Is stress addictive? Being addicted to stress is real, and it could be an underlying cause of your burnout. In this episode, I share the mic with Brittan Blackwell where we talk about stress addiction signs and causes and how to stop being addicted to stress.
Let’s dive right into introducing our guest! I met Brittany on Instagram and then followed her on TikTok. I find so much inspiration from teachers like Brittany who are doing the work on themselves, like I am, and who are sharing what they’ve learned with other teachers and are helping to coach teachers through their burnout cycle.
Brittany has a Master's in Education and is an award-winning special educator, podcast host of The Resilient Teacher Podcast, and a teacher resilience strategist from South Carolina with over 10 years of experience in working with elementary and middle school classrooms. Brittany is no stranger to teacher burnout and has a passion for empowering teachers and educational leaders to prioritize their mental health and develop individualized sustainable resilience and recovery plans to reduce stress, prevent burnout and create the life they've always been dreaming about. Britney's digital approach to self-care and resilience through digital planning, vision, planning, and sustainable strategies has reached the homes of 1000s of educators across the world. Also known as “Ms. Princess Teach” on TikTok, Brittany's social media following grew through her fast-paced, lighthearted tutorials and humorous real-life experiences. Brittany helps teachers create their own individualized recovery plan by providing sustainable strategies, personalized coaching, mindset shifting, and digital resources to reduce stress, automate the mundane task of teaching, and prevent overall teacher burnout. Her approach gives support so that educators can maximize fulfillment and effectiveness in their personal and professional lives.
Can you tell why I love her so much? She and I are on similar paths of serving teachers, and I cannot wait to share with you her perspective and her research on being addicted to stress. I was just listening to her talk about it and I'm like, Yep, that's me! I've always known that I'm an anxious person, but I never really considered myself an addict to stress hormones.
In our interview, Brittany will share three ways to determine if stress addiction is keeping you stuck in teacher burnout. She's going to help you to answer the questions of what stress addiction is and how stress addiction occurs in our bodies, the science behind becoming addicted to stress, the signs and symptoms of stress addiction, and of course how to begin breaking the stress addiction cycle.
Amber: Brittany, thank you so much for joining us in The Burned-In Teacher Podcast. I'm so excited to learn more about you and to hear your story.
Brittany: Thank you so much for having me on the podcast!
Amber: Tell us a little bit about you. Who are you as a teacher? And who are you as Brittany outside of the classroom?
Brittany: My name is Brittany Blackwell. I am a special educator, I've been teaching for 11 years and I'm still in the classroom. I actually started in kindergarten, which we were talking about before, and I realized that I could not reach all of the learners in my classroom. I didn't know how to meet those really high fliers and the lower students. So, I went back and I got my Master's Degree in Special Education and got endorsed and gifted and talented. And now I also have my own podcast, The Resilient Teacher Podcast and I am a teacher resilience and retention strategist.
Amber: We have some commonalities! I teach kindergarten, I'm licensed as gifted and talented, and I also work with teachers who are struggling with burnout.
You have such a great way of sharing quick and actionable steps in your TikToks and in your Instagram reels. When I saw them I was like This girl's got it going on. I have to learn more about her and what she does!
So tell us a little about you outside of the classroom.
Brittany: Well, I ended up in a really, really burned-out situation. Let me give you some background. I was not only dealing with burnout inside of the classroom, but I was also dealing with burnout personally. A lot of times teachers will kind of separate the two, but what ends up happening is there's a combination of your outside life and then your work life.
I kind of felt burnout one time before, and then I changed what I was teaching- I went from teaching kindergarten to special education. But the year that my burnout really hit, I was immobile due to a severe fracture in my leg that required surgery, screws, and plates. Also at this time, I just had my second daughter and I was also going through a divorce. And - as luck would have it - I also had my most challenging groups of students to date. They were amazing kids and each was so talented, but they also had some unique challenges. It was the perfect storm. I also had a toxic administration that was breathing down my neck. I felt overall apathetic to everything in life.
