Coping Strategies for Teacher Stress

by | Oct 25, 2020 | Time Out For You

By Susan Jerrell, TOFT Founder

What is your coping strategy for stress? Are you a denier, a complainer, or a problem solver? Do you face stress head on, overreact and dramatize stress, or let it build until you feel ready to explode?

The coping strategies for stress that you incorporate into your life can make a huge difference in your overall well being and how you face each teaching day. 

Which of these situations sounds like you?

Your administrator has told you that a parent complained about a lesson that you taught in class. The parent has threatened to go to the school board yet they have not talked to you. 

Do you:

  1. Immediately worry that your job is in jeopardy. You plan a dialogue for the situation in your head, but know you will not contact the parent?
  2. Get angry and tell the principal the parent is being ridiculous and angrily respond to the parent with an email?
  3. Grab your colleagues to vent with and talk about how unfairly you are being treated?
  4. Ask the principal to invite the parents in for a meeting to discuss their concerns? You make a list of the reasons why you used the assignment and come up with an alternative assignment for their child.

If you are like many people, your coping strategies for stress may change and evolve based on the situation. It is even possible that you chose all of the above in the scenario described. 

This coping continuum may go from denial to action with many stopping spots in between including: denial, avoidance, anger, emotional distancing, acceptance, social support, problem-solving, and action.

For example, if you have a particularly difficult parent to deal with you may try social distancing, avoid dealing with the person or deny the problem exists. If this does not change the situation, you may seek social support and express your anger or frustration. This may lead to acceptance of the situation which will then prompt you to seek a solution to the problem and thus relieve the stress.

Which coping style do you use?

Two common types of coping styles (coined by Richard Lazurus and Susan Folkman, 1984) include problem-focus and emotion-focus. Problem-focus involves trying to assess the situation and finding a solution to the stress, whereas emotion-focus involves trying to manage the emotional response to a stressful situation. 

Some situations can be dealt with using a problem-focus response while others may not have an actual solution and will best be dealt with through an emotion-focus response.

Often, a combination of these styles may be the best answer for handling stress. 

For example, if you have a student who is constantly disrupting class and causing you stress you may employ both of these styles. You may first analyze the problem and plan a series of steps that may lead to a solution that will decrease the stress this situation is causing. In the meantime, you may also focus on the immediate emotional aspect of the stress and manage your response by taking a walk, doing deep breathing exercises, listening to calming music or talking with a friend.

Assess the stressful situation logically

As hard as it may be when you feel extremely stressed, one of the first things you need to do is try to think logically about the situation. 

Ask yourself:

  • Why am I feeling this stress?
  • Can I control this situation?
  • Is this a short term or long term stressor?
  • What can I do about it?

When you ask yourself “Why am I feeling this stress” it allows you to step back from the immediate situation and analyze its cause. You can figure out if it is because you have already had a bad day, if you are too busy, if you didn’t get enough sleep, if someone is asking too much of you, etc. 

Assessing the situation helps put the stress into perspective. For example, if you only got a few hours of sleep and you already have a long list of things to do, it may put you over the edge when an administrator schedules a last minute meeting after school.

Once you figure out why you are feeling stress, the next step you can take is to ask “Can I control this situation?” For stressful situations within your control you can come up with a solution and take the necessary steps to improve the stress. If a situation is out of your control, you can then determine how you will deal with the stress it is causing.

Another important question to ask is “Is this a short term or long term stressor?” For example, if you’ve been asked to miss your prep period to watch someone else’s class, that causes immediate stress because you lose time to complete tasks you need to do. This is a short term stressor that won’t cause undue stress in the long run. However, if you are moved from teaching kindergarten and placed into a 5th grade position the week before school starts, that is a long term stressor that could last the school year because your entire teaching life has been upended. 

Realizing that some of the stresses you may be feeling are short term can be a relief. Try using the rule of 5. Ask yourself, “Will this matter 5 years from now, 5 months from now, 5 weeks from now, 5 days from now, 5 hours from now, 5 minutes from now?” 

