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When Teacher Stress Meets Holiday Stress: Making the Most of Your Winter Break

I didn’t realize how tired I was from teaching this year until…everything stopped. The routine, the schedule, the countdown to Winter Break. Once I put on the brakes - crash! Until the “car” or life stops moving as its usual pace, you don’t realize how fast you're going.

holiday teacher stress help

Sound familiar? Just wanted to let you know that if you’re starting into a haze (or the television) and it seems like a monumental task to remember what day it is or to turn on the dishwasher, you aren’t alone. The end of the semester for schools usually signals the start of a break from school for teachers and students - but that doesn't mean the stress from the classroom and stress from the holidays have you feeling full of cheer.

Want to listen to this message instead of read? You can hear the audio version in my podcast or click the Mp3 below.

The holidays bring as much good tidings as they do great stress. This time of the year is not joyous for a lot of people. And when you are in a school all day managing the emotions of very hyped-for-the-holidays children as well as your own, it just compounds the the sad. You can lose yourself in the holiday hoopla at school and even let it drown out your own feelings for a bit…but all those emotions, all of the things you carry around with you personally that you have to shove down all day (along with your lunch)…they don’t go away. And they’re there staring you in the face after the 25th (or whatever holiday you celebrate this time of year). 

podcast exhausted teacher holiday break

As I’ve mentioned before, our identities are very intertwined with our jobs as teachers because so much of what we do is emotional - and many elements of teacherhood spill into life after students go home for the day. And then…we get what we’ve been waiting for. A week, maybe even two, off and away from it all.

Except now, you’re going to navigate the family stuff, the personal stuff, the social stuff that not just comes with the holidays but from being a human being.

Getting through the holiday teacher stress can feel like a monumental task when your body and soul is begging for a break.

Personally, I’m relieved when the 25th has passed. Christmas, and the holiday season, brings up a lot of sad, stressful memories. Once it’s over, I can put the year that’s coming to an end into perspective and use the remaining days of the year to adult - not that I don’t adult any other time. But adulting without the attention that I give to teaching and students is different, more focused…and, do I dare say, more difficult? Just certain things that normally run in the background are now front and center, for one week only - except for still feeling in recoil from finishing the first semester. 

holiday stress teacher tips

All that to say…this week, holiday break, winter break, Christmas Break, whatever you call it, is not about to do lists. It’s a time to heal and feel. Because whatever you struggle with during the holidays -  grief, depression, angst from your family situation - it’s like a wound that gets opened every December. And it takes some time, away from the hoopla, to recover from it. And…no one can tell you how to grieve, how to recover. This is a week to focus on your health, your family, and you. 

But that’s not to forget that we’ve got to go back to school in a week or so. And there’s no denying that school, teaching and all it entails has contributed to that numb and fried feeling that you have as you try to motivate yourself to be productive (reminder: resting can be productive). 

teacher stress around the holidays

To stay motivated and keep afloat through the stress during the holiday season and as a teacher, I focus on two things.

First, it helps me to think of the school year in halves. So when we return in January, it’s part two. New year, new half of a school year. With the rush as the first part of the year over, part two can be a chance to review and rethink things that aren’t working. Also, thinking of it as a fresh start of sorts helps as we enter the winter months when the days are short, dark, and cold (as least where I live it’s cold). Seasonal Affective Disorder is for real and the motivation to improve and try new things personally helps me get to spring. 

Even if you aren’t religious, now is a good time to think about the Serenity Prayer written by Reinhold Niebuhr as we go into a new calendar year and a new semester of school. It reads, “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

I’m going to go for the elephant in the room and say that there are many teachers in this current era of education wondering how long they can continue to stay in the classroom. Right before a break, student behaviors are off the charts. In addition to being kids excited for the holidays, what ever trauma and emotions they are processing is showing itself in full force - and dealing with that, in addition to your own life, in addition to all the demands placed on teachers to begin with - I believe you if you feel you have blown a fuse or two. 

tips for holiday teacher stress

It’s difficult to love something that causes you insurmountable stress. The holidays amplify that. 

Back to that Serenity Prayer. Accept the things I cannot change. There are things we have little control over other than to speak out and voice our perspective (I won’t call it opinion because that to me is solution less statement). Chances are, there’s a student or two (or many more) that will still be or will be entering your classroom trying your patience. I bet there’s going to be at least one more thing you have to document - if not, those same things will be waiting for you when you return. I mean, report cards have to come out sometime soon. 

The rocks in the road will be there, but you don’t have to trip on them. We’ll talk more about this in season four. 

Courage to change the things I can. There are things we can all do better. There are things we can do differently. Coming back in January for a new semester gives us the opportunity to start fresh, reteach routines, and try another approach. 

help for stressed teachers during the holidays

I’m not just talking about the classroom. There are things we can work on in our lives outside of teaching that won’t just help us during the school day, but will help us be healthier and happier.

Here are some resources to help you get through the stress of the holiday season and the stress you encounter as a teacher:

First is this blog post on Setting Goals and Boundaries for the New Year. There are resources and links in this episode that you can use over your break to think about what you want to do differently in the new year.

The second is a project I worked on with TeacherVision last December (I’m a little late to the party with sharing it). TeacherVision is a website with webinars for teachers on a range of topics, and last year I was a part of helping to create a free series on teacher self care. You can watch the webinar or read the accompanying article at the link in the show notes. 

And the last part of the Serenity Prayer, “The wisdom to know the difference.” You are wiser and more capable than you realize. Sometimes, what we know isn’t what we want to act upon, because acting on what we can change or making choices based on what’s not going to go away is more than our mental load can bear. You deserve to be happy and fulfilled. Only you know what that means for you. 

real talk for holiday teacher stress

If you are feeling drained by this season in life and teaching, I wish for you to have the wisdom and the courage to make the choices that will bring you peace. We all have something valuable to contribute to this world. It’s next to impossible to bring our best to the classroom and to life when we’re living in a state of distress and disarray. With the time you have away from school this week, I encourage you to let yourself heal and recover from the past year - so you have the energy and wisdom for the decisions you’ll have to make in the year ahead.

The start of a new year is a great time to review and establish routines and expectations. Did you get your FREE copy of  The Great 88: Rules, Routines, and Expectations to Go Over and Over? It's a free checklist of ALL the classroom management things you need for back to school season, during and after the holidays or any time your classroom needs a reset. Get your copy below!


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