When I went to my therapist appointment, my therapist asked me to tell her about myself. And so I said, I'm a teacher, and I'm a mom and I realized I really didn't have an identity outside of that. Over the years, after that moment with my therapist, I got really into learning about brain science, learning about psychology, and self-care, and I started creating things for the general public. I was doing self-care products and things like that. But when we got into pandemic teaching - I was also virtually teaching at the time - I decided that I was going to share what I’m doing on TikTok to try to help other teachers because we are all in this mess together. Over time, I saw how burned out teachers were getting, I saw some of my favorite teacher creators leaving the profession mid-year, and I knew I had to switch what I was doing, and really bring what I had researched for years about to the ear holes of teachers, and let them know they're not alone and tell them what they can do to really be supported. And that's kind of how I started doing Teaching Mind Body and Soul and The Resilient Teacher Podcast.
Amber: How long ago did you start your account? How long ago did you start sharing this information?
Brittany: I started sharing a lot of simplification tips on Tik Tok about two and a half years ago, I started my Tik Tok account probably three years ago, and my following just kind of grew from there. Teaching Mind Body and Soul ended up being a combination of my self-care stuff that I did for the last six years, and just kind of switched it to meet the needs of teachers because I saw how burned out they were and kind of niched it down a little bit.
Amber: I can relate to your story so much. I mean, not your specific situation, because our burnout stories are so deeply personal and so different.
I think you and I are probably both on the exact same page that we can't overgeneralize the steps to overcome that burnout. You can't just say this is what's going to work for everybody because what works for Brittany may not work for Amber because we have different types of burnout, right? I would definitely consider you Burned and Over-It. Listening to your story, you said the word apathetic and right away, I was like, Yep, Burned and Over-It. You were just completely over the negativity, over the apathy, over your administration being down your neck.
Did you have a turning point? I have my rock bottom moment that I'm very open about where I had a very emotional and embarrassing breakdown in front of my teacher friends. Did you have anything like that happen? Was there that rock bottom moment? Or did you just wake up one day where you were like, I have to change something?
Brittany: Well, it was that moment in the therapist's office when she asked me what I could tell her about me, and I really had nothing to tell her. I didn't have any hobbies. I was putting everything into being a mom, but also being a teacher. I had nothing else outside of that. I was not really caring for myself, and so as I went through therapy, my therapist kept telling me things about self-care. And decided I have to go all in and learn all of these things about psychology and find out how I got to this point. I needed to know about my brain and why is my brain putting me in these situations, not just in teaching, but outside of teaching as well.
That really brought me to this breaking point where I don't know who I am - I didn’t have an identity. I think a lot of teachers deal with that and they lose their identity. I mean, that's one of the stages of burnout is losing your identity to your work, and really, that was that moment that I went all in to learning about it and learning about the brain science, the stress cycle, all of those things that really contribute to getting to that point.
Amber: I specifically asked you on the podcast to talk about a topic that I would love to learn more about. I knew about this, but after I heard you talk about it on your podcast, I knew I needed to have you on and explain it in your way. Did you find that you were addicted to stress?
Brittany: Yes, absolutely. And I think I think a lot of people are addicted to stress and they don't even realize it.
Teachers are addicted to stress because they're dealing with a lot of stress day in and day out. Stress is everywhere in education, dealing with students, dealing with parents, coming up with differentiated lesson plans, time constraints for doing paperwork, all of these different things, and what ends up happening in our brains as we experience the stress is that we end up in a state of survival mode. Survival mode includes the release of stress hormones and the activation of our stress response systems and our mind and our body become focused on combating danger. When we think about education, and the pandemic, that really puts us in that frame of mind, and experiencing that “fight or flight” mode, for an extended time period. It's a real thing that occurs with a lot of people and it certainly occurred with me in multiple places, not just in teaching.
Amber: What happened in daily life that helped you just to finally have that realization that you were addicted to stress?
Some of the things that you mentioned were putting yourself in dramatic situations, saying “Yes” to things when you know you should say “No”, and not establishing clear boundaries. Also, believing that story we tell ourselves that, if we aren’t busy, we aren’t doing our job, and feeling guilty or that something is “wrong” when we are not supper stressed out about something?
Do you agree with this?
Brittany: Yes, and one of the symptoms of stress addiction is just feeling bored. When you're not under stress and you're just sitting around, you can't rest and you're feeling like you need to be doing something. You tell yourself, I’ve finished the laundry, but maybe I need to clean the kitchen or scrub the floors. In the classroom, It can look like finishing your lesson plans but then you find something to do that you don’t necessarily have to do and you're continuing to stress yourself out about things that don't have deadlines or things that don't really need to be done.
