117 – Strategies to Stay Calm During the Chaos


In this episode, Daphne shares how teachers can stay calm when chaos in the classroom and career transition stress builds up.

Listen to the episode in the podcast player below, or find it on Apple Podcast or Spotify.

Strategies to Stay Calm During the Chaos


A career change can be an extremely stressful process, especially a career change from teaching. With most jobs outside of teaching people who are unhappy are able to apply to jobs year round. They often are able to evaluate companies and offers often without even their bosses knowing, and they have a little bit of time and space to make a well-informed decision on whether or not to take a job. And if they do choose to leave that job after a couple of years time, and they give that two weeks notice, and they end on good terms, no one’s going to threaten to revoke their license or blacklist them from ever returning to the industry altogether.

But even then, even in that situation, it is still really hard and scary. Think of any of your friends or loved ones that have gone through a similar process and how worried and overwhelmed they were. Well, on top of all of that stress teachers have to worry about getting a job between this teeny tiny window of time if they don’t plan to break their teaching contract. There’s end of year testing, there’s extreme student behaviors, there’s politicization of the career, there’s feelings of unsafety at work, there’s guilt, and there’s all of this end-of-they-ear paperwork piled on top of you actually trying to change your job right now. So when all of these stressors start to build up, it’s obvious why so many people feel overwhelmed during this process.

Our bodies and our brains are connected, and when we feel heightened and escalated, it’s harder to see things clearly. Our bodies and brains are connected, and when we feel heightened and escalated like this, it’s harder to see things clearly. Your possibilities may feel smaller than they truly are, and you may have a harder time finding that inner wisdom that you usually have to figure out what you should do. You may have a lot of fear forecasting going on right now. Maybe there’s a voice inside of your head telling you that everything is impossible and there’s no reason that you should put in time, or energy, or emotion, into this particular project. But you know that that’s not true.

There are teachers who are leaving the profession in the exact same situation that you’re in and they’re able to overcome these obstacles. And if you’re still listening right now, you probably know in your heart that that is what you want. You don’t want to give up. And that’s why in this episode we’ll go over some of the strategies to help you stay calm through your application season when your feelings are big, and stress is really escalated, and you’re probably feeling very overwhelmed. And I’m going to be honest with you, this was personal homework from my therapist this week. But I felt like it was really good timing and I wanted to relay some of my findings and my takeaways back to you.

Just as a reminder, this podcast is never a cure-all and it’s not going to be a substitute for seeing a mental health professional. But for those of you who are listening, I do hope that you can find this episode supportive for the stage that you may be in right now. Now first, let’s go into some of the causes, the why, and the what, and how this shows up in our body. Feeling overwhelmed is common in big transition phases of your life, especially in situations where you’re not really in control. We talked about focusing on what’s in your control in the job search back in Episode 94 of this podcast. If you haven’t listened to that one, I always recommend that you go back and do so after you listen to this episode, but I know focusing on what’s within your control is way easier said than done.

Daphne shares how she has faced overwhelm in her personal life

For the last year I’ve been spending far too much time in these trying to conceive or pregnancy forums and I see the helplessness in other people trying to figure out this magic ticket to make it work for them. And I’ve felt that same hopelessness at times. There are going to be times in your life that you just have to trust the process and be patient. But it is always going to be really hard and overwhelming when you’re not calling the shots of the timeline. Also in this situation, you’re probably feeling so overwhelmed because there’s a sense of loss. Maybe it’s potentially the security that you thought you had that the timeline was going to work out less messy.

Now you’re starting to have to make bigger decisions, potentially scary decisions, like walking out midyear. If you haven’t listened to Episode 52 of this podcast, it is all about weighing the pros and cons of breaking your teaching contract. And many people don’t consider that as an option until they are put in this really uncomfortable situation of needing the job security lined up. So if that is where you’re at, I also recommend you write down Episode 52 and listen to that after you’ve finished this podcast. Now, this can feel completely different for different people or at different times in your life. Some people go high or low. High may feel like this nonstop pressure to constantly be productive.

Your brain is like, “Move, move, move. There’s a fire. There’s a fire. There’s a fire. Here’s all your to-do lists.” Or you might get huge, and mad, and elevated. Where low may be shutting down, feeling lethargic, giving up altogether, procrastinating, not wanting to move forward. I personally bounce between both, but I end up going high more than I go low. And this could be a trauma response that you’re having as well. So when you do have trauma, your responses can be even heavier and bigger because of past things that have happened to you. It could even just be the trauma of the last few school years. I personally struggle with anxiety and emotional dysregulation.

I know through a lot of work with my therapist that I get really overwhelmed and anxious, and my emotions escalate really quickly if I’m triggered in specific ways. Sometimes even small tasks feel huge, and important, and impossible and they can make me break down, only to realize that once I calm down and I conquer the task, it only really took me 10 or 15 minutes to complete. One really good way that I’ve heard someone describe the feelings that I have is like a T-shirt. So think of if the size of your feelings are matching the size of the problem. So sometimes I have this like extra-large reaction to a problem that’s probably a small or actually medium-sized problem.

