Stress is a natural response that prepares our bodies for the ‘fight or flight’ response, but for most professors, fleeing from a mountain of paperwork and over-eager TAs is not an option. Instead, professors generally try to find ways to work through stress, a process which sometimes involves drinking copious amounts of coffee while ruminating over a tough decision. Depending on whether your locus of control is more internal (believing responsibility for controlling a situation is almost strictly yours) or external (believing responsibility for a situation is mostly outside of your control), you will have different ways of handling stress than others. However, whether you are situated with an internal or external loci of control, there are some simple steps that you can use to manage stress and build resilience.
1 – Do something you enjoy, at least once a day.
It is easy to get so wrapped up in our work-related concerns that we forget to take time out to enjoy life. Make a list of things you enjoy and do one of them each day at a convenient time. Treat it as a well-earned reward or gift to yourself.
If you have more of a Type A personality, one technique that you may find helpful is to schedule in your leisure time on a daily basis by adding it to your calendar. This can reframe the break from work not as a moment of laziness, but as a productive activity that is important for you to attend.
2 – Be Proactive Earlier in the Day and Reactive Later.
Organize your work so that you take care of your priorities earlier in the day. This is typically when our minds are operating at their peak, with most people experiencing a gradual decline in mental faculty throughout the day.
Don’t dedicate your best hours to answering emails and reacting to what the world throws at you. Instead, block off some time every morning to act proactively and complete the most tasks that are most important to you.
3 – Don’t stress over your students’ stress.
Students are perpetually stressed out, and, for some, it causes them to under-perform or even have break-downs. As an educators, you cannot allow yourself to get lost in your students’ problems. Remaining level-headed and objective will help you provide clarity to struggling students. Also, it’s crucial to accept that you cannot help every student; they have to want to help themselves. Being overly reactive to the stress that your students are experiencing is not helpful and can create a vicious cycle that, as professionals, we need to do our best to avoid.
4 – Create and share your goals with colleagues.
Where do you want to see yourself in one year? In five years? In ten? Write down some goals you have for yourself as a professional and share them with trusted colleagues. Let your colleagues know what kind of support you need and how you, in turn, can help support their goals. Not only will this benefit you as an individual, it creates a positive climate in your department or program.
5 – Write your worries down and assess them.
Make your fears tangible by writing them down in a list. Rank four or five top concerns as “accept,” “reject,” or “change.” It is okay to accept some worries as part of your life- especially if they involve tenure- but perhaps you have some worries that you can eliminate or manage effectively. For example, if you’re worried about burnout because your school’s administration is pushing a heavy workload, you can start thinking of ways to either accept and cope with the load or to actively engage in dialogue with administrators about changes you feel should be made.
6 – Ask for help.
Most of us hate asking for help. It can make us feel like failures or that, in some way, we just aren’t as good as others. However, the need for help is simply a sign that we are overwhelmed and in need of extra assistance. If you are feeling inundated with stress, tell a trusted colleague or friend what is going on. Let them know what kind of help you need.
7 – Get perspective from other industries.
Other industries can offer a plethora of insight on how to manage stress and build resilience in general, and it’s important to step down from the old Ivory Tower every once in a while to see how high-performing individuals in other industries manage stress. Examples in the mental and physical health care industries helpful beneficial examples for how to handle physical, mental, and emotional sources of stress stemming in both professional and life.
Stress can ruin our mental and physical health. If you are feeling overwhelmed, find a place you can go on campus that is private. If you have card access to a specific location, go there and do some coping techniques or call a health or mental health care professional to privately discuss your concerns. University counselors are also available for professors, not just for students.
You can also gain insight from the business industry if you feel you are having trouble connecting with co-workers or students. Having good people skills is essential for classroom management, and there are programs available to help coach university employees on people skills. When you are able to make positive connections with your students and colleagues, your stress levels will decrease.
Many colleges and universities hold events for faculty and staff, hosted by different industry specialists that can be beneficial sources of learning. Try attending stress management and classroom management workshops and presentations. Not only can you gain useful information, but you can also network with other individuals.
We welcome your feedback to our work.
Daniel & David