Teaching as a career brings many rewards especially when we spot that light bulb moment for a child or the pride that shows on their face when sharing a piece of work. Alongside the joys of teaching there can be challenging times during the academic year when work-life balance can become compromised. Planning and becoming more mindful can certainly help achieve greater balance but also understanding about stress and how to keep it at bay may be key to sustained calm.
Signs of stress
Stress is the activation that we experience when we face a demanding situation, a challenge or a danger. It can be an exam, a one-off workload or even a school trip. Our body kicks in with a fight or flight response. This requires a significant mobilisation of resources and cannot be sustained over time without affecting our health. Therefore, when these responses remain longer than is appropriate, we can become exhausted.
Some signs that can be linked to sustained levels of stress include increased blood pressure, cravings for sugary or salty foods, fluctuating energy levels and mood, muscle fatigue and frequent colds. It’s important we can also recognise the form of stress, which is affecting us. Stressors can be physical, chemical, social stressors, perceived threats or even food stimulated. Once the signs and potential stressor(s) are recognised the first thing to do is reduce the activation and level of alert. It is at this point that taking a break is important and putting in place all the resources that we use to calm down and relax. Simple breathing techniques to stretching or certain yoga postures can all be beneficial. Once the stress begins to shift, it is time to rethink what has happened, what triggered the situation and find a solution to avoid this experience in the future.
Importance of nutrition
Nutrition is also valuable in helping us manage stress and maintain better balance. Ensuring we are eating adequate protein is essential as this is the building block for our hormones and helps to keep our blood sugars stable. Great sources to include in our diets are seeds, nuts, dairy products, fish, eggs and meat. B vitamins specifically B3, B5 and B6 are important for our adrenal hormones, which deal with stress and energy production. These vitamins can be depleted rapidly when the body is in a state of stress, so including whole grains, miso, marmite, lentils, meat, peas, salmon, brown rice, eggs, beans and dark green leafy vegetables can be helpful.
Another key vitamin is vitamin C, which serves many roles including supporting adrenal health and immunity. Dark green leafy vegetables, kiwi, broccoli, berries, chicken soup (collagen) and peppers can help to maintain adequate levels. Magnesium is also important for stress as any deficiency can intensify adverse reactions including cravings, disrupting blood sugar balance, disrupting sleep and exacerbating aches and pains. Including dark green leafy vegetables, brown rice, nuts, seeds, beans and kelp/seaweed can also be great ways to increase magnesium. Aside from vitamins and minerals omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish (trout, halibut, sardines, herring, salmon) or as a supplement is essential for the health of all cell membranes and also the chemical messengers of the nervous system.
Easy to grab lunches
So what to take for lunch when at work? Well try the mackerel pate recipe and add a rainbow salad with seeded oatcakes. Oily fish, protein, vitamin C, magnesium and B vitamins are all covered in this delicious lunch, helping to nourish the hormones and support our blood sugar balance.
Lifestyle factors are also important when managing stress so taking time to be mindful by doing breathing exercises, meditation, reading, exercise or an activity where you have to focus such as knitting/sewing can all be useful in helping your mind switch off. Getting plenty of sleep, fresh air and keeping hydrated can also be hugely beneficial. Take these top tips and focus on nutrition and lifestyle and keep stress well managed this academic year.
Learn more about balancing your stress here.