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Mindfulness During Stressful Times

Teaching is stressful under ordinary circumstances, but add a pandemic that closes schools across the nation, and that stress can be overwhelming. Many teachers, with virtually no time and limited professional development, have had to transition from face-to-face instruction to online delivery. In difficult times such as these, it is more important than ever to set aside time to look after yourself.

If you are feeling overwhelmed or highly anxious, you should first know you are not alone. Consider forming or joining an online community of educators, many of whom likely understand what you’re going through and can share coping strategies and teaching ideas. Take time each day to walk outside, prepare the garden for spring, or just sit in the sun. Remember to take long, deep breaths. Take at least three full breaths, counting to five with the inhale, holding your breath for five counts, and exhaling for five counts. Each time you exhale, try to picture the tension in your body as a color and imagine it fading slowly away. This will begin to calm your nervous system.

When we’re in a state of panic or extreme anxiety, our limbic system takes over our prefrontal cortex, which controls executive functioning and decision-making. When we are in fight-or-flight mode, we are far more likely to act impulsively, make mistakes, and lash out at others. Controling our breathing, however, gives our prefrontal cortex the time it needs to override the limbic system, quiet the panic button, and respond to events, people, and situations calmly and rationally.

Another useful method of dealing with fear and restoring a sense of calm is RAIN, an approach first developed 20 years ago by mindfulness instructor Michele McDonald. RAIN is an acronym that stands for:

  • Recognize how you feel and what you are experiencing
  • Allow the feeling or experience to exist just as it is without trying to fix it
  • Investigate the feeling or experience as a scientist might, but with compassion for yourself
  • Natural awareness that comes from accepting the experience

By naming what we are feeling, we send a signal to our prefrontal cortex that it’s time to wake up. We are bypassing the limbic system and calling upon the rational part of our brain to do its job. As a result, you will likely respond to stressful situations or anxious feelings more calmly and with greater compassion for yourself and others. Click here to experience a guided RAIN meditation, along with other free resources to help reduce anxiety and stress.

To schedule mindfulness training for your district, email info@cea.org.

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