Saturday, March 15, 2008

Teacher Stress Relief: Spring Break Edition

If you're reading this, and currently on your Spring Break, I am going to assume you aren't traveling anywhere exotic this week. Of course, for many hardworking, underpaid teachers, there's no choice in the matter, due to what my mother would call a severe case of fundsalow. Still more of us want quality time with our families (which, according to my students, consists of 5 wives and 20 children). If you're like me, you're spending your break at home because you too tired or stressed to do anything else. This may be somewhat depressing.

Don't fret, homebound revelers: there is still stress relief to be had without much expense or travel.

Step 1: Stop reading this post immediately and GO OUTSIDE!

I don't think you don't understand quite how pale and unhealthy you look right now. Most teachers I know don't get nearly enough sunlight, fresh air, or exercise; they're stuck in windowless caverns and rarely if ever have the opportunity to walk outside (let alone leave campus) while the sun's still up.

More sunlight benefits you physically and helps ward off depression. More importantly, getting outside gives you a great opportunity to get some exercise and play with your family and friends, the benefits of which are immeasurable. So while I can't blame you for wanting to peruse the high quality articles here on I Want to Teach Forever, you need to get out from behind the computer and spend at least part of this break outdoors.

Step 2: Engage in small-scale adventures.

When I first started teaching at age 21, I had no trouble hopping on planes or driving for 4-7 hours to the nearest major city (unavoidable due to my location in south Texas). My youthful exuberance and newfound financial and physical independence made this easy. As my responsibilities have grown exponentially with my age, so has my desire to do as little as possible during breaks.

So what's the alternative? Explore locally. Visit the restaurants, museums, parks or outdoor markets you've been wanting to go to but haven't had the time. Go for a "Sunday drive" to areas of town you've wanted to explore. Get the Friday edition of your local newspaper and find the list of special events and articles about new places and things to do. You might be thinking, "there's no rush for me to do anything, I'm not going anywhere." I used to have this same line of thinking when I was in college, and thus didn't take full advantage of my proximity to New York City, Philadelphia or the Jersey Shore. I regret it every day.

Another option is to bring your desired destination to you. Start by looking up recipes of the cuisines you will eventually be eating and cook them at home. After dinner, watch a movie that romanticizes the place you want to go (think Woody Allen's Manhattan before an NYC trip) or check out an offbeat, interesting travel or history book from the library (think Bill Bryson's Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe before backpacking the continent). You'll build more anticipation for your future travels, making it all the more fulfilling when you get to do it. Of course, you can also use some of this time to do some research and plan the perfect trip for the time you really can do it: in the summer. Here are my recommended sites for travel planning:
  • FareCompare - Track changes in fares and thus be able to buy at the lowest rate possible.
  • Kayak - A travel metasearch engine, Kayak searches all of the airline websites and the other travel sites like Orbitz and Expedia at the same time.
  • TripAdvisor - I've found they have the most up to date and comprehensive user reviews of hotels and other lodging. If you're really savvy, you can figure out exactly what hotel Hotwire is offering you by comparing the ratings and information with TripAdvisor.
  • Lonely Planet - My favorite series of travel guides has a good online companion with descriptions and reviews of things to do and how to do them.
Step 3: Take advantage of the changes in your local public library.

Libraries, even small town ones, are keeping up with the times much more than you may think. Most have CDs and DVDs to supplement ample book, magazine and newspaper selections. Some even subscribe to Netflix! They also have internet access (sometimes wireless) and are usually one of the most quiet, calm places you can find in town. What a great place to read, write or create. While you're there, look for a calendar of speakers, workshops and events to attend (usually free) and maybe even clear out some space at home by donating unwanted books. It's there, your taxes pay for it, why not take full advantage of it?

Step 4: Engross yourself in your hobby.

This is the time to work on your long-neglected projects. For me, it's this website and promoting my book, which while unfortunately still work-related are my passion and outlet. I also write non-teaching related articles for other websites I'm interested in, which helps give more of the separation from work I often need. Of course, your hobby may be radically different, but since you have a few days, you can make some serious progress on whatever you're working on. Indeed, you could start something new, content with the knowledge that even if you don't finish, summer is not that far away. The idea here is to do something you love and recharge those proverbial batteries.

Step 5: Most importantly, SLEEP!

Speaking of long-neglected things, how about a good night's sleep? If you've been stressed and/or depressed recently, lack of sleep may be a primary cause. All of your systems recharge at night, but it's really your brain that needs that deep REM sleep in order to process all of the information it's received that day. If you don't sleep well, your memory, concentration and mood are all adversely affected. If you've got the time but are having trouble getting on track, try these 10 tips from the Irish Independent.

Ironically, I am finishing up this article at 2 am, because I had coffee after dinner tonight. Talk about taking your own advice, huh? Luckily I am off the hook, because since I'm no longer on Spring Break, I'm free to return to the self-destructive routine of the typical classroom teacher.