There are a lot of different ways that stress addiction can show up. For me personally, it was feeling bored unless I was under stress. I could never really sit down and just chill. And to be honest with you, I still do this a little bit, but I catch myself and recognize when I'm doing it too frequently. Enjoying that drama and seeking it out wouldn't be for me necessarily, but even just hanging around somebody who's a negative Nancy. You may not even realize that you're addicted to the stress that it brings you just by hanging out with that person or by going to the teacher's workroom when you're looking for something to do. You're actively seeking out those stressful situations in order to get those same hits of brain chemicals that you're used to getting because you've been in fight or flight for so long.
Amber. Yes, absolutely. Even as you're saying this I recognize that I need to catch myself too. I have always classified it as “I'm just an anxious person” or “I'm a little OCD”. I want things to be done and I want things to be neat. My husband will ask me if I’m okay or if I’m stressed out and I’ll be like Well, I'm awake.
So I know these feelings and it is really sad. Do you feel there's a way out? What strategies can se use to identify that we are addicted to stress?
Brittany: You can identify that you are addicted to stress by recognizing that you’re seeking out those relationships or recognizing that you’re not comfortable just sitting and being and being with yourself. You know, somebody told me one time to meditate - this was a long time ago - and I was like, I can't sit there! What am I supposed to do, I'm thinking about 512 things that I need to be doing. That's, that's really a sign that you're addicted to stress.
There are parts of our brain that cause us to get to that point, for example, it could be a traumatic childhood. I didn't have that personally, but there are people that do have that being in a state of fight or flight for a long period of time like we were in the pandemic. All of these things really set us in motion for our bodies to create cortisol and seek out specific situations because it also then creates dopamine which is a happy chemical. Sometimes it's good to be stressed. Sometimes it helps us get things done. For example, athletes require that stress on their bodies in order to perform. So when we're looking at those things, it's not inherently bad to be stressed. But when it's starting to cause issues, like burnout, that's when it becomes the problem.
Amber: To add to what you were saying about that good stress, you and I have talked about this before, that's a sign that you're doing something important. For me, I love knowing that I'm feeling a little bit of stress, and a little bit of pressure because I know that I'm doing something impactful, I know that what I'm doing is important. I love that kind of stress. And like you said, it's a “good stress”, right? It helps you get things done.
I think too, though, that we can sometimes overcomplicate things without even realizing it. This was something that I did a lot before Burned-In Teacher. Now I look back and I'm like, Oh my gosh, why did I make this thing that could have been so simple, so extremely difficult? I could have so many hours of manual labor to this one system that I had in my classroom, but for what?
Brittany: To get stressed out.
Amber: I have these conversations with my audience about how burnout is not your fault, but it is your responsibility, and until we take responsibility for our next steps, we were not going to make any changes. Do you find it sometimes hard to say that? These are the conversations that really create change. When we realize we can change our mindset, we can raise our self-awareness and we can begin to empower ourselves to make positive changes and to move through that burnout.
Brittany: I completely agree. I think that self-awareness is the most important step in any change that you're going to make. You talk about it in Burned-In Teacher and I talk about it with my individualized educator program. We have to evaluate and become self-aware in order to recognize our strengths, weaknesses, and whether or not we like the situation we’re in. It's like when we create lesson plans, or we do anything for our students, we have to assess the current present-level goals. When we can do that for ourselves, then we can make that change, we can become empowered enough to say, Hey, these are my strengths, I can work on these strengths or This is something I'm really struggling with. Stress addiction can really be one of those things that you realize that’s why you do what you do and that you need to change in order to feel more at peace, more stress-free, and not overcomplicating things in the classroom.
Amber: Is there anything you would suggest to teachers who are having this realization as they're reflecting on situations they put themselves in? What else do you think they could do to help them to move through this addiction?
Brittany: I don't think that every situation is going to be the same, it has to be individualized and something different for everybody. So if it's writing in a journal, or talking to yourself - I talk to myself and I may look like a crazy lady but it works for me - and ask yourself and reflecting on these questions:
Gaining clarity on these things will allow you to make that change and say, Hmm, there's a problem and decide to take action to change it.