That’s when I can realize I need to start to calm myself down and practice getting back into mindfulness and some of the techniques we’re going to talk about in this podcast. But first, let’s go into why calming your brain and your body is important. Obviously the number one goal here is just not to be so stressed and anxious because that’s not good for your body and it’s not a going to help you get to your goal any faster. I know that I actually have some part of my subconscious that uses fear and shame to motivate me to be more productive, and I’m working on fighting it. It may not be intuitive for you to slow down in a busy season or when you feel like you’re on a time crunch, but it’s actually the opposite.

Being able to stay calm can improve your stamina and your ability to perform for a few reasons. So first, when we’re stressed or overwhelmed, our thoughts are often scattered and unfocused, which makes it really difficult to stay motivated or on task. So using these types of techniques and staying calm can help clear our minds and improve mental clarity, which makes it easier for us during these really big important projects. It also helps us increase our self-awareness. Have you ever found yourself when you’re super heightened walking around and doing all the things super stressed out, but you never actually get to the most important parts of your day? You can lose sight of your goal and your priority.

Using these types of tools to help you stay calm, tools like visualization and journaling, can actually help increase your self-awareness and clarify your values and your goals, making it easier for you to stay on track. When you’re in that like autopilot mode where you’re just on a motor and you’re not in charge of what you’re doing, your wisdom, your intuition, and your possibilities end up getting smaller. Another thing that can happen when you’re feeling overwhelmed is that it can cause procrastination. You see this like mountain of tasks in front of you and you think you can’t handle them, so you don’t work on any of them.

Daphne explains that mindfulness is a key to combatting stress

A study was actually published in the Journal of Management, and it found that people who practice mindfulness were more likely to engage in proactive behaviors and seek out new challenges than people who did not practice mindfulness. So let’s start to get into the how. What you really are trying to do here is, you’re trying to recognize when your body or your brain is out of whack so that you can bring it back to a calmer state of mind. Sometimes you can be very high or sometimes you can be very low when stressful things are put on your plate, but the goal is to widen that time when you are actually calm through pressure.

This is going to take a lot of practice, especially if you’re someone like me who can go from zero to 10 in a second over a small T-shirt-sized problem. This comes with a practice of being aware what feels good when you start to get bad, and recognize when you feel yourself getting bad, and implementing those tools. This is not going to happen overnight, and it may feel like some of these are silly or obvious. But most of these have been very helpful to me in some of my worst moments, and it actually took someone instructing me to do them or else I never would’ve stopped to even try. So I encourage you to listen to these tools and take what you like and leave the rest, but keep an open mind.

Not all of these are going to be a good fit for every person, but if you’ve never tried it before, I encourage you to try them even if they sound silly. What you want to do first is start with mindfulness and grounding. Recognizing when you are starting to feel heightened, you can really start to calm yourself down through the senses and through physical movement or breathing techniques. So starting with breathing techniques, there’s the 4-7-8 method. If you can, close your eyes and breathe in through your nose to the count of four. Hold that breath to the count of seven. And exhale through your mouth to the count of eight. I often find myself doing this multiple times if I am feeling very overwhelmed, and very scattered, and I can feel my body starting to have like racing heartbeats.

This breathing technique is really helpful for me. And another one would be tracing the outline of your finger. Put your hand out almost like you’re making a turkey for Thanksgiving, and you’re going to trace it. Every time you’re at the top of your thumb you’re going to inhale. Then you’re going to exhale when you’re in between your fingers. Then you’re going to inhale when you’re up to your next finger, and exhale as you go down. Trace your entire hand doing that breathing technique, and that can help you calm your body down as well. One of my favorites is actually scanning the room to see that I’m safe. I learned this from my therapist as well. It is almost like you are tuning into your animal instincts.

So you are looking all the way behind you to the left, and all the way behind you to the right, and just being aware of everything in the room or where you’re at and reminding yourself, “There are no predators here. I’m safe where I’m sitting.” Just that little movement can help me start to be more grounded. There are also techniques where you can find something that’s good to touch that can soothe you. I use a weighted blanket at my desk that I really like that just helps me feel a little bit more calm while sitting in a chair. I also have found that sitting in the space and being calm and quiet for a minute, and trying to identify as many sounds as I can hear, can start to help me feel a little grounded.

So sitting where you are just listening to see what types of sounds. And if you need to pause this and start it over again when you’re done, you can. Lastly, there is tapping, which I found a really great stress relief tapping exercise and meditation that is on YouTube, and I will link it in today’s show notes. That is something that can also help you start to ground yourself. Now, sometimes I can tell in my body sitting still is not the answer. And if I’m totally heightened, I may have to go for a run. I may have to walk very fast. I may have to do some cardio. And when you feel like there’s so much on your to-do list that you cannot put something like this on your plate, it is so helpful to force myself to do it because when I come back, I do feel more focused.

