Early childhood services are among the most demanding professional situations. Being responsible for the care and learning of toddlers and young children often leaves caregivers and educators vulnerable to highly physically and emotionally stressful moments over the day. If you find yourself often struggling to cope, here are some tips on managing stressful moments.
Breathe and Breathe Again
Deep or belly breathing exercises are one of the most effective ways to manage stressful moments. Inhale through your nose as you count to four and then exhale through your mouth. Let your diaphragm rise and fall visibly as your lungs take in and expel air. The long, almost purposeful breathing actions slow the heartbeat and relax tensed muscles. Stress is the brain’s way of getting the body ready to fight or feel the stressor. But since the brain cannot be forced to understand that the stressful moment you face is not a life-threatening situation but one of the many hiccups of a regular workday, it makes more sense to get the body to relax first so that the mind follows suit. Best of all, as you do deep-breathing exercises to manage your own stress, you will be modelling important lessons in emotional regulation for your young learners as well.
Focus On What You Can Control
Very often stressful moments are caused when expectations and reality clash. Perhaps you had planned to complete a story during the reading time but could not as a child became sick and you had to help them clean up first. Stop for a moment to consider what you can and cannot control here – the child getting sick is not in your control, so understand that there is no point fretting about that. What you can do though is to return to the story another time or show a video to finish the story.
Step Out, If Needed
If at times you feel like losing your grip on the situation at hand, excuse yourself for a few moments. You can just head out to soak in the warm sun or pop into the restroom for a quick splash of cold water on your face. Checking out physically will lessen the power of a stressful situation and help you find your bearings again.
Engage In Self Care
Regularly practising self-care will build a store of satisfying experiences that you can draw from in moments of stress. Such self-care can be as simple as treating yourself to your favourite post-supper ice cream or something more sustained like working on your herb garden. It is crucial that you take care of your own mental and emotional health on a regular basis so that you can respond to the needs of your students with more patience and purpose.
Some other strategies which you might find helpful in managing stress include:
- Monitor your stress- recognise your own signs of stress and identify situations you find difficult, so you can be pro-active about managing stress during these times.
- Learn how to manage your stress in positive ways- such as through exercise, relaxation, breathing, yoga, positive self-talk.
- Be aware of your thinking habits- challenge negative or unhelpful thoughts.
- Schedule ‘time out’ for yourself- pursue your hobbies or interests.
- Connect- foster and maintain your personal relationships. A sense of belonging and connection is important for your well-being.
- Relax- learn and use breathing techniques, progressive relaxation, visualisations or meditation to consciously relax your mind and body. Practice mindfulness by focusing your awareness on the present moment.
- Be mindful and self-aware- focus on how you are feeling and how you act, and the impact that can have on your colleagues and your students. Be supportive of others without passing judgement.
- Consider making specific times or days of the week for activities that support your wellbeing, so they become routine and are less likely to drop off at times of increased work demands or other competing priorities.
- Reflect- find a mentor through your workplace or professional networks to help you grow professionally. Take time to engage in reflective practices about your work and professional development.
- If you have spiritual beliefs, make time for regular spiritual practice, or relationships with others who share your philosophy.
Research Shows The First Five Years Are Stressful For Preschool Teachers, John Hopkins, School Of Education
Stress Management, Beyond Blue