the list around to remind you in moments of weakness that you have overcome problems before and you have what it takes to do it again.

I hope these suggestions will be helpful to you the next time you are feeling stressed, and don’t just save them for work. They can work for you at home as well.

Six Stress Busters for Balanced Living and Optimum Health

I recently gave a brief talk on the six “stress busters” that everyone should keep in mind in order to live a more balanced life with optimum health. Briefly, those stress busters include the following:

                         (1) Staying hydrated by drinking 64 ounces of water each day

                         (2) Eating well by taking in whole, unprocessed foods that contain the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that your body craves every day

                         (3) Sleeping for a minimum of 6 1/2 – 8 hours each night

                         (4) Exercising for a minimum of 30 minutes each day at least five days a week

                         (5) Lightening up by seeking something that will make you feel good or make you smile or laugh at least a couple of times a day. Have lunch with a friend. Buy yourself flowers. Do something that just makes you feel good.

                         (6) Practice daily meditation or mindful prayer every morning for at least 10-20 minutes.

Over the course of the next couple of week weeks, I will elaborate more on the other tips, but for today, I am going to speak to the importance of staying properly hydrated. Too many of us walk around mildly dehydrated each day and we don’t even know it. By the time you feel thirsty, experts say that it is already too late because your body is craving the water it needs so desperately in order to operate at its optimal level.

The fact is that your body needs water for survival. More than half of your body weight is made up of water. Every cell, tissue, and organ needs an adequate amount of water in order to function properly. Without water your body cannot maintain its temperature, remove waste and toxins that accumulate daily, or lubricate your joints. In short, water is absolutely essential to good health.

To be perfectly clear, I don’t mean just any “fluid” when I speak of the importance of hydrating. Soda, for example, doesn’t substitute for water, and in fact, new studies are showing just how damaging sodas and drinks high in sugar content can be to your health. It is a good idea to pay attention to the labels on the foods and drinks that you take into your body. If an item is high in sugar or fructose, you might want to limit its intake, especially if you have a tendency toward or a family history of diabetes.

Some experts say that you may substitute non-caloric green or black tea or even coffee in limited amounts for the purpose of staying hydrated, but I would suggest that you drink those items in addition to rather than as a substitute for drinking water. It cannot be overstated that your body needs water and your cells and organs crave it. Your brain even needs to be properly hydrated. That foggy feeling you sometimes experience in the middle of the afternoon may well be because your brain is dehydrated and simply needs water.

You need to drink water throughout the day because your body eliminates it throughout the day through trips to the bathroom and sweat…even through your breath. You also need to increase your water intake when the weather is hot or when you are exercising or if you are sick because your body is in danger of becoming dehydrated which can lead to a whole host of health issues if you don’t re-hydrate.

Most experts agree that a reasonable goal is for the average adult to drink 6 to 8 8-ounce glasses of water each day. Some ways to stay hydrated through the day include the following:

  • Keep a bottle of water with you during the day. Perhaps carrying a reusable water bottle and filling it from the tap rather than buying bottled water will be more economical and will save on the waste of plastic bottles that are discarded after use.
  • If you don’t like the taste of water, flavor it with a slice of fresh lemon or lime or add a low-calorie flavoring to it. You still get the benefits of the nutrients and the hydrating effects of the water.
  • If you are going to be exercising, make sure to drink MORE water before, during, and after your workout.
  • If you start to feel hungry, drink water first. Often the sensation of hunger is triggered by thirst.
  • Drink throughout the day at regular intervals. If you have trouble with waking up in the middle of the night, however, in need of a trip to the bathroom, you might want to stop your water intake a couple of hours before bedtime.

In my next post in this series, I will offer suggestions for improving your health through better eating. Until then, I hope you will find these tips and ideas useful.