How to manage stress and an increasing workload

Make peace with the perfectionist in you.

Teacher wellbeing coach Patti Glasgow discusses how teachers can juggle an ever increasing workload and high expectations with ways to reduce stress, save time and achieve teaching goals.

Teacher stress comes from many different sources. One source that we may feel like we have little control over is managing high expectations of yourself and others. If left unmanaged it can lead to constantly feeling overwhelmed, under pressure and eventually lead to burnout.

How can teachers manage stress?

Make peace with the perfectionist in you. As teachers we know the importance of setting high expectations for our students. However, we can often set unrealistic expectations for ourselves. For example, the perfectionist in me feels like I should work 10 hours a day including Saturday so that I can get everything done to my extremely high standards. Instead of this perfectionist mindset, of ‘I must’, ‘I have to’ or ‘I should’, we can adopt the optimal mindset which encourages us to ask, ‘What is the best I can do given all the constraints on my time and energy?’ Do I really need to help with the school production, given that I am coaching sport and going on school camp? Working eight hours a day and four hours on a Saturday is good enough for me this year.

Before the term starts you can apply this to the most important areas of your life. It may be health, work, family or friends. Let us look at another example – health. The perfectionist in me has to exercise five times a week for an hour like I did in my mid-20s. But now that I am nearly 40 with three kids under the age of eight, what is now optimal (good enough) given the constraints on my time and energy is exercising three times a week. The next step is to block out time in your diary for this activity before the week starts. I can manage my stress by the feel good benefits of exercise, achieving my goal and by decreasing the pressure I put on myself by deciding what I consider good enough.

Planning for a whole year?

Initially, planning for a whole year can be a very exciting time, however, it can also be can be challenging for teachers to relax and get their planning done. Planning can sometimes feel like planning for a marathon. There is so much ground to cover, it can be overwhelming just trying to figure out where to start and the worry can creep in about whether we are doing it right. If that happens, the next stop is procrastination. We can find ourselves putting the planning off until next week until suddenly there are only three days to go and then it is impossible to relax. Here are a couple of tips:

You do not need to reinvent the wheel. Find out what resources your school already has in terms of unit outlines, assessment tasks, units of work. Contact your Head of Department (HOD) or if you are a HOD, connect with other HODs and share resources. Connect with other teachers who teach your subject. If you are new to a school, you may not be able to do this, so check out the Australian Curriculum website and your state’s curriculum and assessment authority. They have yearly overviews, unit plans and units of work. But be warned, you can spend all week looking at resources and not get any actual planning done. It is essential to allocate a set time to research (say 60 minutes per subject) and turn off all notifications that may distract you during this time.

Rather than see planning as a marathon (working long and hard until we are exhausted), perhaps we can learn from the sprinters who alternate between hard work and time for recovery? To optimise peak performance we need to schedule when we will work (plan) and when we will recover (relax). Under the marathon mentality we often will say things like ‘I will do my planning on Thursday’. That means that it will take all of Thursday just to get the year overview done and maybe one unit outline. If we adopt the sprinter mentality we can allocate 60 to 90 minutes to get the year outline done, followed by a 15 minute rest. Set an alarm on your phone. Rest can be in the form of playing your favourite song, meditating, taking a walk around the block, chatting to someone or anything else you find enjoyable. This way you can still relax and be at your most productive.

We can often be overwhelmed when we start planning. Trying to get work done in this state is very slow and often scattered. Before doing any work, take a minute to close your eyes, take some deep breaths, put your hand on your heart and feel it beating. This will help you keep calm, focused and centred and get twice as much done.

Make a commitment

At the start of the year we are enthusiastic and can often say ‘yes’ without realising the implications of that commitment on our time and energy. When someone asks you to help, avoid the immediate ‘yes’. Most people do not like saying ‘no’ straight up. So buy some time to really consider whether you have the spare time to help. Perhaps respond with ‘I don’t have my diary with me right now, would it be okay to check and let you know in 24 hours’?

Sleep - get at least eight hours of sleep a night, which is essential to manage a classroom of not so keen teenage students or excitable preps. Darken the bedroom, limit caffeine in the evening, don’t use the laptop before bed or try meditation/deep breathing for a couple of minutes to let go. If you mind is racing, keep a notebook next to your bed and jot down what is running through your mind.

Exercise and eating regular healthy meals: No you do not need to join a gym. Just 30 minutes of walking three times a week will help release stress. Plan your meals by jotting down your lunch and dinner menu for a week and shop accordingly. You will save money. Consider online shopping and you can even order on your phone while you commute and have it delivered, saving you about two hours a week.

Share lesson/unit/assessment planning, marking and report comments with other staff. Also delegate one household chore to another family member, flatmate or outsource. For example washing, cleaning or cooking for at least one day a week can be done by someone else saving you another hour a week.

Build in some relaxation, meditation or time for your hobbies (even if it is just five minutes a day). These are often the first things to go when we are busy but these are the very things we need to be productive and creative.

Choose from one of the list above that resonates with you and commit to doing it for a month. Once you have implemented it and feel the benefits you may like to choose another strategy for the next month. I hope you find these tips useful so that you can continue to teach with passion, free of stress and workload woes.

For more information on Patti’s courses, resources and tips for teacher wellbeing, go to