In this podcast episode, I’m answering this Ask BIT question: “When the school demands 100 % of your time and energy - and so does your husband and so does your family - and all you want to do is run away to the hills, what do you do? Where do you start?”
This question made me really feel sad because I know exactly what it’s like to feel as though you don’t know what’s happening around you and you just need to “get away” from it all.
Before I go further, I have a quick disclaimer- I’m NOT a licensed therapist, I’m a teacher who is speaking from my own burnout experience and I'm teaching you what I have learned through my own research and my own experiences. If you need professional help, I encourage you to seek out the support that you need. As an affiliate with Better Help, I’m an advocate for therapy, counseling, or whatever support you may need.
When I was thinking about my answer to this question, the first thing that came to mind was something I learned a long time ago about the Human Stress Response - fight, flight, or freeze. The Human Stress Response refers to how the body responds to perceived threats; it's what keeps us alive, helps keep us safe, and helps us to survive potentially dangerous situations. It's an involuntary reaction to stress and involves a number of physiological changes to prepare you to either:
There's no right or wrong way to behave when it comes to the Human Stress Response nor is it something that you can eliminate. It’s just your body’s natural response, but through paying attention and being more self-aware, one can “reverse” the response - if you will - such as paying attention to how you are feeling and deciding what your next best steps should be instead of simply reacting.
I write about this a little bit in my book Hacking Teacher Burnout on page 32:
With all we have to do as teachers, every day, we sometimes slip into survival mode. And “surviving” the day has become a common statement in our classrooms and schools. When you’re merely surviving, you don’t have the mindset or energy to think about what you might be doing instead. You don’t have the time or energy to think about being proactive. Proactivity takes time, thought, and planning, and our brains are hardwired to do the safest and most conservative thing when faced with hardship or a challenging decision.
That means we often take the easier path when given a choice between two opinions. For instance, when we’re at a crossroads between A) complaining about hardship and settling for things the way things are or B) actively doing something different to change our situation, our brains typically tell us to complain and continue business as usual because it burns fewer calories (a survival mechanism from our ancestors). (p.32)
I want to let you know that this response - this feeling of wanting to run away - is a normal response. Thinking that something is scary or hard or hopeless to the point that you tell yourself, “I want out of here” is okay. What's really important is talking about how we can move through these feelings in a healthy way so that you are setting your future self up for success - and you're setting your students, your administration, your school, your husband, and your family - that you are setting everybody up for success.
Here are a couple of QUICK FIXES that I lean on when things start to feel too overwhelming:
When your to-do list seems like it’s a mile long, it can be hard to determine where to start. Removing things from your list can seem like an impossible task because everything is important - right? But here’s a little food for thought: When everything is important, nothing is…
As much as you may want to, there’s no possible way to complete every task to 100% perfection, that’s just not realistic. And when you start to feel like your plate is too full, that’s a sign telling you that you need to start clearing your plate. I know that there are certain things on my list of to-do’s that are more important than others - there are things that move the needle forward for my students, and then there are things that I have to do and that I sort of rush through doing because they are things that aren’t going to help my students be more successful.
Here’s something I want you to do - I want you to seek support in your school by asking around and seeing what other teachers are doing to take things off of their plate (Also check out Episode 155 where I share 7 things you need to do in order to take things off your plate). Or, if possible, reach out to another teacher on your team or in your grade level and ask if they’d be able to share some of the responsibilities - if possible. Simply sitting down with someone and asking for help or asking them what they would do in a similar situation is the first step in creating long-term results.
Looking for more help to determine your high-priority tasks? Check out my Priority Planner on TpT!
We need to start being honest with ourselves and those around us and have those hard conversations and not be afraid to talk about what it is that we need from one another in order to feel our best.
If you've never set boundaries before and you start to set boundaries, it’s possible that you are going to ruffle some feathers and that's okay. If that happens, it's not about you it's about them. They have gotten comfortable with a certain way of doing things, or not doing things, and you're asking for a change and change is hard. It's through these uncomfortable conversations where you are stating how you feel and asking for what you need we're real change will begin to happen. It might not happen right away, but trust me, it will happen and it's all going to begin and end with you and your decision to do something you've never done before in order to get different results