Writing your thoughts down, talking to yourself out loud, talking to somebody that you care about, or a therapist, which I'm a huge proponent of, or having a burnout coach or resilience strategist, or whatever is important when you are reflecting. In doing so you make yourself more aware of these things.
Amber: Isn’t it interesting! I love this. When we get things out of our heads and onto paper it creates the clarity that we need to see that things aren’t that bad. And if they are that bad, then we can then begin to categorize and start to really think through what our next step is, and prioritize. I know that a lot of teachers say, I don't have time to sit down and write down my thoughts. I don't have time to sit down and write about my feelings, but it’s not about creating this unique euphoric moment. It's sitting down and brain-dumping all of the things in your head out on paper. It only takes 30 seconds to write down every single worry that you have, and once you're finished with that if you cross out everything that you don't have control over and you're left with very little things and that worry starts to go away.
One thing that you said in your podcast episode, it's something you even brought up now, is that addiction to stress can stem from childhood trauma, the way you were brought up. That really resonated with me because it helps me to empathize with some of my student's behavior. They are acting with that human stress response - that fight or flight all the time - because they are growing up in a home where there's constant stress and constant unpredictability. And for me, that really, that really hit me in my heart. The kids right now that come in are addicted to stress and they don't even really know what stress is, but they’ve felt it their whole lives. It's all that they're used to. It really becomes an opportunity for us to really coach them through and teach them those coping mechanisms, the self-regulation strategies, and those are good for us too.
Brittany: Yes, SEL is not just for our students. Some have made it seem if you just do your one lesson a week, then you’re teaching SEL, but really SEL is a lifelong path. It is about students and it’s about teachers. Some of us don’t have coping skills and we’ve got to a point where we're so burned out that we've lost them. But when teachers apply SEL strategies to their own lives, we can start to really make changes with our students. If we're not doing that, then we can't really teach them.
Amber: 100%! We have to take care of our teachers so that our teachers can take care of our kids. There's that inward ripple effect. When administration takes care of their teachers, the teachers feel better equipped to take care of the students. Just it comes around full circle.
Brittany, is there anything else that you'd like to share with us this evening? Would you tell us about Teaching Mind Body and Soul?
Brittany: I have a podcast that’s available on all podcasting platforms. Even if you're listening to Amber, we have very different perspectives and different ways of talking about things.
Also, Teaching Mind Body and Soul is a resilience and retention strategy agency where I work with teachers, I work with schools, and I work with districts to really find a way to remind teachers that they already are resilient.
I have different things that I offer. The Individualized Educare Program is the program that I have and it really focuses on individualizing a recovery plan for burnout. I also have a freebie, which would be great for anybody feeling super stressed out. It is a Breathwork Guide for Burnout Recovery. Even if it sounds silly, it's the easiest thing you can start to implement today that you don't have to think about. It gives you a few different ways to use breathwork to reduce stress and recover from burnout.
Amber: That is also something you can use with your students!
Brittany, thank you so much for joining us today. Tell people how they can find you.
Brittany: I am on Instagram (@teachingmindbodyandsoul) and I'm also on TikTok (@MsPrincessTeach).
Amber: Thank you so much for your time today! I hope you have a great holiday with your family and good luck getting through the holidays with your students. I know it's a crazy time of year and we can definitely use the strategies that you taught us today about breaking that cycle and addiction rather to stress.
Brittany Blackwell, M.Ed. is an award-winning special educator, podcast host of "The Resilient Teacher Podcast", and teacher resilience strategist from South Carolina with over ten years of experience working with elementary and middle school classrooms. Brittany is no stranger to teacher burnout and has a passion for empowering teachers and educational leaders to prioritize their mental health and develop individualized sustainable resilience & recovery plans to reduce stress, prevent burnout, and create the life you’ve been dreaming about! Brittany's digital approach to self-care and resilience through digital planning, vision planning, and sustainable strategies has reached the homes of thousands of educators across the world. Also known as "MsPrincessTeach" on Tiktok, Brittany's social media following grew through her fast-paced, lighthearted tutorials and humorous real-life experiences. Brittany helps teachers create their own Individualized Recovery Plan by providing sustainable strategies, personalized coaching, mindset shifting, and digital resources to reduce stress, automate the mundane tasks of teaching, and prevent overall teacher burnout. Her approach gives support so that educators can maximize fulfillment and effectiveness in their personal and professional lives.