Healthy Teachers For Healthy Schools

Helpful tips to prevent burnout and promote teacher well-being.

Image(s) licensed by Ingram Publishing

Image(s) licensed by Ingram Publishing


Being a teacher is HARD WORK…I know this because not only did I grow up in a family of teachers, but my husband-to-be is one too!  Kids spend their majority of time at school with their teacher, so it is not difficult to see how such a career that demands patience, compassion, flexibility, creativity, and so much of one’s self on a daily basis, can leave you susceptible to burnout.  In fact, I am reminded of a conversation that I had with a group of teachers during a professional development day, where I learned that antidepressant/anxiety medications made up ~80% of their school board drug claims.

The Stress Response:

Stress, whether it be mental, emotional, or physical in nature is a unique whole body response, capable of affecting any and all of our organ systems.  When stress is acute, it causes changes in our body and hormones  (i.e. increased heart rate and blood pressure, dilated pupils, intestinal muscle relaxation) that can easily be reversed.  It allows us to run from the screaming children, and consequently discuss the consequences of their behaviour in a calm manner.  However, when our bodies are forced to make adaptations to ongoing stressors, this is when burnout and other chronic health conditions (i.e. hormone imbalance, weight gain, exhaustion) occur.

Helpful tips for promoting teacher well-being:

Optimize Nutrition

o    it is important to consume a well-balanced, whole foods diet with adequate protein intake, while minimizing caffeine and sugar consumption.  This will keep you energized and prevent afternoon crashes.

o   Plan ahead – in our household Sunday afternoon food preparation is essential for setting a positive tone for the week.  This ensures that there is always food available for lunches (no skipping meals) and grab-and-go snacks.

o    Stay hydrated – thirst can contribute to fatigue and is often perceived as being hungry.

Commit to Exercise – 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, 5x/week.

o    Talk to your employer about offering walking groups over lunch, or a yoga class after school.  Many school boards (like KPRDSB) offer a ‘Health and Well-Being fund’ to support these initiatives.

Get some sleep – a lack of sleep can contribute to mental health issues, hormonal imbalance, weight gain, and a decreased resiliency to stress.

o    Practice good sleep hygiene by committing to a consistent time to bed and waking. Starting to wind-down and power-off at least 30 minutes before bed, while also ensuring that your bedroom is as dark as possible (or use an eye mask) can help promote sleep.

o    Absolutely no work in the bedroom!

Stress Management is key

o    This includes: time management, organization (planning ahead), and taking a short break every 1-hour if possible.

o    Develop effective coping strategies like: deep breathing, meditation, yoga, and exercise.  School boards also offer extensive EAP (employee assistance program) services that can help.

o    Use your benefits – massage therapy, osteopathy, chiropractic, and a naturopathic medicine.

o    If you’re feeling run-down, take a mental health day or use your vacation to decrease stress and prevent illness before it starts.

Healthy teachers can help promote healthy students and schools.  Lead by example and make your health a priority!

Author: Dr. Kristi Prince, ND

Dr. Kristi Prince, ND is a Naturopathic Doctor in Cobourg with a focus on Family Medicine and Women's Health.  She is also a soon-to-be registered lactation consultant.

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