The less important it is in the grand scheme of life, the quicker you can dismiss it and go about your day so you can deal with the ones that really matter– those long term stressors.

The last question to ask yourself is “What can I do about it?” If there is a solution, then it is worth the time figuring out the answer. If there is not, then you can formulate a way to cope with it. For example, if you are stressed because you have 70 research papers to grade, you can break this down into manageable chunks and grade a few a day instead of stressing over the entireThe next section will discuss coping strategies you can use to help you deal with stress.

Coping strategies for stress you can start now

There are an abundance of coping theories that have been studied and explained. Many psychologists agree that coping mechanisms fall into three basic categories:

  • A support system
  • Relaxation
  • Physical Wellness

Choosing your support system

Sometimes the best medicine for stress is a friendly ear. Whether it is a colleague, spouse, or friend, having someone who will listen and empathize soothes the soul. A supportive person can help you decompress, see things from a different perspective, and evaluate the situation. 

When you think about your support system, look for someone who has your back and truly wants the best for you. You may also want to find someone who is the yin to your yang.

If you tend to overreact or get upset, finding someone who remains calm and rational may be a good choice to counterbalance your emotions. 

When you are a person who tends to react with anger and immediate action, a person who will encourage you to take some time and calm down before you react will be more beneficial than someone who will encourage you to march down to the principal’s office and give her a piece of your mind. 

Likewise, if you tend to internalize your stress and let it build inside, a more proactive support system may be what you need.

A word of caution: if your support system makes you feel worse after talking to them, that is not a support system. Find someone else to talk to. Professionals may also be the answer if you find yourself not dealing well with your stress.

Find ways to relax

Incorporating relaxation into your life daily is a great way to condition your mind and body to stay calm when stress rears its ugly head. Breathing relaxation techniques, meditation, music therapy, and progressive muscle relaxation all help develop a state of calm. There are multiple, free options online to help you with developing these techniques.

Relaxation can also involve spending time doing what makes you feel in a state of calm. This can be a hobby, a quiet time of journaling, hugging your pet, a long bath at the end of the day, time playing a musical instrument or creating art. The options are endless, but the goal is to feel the worries and stress melt away.

Check out this article to find out how to create your own relaxation room.

Take care of your physical wellness

This can involve things like eating a healthy diet and getting a good night’s rest. But it also means doing something that involves physical activity to get the endorphins and circulatory system going. 

Taking a brisk walk, going for a run, yoga, exercise, riding a bike, a game of catch with your dog, a horseback ride, or any number of physical movement activity will increase your health and also help you deal with stress.

Coping responses to avoid

Total denial of stressors in your life can lead to increased health issues including trouble sleeping, irritability, increased alcohol use, and headaches. Long term denial will not decrease the stress or improve your situation. So, even though it may feel good for a minute to ignore the stress, it will still be there and in the meantime, you are damaging your health as well.

Seeking comfort from external sources like food, alcohol, binge watching, gambling, or other escapism techniques often turn into self-destructive behaviors that mask problems that do not go away. Treating yourself to a glass of wine or an ice cream cone once in a while can be a quick pick me up, but turning to these external sources as a solution to your problems is ineffective.

Ignoring personal interactions can be another coping mechanism but total isolation tends to magnify your problems. We all need time to ourselves and that is healthy, but if you find yourself avoiding people and situations you used to enjoy, it’s time to evaluate your responses.

Avoidance coping is counterproductive and actually increases the stress. Procrastination is one of most frequently used avoidance coping ploys. This does not solve the problem and often causes it to grow which in turn increases the stress. Learning to manage your time more effectively could be a less stress inducing solution than putting off the inevitable


Stress is unavoidable. As a teacher, you deal with it on a daily basis, if not multiple times a day. The stress coping strategies that you choose to implement into your life can make a huge difference in your overall well being. Choose wisely. 

Download your free Teacher Self Care Toolkit

For related articles check out:

Coping with Stress During the Pandemic

5 Ways to Relieve Stress

Why Self-Care Is Important This School Year


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Susan Jerrell, TOFT Founder


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