Something stressful this way comes.
I’ve known about it for quite some time, and although I’ve been dealing with it along the way, it is finally arriving.
My students are taking their End of Course (EOC) exams next week, and I feel like I am more stressed than they are. Full disclosure, I had to rewrite that last sentence because it originally said “we are taking our End of Course exams.” I know I’m not actually taking the test, but I’m going to live and die by each one of my students as they sit down at the table and get to work.
Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we allow stress to take over our lives, both physically and mentally? Why can something that is so specific to me take me down a wormhole of anxiety and worry, when the rest of the world just keeps on spinning like normal?
I hope you weren’t coming here looking for answers because I certainly don’t have them. All I know is that I need to get a good handle on my stress management before I flat out lose my mind.
I’ve learned that most of what I have done to manage my stress in my past is fairly self-destructive in its own right, much more so than the actual stress and anxiety of an upcoming event. My traditional stress management activity has been stress eating, particularly foods that involve grease or chocolate. I’ve even convinced myself that it can be good for me, particularly when a migraine sets in. I go straight for some grease, add some chocolate, take my medicine, lie down and think that I will magically poof the migraine away. Logically, I know the medicine is doing all the heavy lifting, but anecdotally the grease and chocolate have eased the pain in situations where I did not have medicine handy, so they become part of the remedy.
You can tell I’m having a particularly stressful week, or couple of weeks, or months, by the cleanliness of the passenger seat of my car. Are there just breath mints there and an occasional soda? Or are there remnants of a fast food drive thru or gas station hot dogs that were purchased on the way home from work?
Staying healthy in general in a particularly stressful job can be difficult. Aside from the stress eating that can occur, there is always food in the building. It is either someone’s birthday, or food at a staff event, or leftovers from a banquet sitting in the fridge, or everyone’s favorite, the fundraiser snacks. Unless you are taking advantage of the weight room in the school or actually sticking to a workout schedule with an uneven work schedule, the desire to work out and not always have an opportunity is actually something that stresses me out even more.
What really gets me though, is that while stressors pop up daily in teaching, much like in every other job, most of our stress involves these long-range activities like testing, leading us to have chronic stress. I have known since August that the EOCs were coming at the beginning of May. Even though I have been planning and teaching and reviewing for nine months, why am I all of a sudden feeling a surge of extra stress right before the actual event? I don’t claim to understand the inner workings of stress and its effect on the body, but I know that the chronic build up of stress over time is much worse than a spur of the moment stressor.
When I coached, I had a constant battle with my players over practice behaviors versus those of game day. Practice becomes a slog, especially at the beginning of the season, when you have four weeks of practice before you play a single meaningful game. You have time to put in all of your offenses and defenses, learn all the inbounds plays and talk strategy, but you start beating each other up, and building up some vitriol that can only really be released in a game against people who are not your teammates.
Then we would get to game day, and everyone would lose their mind.
I have had some players who thrived under the pressure and stress of a game, but more of them who shrunk in the spotlight and lost out to stress. They knew the game was coming, and they yearned for it day after day as we were doing the prep, but the moment it actually came, it was too much for some of them to bear.
Chronic stress can wear us down over time. The constant fear and anxiety of the unknown can debilitate us mentally and physically, and we must be consciously aware of this and do what we can to help ourselves overcome that problem. As I’ve mentioned earlier, I’ve never really done a good job of that, but I’m starting to take baby steps and learn more about what works for me and what doesn’t. I’ll let you know how it works out and see if you can go with me on my stress management journey.