5 Ways Private School Principals Fight Stress

5 Ways Private School Principals Fight Stress

Being a principal can be a very stressful job. 

You put in long days, including evening and weekend hours. You are responsible for the wellbeing of hundreds of students, each of which has their own particular set of needs. 

Add to that a mountain of paperwork and meetings, queries and complaints from parents, playground and lunchtime duties and you end up with the responsibilities of a small corporation.

Because of all this, the potential for large amounts of stress and burnout is high.

Apart from the palpable physical discomfort that stress produces, there are additional unwanted effects that can affect your work and life quality. The most disruptive is the decrease in the ability to stay alert and to concentrate as well as various degrees of impairment in overall cognitive function.

By now you’re probably aware that stress is unavoidable and a consistent part of the job.

However, with a couple of simple workplace tweaks you can greatly reduce most of your stress.

Below is a list of the top 5 recommendations from other principals across the country on overcoming daily work stress.

Take a walk

Principal Taking a Walk

“When I encounter stressful situations, I go for a walk and enjoy nature.”Principal Maureen McNeely

Going for a walk is one of the easiest and most effective ways to relieve stress. There are numerous anecdotal stories and studies that demonstrate its effectiveness. This works through a myriad of beneficial effects that occur as a result of going for a midday stroll. 

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    For one, there is the well-known effect that physical activity tends to produce stress-reducing endorphins. Additionally, you have a circulation uptake that movement produces in the body which helps energize the brain. 

    And when you go outside, apart from the benefits of fresh air, there are the well studied calming and relaxing effects that the outdoors tend to have on people. 

    “I like to take in nature in all its beauty. The clean, fresh air is stimulating and refreshing at the same time.”Principal Michelle Gayle

    Lastly, let’s not forget about the beneficial impact on cognitive ability. 

    Stories from prolific writers, entrepreneurs and scientists always include the habit of walking.

    For example here is what the famous Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard discovered about taking daily walks:

    “Above all, do not lose your desire to walk: every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness; I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.”

    And the best part of it all is that you can get many of these benefits with only 10 minutes of walking per day.

    Action Plan: Schedule 10-15 minutes around lunchtime to take a walk outside. 

    Start an exercise habit

    “I find that after working up a sweat for awhile, I end up feeling calm and relaxed.”Principal Nina Newlin

    The human body has evolved to need physical effort in order to function optimally. However, the daily reality for many school principals involves a lot of sitting and sedentary work. 

    And this lack of movement tends to exhaust and stress the body (lower back pain, stiffness, poor posture) and the mind (brain fog, poor mood, mental fatigue) so much so that sitting has been deemed a health risk comparable to smoking. 

    Doing just a couple of weekly exercise sessions has been shown to offset the health risks associated with a sedentary lifestyle. As an added bonus, it also provides a boost in energy & mood while releasing much of the accumulated stress. 

    “I [took up running] to improve my cardio-vascular health, but I found out that it relieved stress more than anything else. I am now an avid runner.”Principal Lee Yeager

    Action Plan: Every Sunday evening schedule 3 physical activity sessions of 45 minutes for the upcoming week.

    This could be something easy such as brisk walks or proper high-intensity workouts and gym sessions. 

    Schedule time for reading


    While routines are helpful and can lead to increased productivity, they can also become boring and lead to a nascent apathy for your work which can result in additional stress.

    There is, however, an easy way to introduce novelty and excitement within your routine. Simply create a daily reading habit.

    “I love books of every kind, but my favorite stress reliever is to read a murder mystery.”Principal Nina Newlin

    A good book, whether fiction or non-fiction, can produce a wonderful cascade of excitement and positive emotions. This can be enough to stimulate the imagination, generate new ideas and galvanize you for the rest of the day, recharging you and relieving some of the stress build-up. 

    All you have to do is schedule strategic reading times during periods where you need a spark of imagination and excitement. The best times are usually in the morning or just after lunchtime. 

    Action Plan:  Schedule 20-30min for reading at the start of your workday or just after lunch to stimulate your mind.

    Create a calming environment

    Music has a unique ability to affect our emotions through sound. 

    Therefore, adding a calming low volume soundtrack as background noise in your office can not only keep you in a calm and pleasurable mood all day but it can also have an effect on those that enter your office, reducing the likelihood of stressful communication events. 

    “I have the same station playing at low volume in my office, where it does wonders for reducing angst and stress in anyone who might enter. Even irate parents seem to be a bit calmer when the music is on”Principal David Christensen

    Some of the best sounds to play in order to achieve such a soothing effect seem to be classical music, jazz or nature sounds. 

    Furthermore, stimulating multiple senses towards relaxation is a great strategy to mitigate stress buildup. 

    Alongside, the sound component, adding green plants and paintings or photos to your office can add a visual component. Installing softer, yellow or orange lights, as opposed to the standard neon white can help further.

    And you can even add an olfactory component by installing an oil diffuser with drops of various essential oils such as lavender which has been shown to help reduce stress. 

    Action Plan: Bring a radio or a Bluetooth speaker and play some classical music at a low volume from your local radio station or phone/computer playlist.

    Additionally, you can experiment with adding some of the other stress-reducing stimuli to your office. 

    Get a new perspective 


    Sometimes all that is needed to alleviate stress is a change in perspective. An easy way for any principal to do this is by simply spending some non-teaching time with the students. 

    “Hanging out in a classroom offers a wonderful perspective and can change my thinking. When I eat lunch with the students, I have a great time talking with them — and my secretary can’t find me!”Principal Brenda Hedden

    Let’s face it, being a principal generates unique challenges and stressful moments that aren’t always understood by those outside academia. Having a group of peers that you can turn to for advice and support can be incredibly beneficial for both your career and your stress levels.

    “To reduce stress, I talk — or network — with other principals.”  Principal Paul Young

    Action Plan: Schedule a half-day once a month to get out of the office and spend it talking to students.

    Additionally, you can also look to join events in your local school network or simply reach out to local school principals and invite them out to a social event.

    Final thoughts

    Stress is a very large problem in the 21st century and stress management has become an integral part of protecting one’s health and performance output. 

    Make sure to bookmark this article and use it as a reminder resource whenever you feel an overwhelming accumulation of stress.

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