How Teachers Can Avoid Burnout

Stress is a universal concept all teachers relate to as they teeter on the edge of burnout.  Stress is the body’s way  of responding to any kind of demand, both positive and negative (Understanding and Dealing with Stress, n.d.)  In more practical terms, Meredith (2001) says

stress is the uncomfortable gap between
how we would like our life to be and how it actually is.

As the research and statistics indicate, almost everyone experiences stress at home and at work.  Too often, people respond to stress negatively, internalizing anxiety and developing unhealthy behaviors such as smoking, drinking or sleeping excessively.  Excessive negative stress can lead to burnout.  Our lives become filled with anxiety and fear, frustration, depression, and anger.

Hans Selye, often called the father of “Stress identification,” first coined the expression “stress syndrome,” blaming “noxious agents” for the physiological and psychological changes that many people manifested when placed under “stressful” conditions (1956).   He wasn’t far from wrong since today scientists have proven that cortisol and adrenaline, as well as a host of other hormones, are produced when one is under a stressed condition.  These excessive hormones can create much imbalance in the body and mind.  Stress affects the emotions and emotional stress influences physical health.  One cannot separate the mind and body, hence the holistic field of mind-body medicine, sometimes called Complementary medicine.

Since almost anything in our lives can lead to a stress reaction, the question then becomes how we can manage it. There are many approaches to reducing stress; some take time and practice, while others can be done immediately.  In all cases, seek positive methods for handling stress or job burnout.

Strategies For Reducing Stress

  1. Join a yoga class at the local gym.
  2. Talk to someone you trust about your situation.
  3. Learn to manage time more effectively.
  4. Say “no” sometimes (decide what you can realistically accomplish in a given amount of time.)
  5. Do something for yourself (whether that means tackling the novel you always wanted to write or taking up knitting).
  6. Drink lots of water and eat healthy foods instead of overindulging in junk food or sodas.

More Simple Strategies
Sometimes, the simplest technique can bring immediate relaxing results:

  1. Listen to soothing music.
  2. Dance.
  3. Take a bubble bath.
  4. Use aromatherapy–the smell of oranges can instantly brighten your mood, and lavender relaxes.

We can all find ways to make our lives less stressful and more satisfying. That may mean taking time on the weekends to enjoy a long walk with your dog, catching the latest “chick flick” with some friends, or deciding to get away with your spouse for a couple of days without the kids. A little time away from hectic grading and posting on discussion boards can rejuvenate the mind, body, and soul, doing ourselves (and our students!) a service. Stress is nearly impossible to avoid, but we can conquer it.

Share your own strategies for alleviating stress and avoiding burnout! The same techniques will not work for everyone, but who knows? You may have found the magic potion that will soothe a colleague’s stress.

By Stephanie Thompson and Ellen Manning


Meredith, M. (2001).  What is Stress?  Retrieved March 18, 2008, from Meredith BSc (Physiol) MA PhD, Physiologist – Stress ManagementHealer – LifeSkills Coach Web site:

Selye, H. (1956). The Stress of Life [Digital Edition]. New York: McGraw-Hill. 

Understanding and Dealing with Stress. (n.d.) Mountain State Centers for Independent Living.  Retrieved from

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