I never want to do it. I never want to actually make myself go for that walk, but it almost is like fight or flight. My body is telling me like, “You need to run away.” And then once I’ve gotten that out of my system, I’m able to calm down and be more in the present moment. You should also recognize any parts of your daily routine that may be making you feel more overwhelmed. I know that there are some things that we just can’t avoid, but for people who have a difficult time turning off their mind, we are being constantly bombarded with information and stimulation from our phones, our computers, and our other devices. This makes it even harder to slow down and relax.

Your mind may be constantly racing and your body may be in a constant state of tension if you are using social media on your downtime to relax. This is something that I’ve personally really struggled with because I want to be connected to friends, or community, or see what’s going on on social media. But I mentally feel so much better, and more focused, and more calm, the more time I spend away from my phone, away from social media. I also know from talking to so many teachers that the LinkedIn homepage itself has been one of the biggest time distractions and sources of overwhelm anytime they log on. So recognize what parts of your day may be bringing you more stress and make a plan to try and avoid it, and see if that makes you feel a little bit more calm.

Daphne shares how to fight back against negative self talk

When you are spiraling and you’re starting to find yourself overwhelmed with negative self-talk, the next strategy is to debate your Debbie Downer. So write down all of the thoughts that you are telling yourself that you know aren’t true. Things like, “This is impossible.” Things like, “No one’s able to do this,” or “I’m not able to do this,” or “I’m not strong enough to do this.” Actually write them down on a physical piece of paper and write down what a positive person would say, something that you truly believe like, “I am strong enough. This isn’t impossible.” And start to practice. Every time you hear that Debbie Downer come in, look back at that piece of paper and say it over and over again, the positive thing that you know is actually true until it starts to be more of your default.

Now, if you have to be productive, if that’s part of your overwhelm, which sometimes is part of my overwhelm, just brain dump a to-do list on a different piece of paper. But it is time to stop all or nothing thinking, you have to prioritize the tasks and responsibilities that are actually important and scale your efforts to match those tasks. Not everything has to be done right now. Not everything deserves your full attention. And often completion for some of these tasks is more important than actual perfection. You can also practice in this productivity sprint, focusing on what’s in your control, writing your resume, choosing to spend 30 minutes finding job openings instead of doom scrolling LinkedIn’s posts and comments, reaching out to an old colleague to see if they have openings at their company.

Those are all the things that are within your control. Know that you’re moving forward and you’re doing what you can in this moment. And I know, like I said earlier, that it’s really hard to trust the process and to forget the fact that other parts of this are outside of our control. What we can do is, we can make sure that we mitigate the risks, we’re prepared for them, and we understand them. Sometimes for me, listing out the worst-case scenarios. Letting myself go there and start to proactively find solutions for worst-case scenarios if they happen, can help me stay more calm when I’m making a big scary decision. It also helps me find some clarity about what my fear or my anxiety is telling me is the most important thing so that I can make sure I pay attention to that thing as I continue to move forward.

Now, sometimes just journaling in itself is such a healing and calming practice. When you’re overwhelmed you might be embarrassed or disappointed in yourself for your reaction or your inability to forget about it, and just deal with it, and move forward. But denying the validity of your big feelings can also make you feel more blocked up, more stressed, and unhappy. So taking 10 minutes to write it down and saying, “I’m overwhelmed. This feels scary. This is why this feels scary. I hope that I can do this,” can help release some of the tension that you may feeling. One of the career coaches on our team, Emily, had this really great suggestion, which is to take out the growth mindset poster out of your classroom and post it up in your homework space.

Daphne explains that teachers should extend compassion to themselves as they would to a student

Think about what you would say to a student who is struggling with a concept or a class. Would you tell them to pack it up and quit? How would you speak to that student in that moment? This is also a suggestion that can be very helpful when it comes to solving these big problems, is thinking about your best friend. What advice would you give your best friend in the moment with the problem that you’re having, when you feel overwhelmed, when you feel like everything is too big, what task would you tell them to do first? Really take some time to think about that and removing yourself from the situation sometimes can be very helpful. Lastly, you might want to write down and practice some mantras.

I know that these are the ones that might feel the cheesiest. But the more you say it, eventually you start to believe it. That can be really powerful at helping you calm down and helping you move forward. So first, just starting with, “I am safe right now. I am strong, and I’m capable, and I can handle whatever it is that comes next. I’ve done things like this in the past before, and I’ve grown stronger. And this is going to be one of those times that I’m going to look back on and be proud of myself. Just because this hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean that it’s not going to happen. This feeling that I’m feeling right now isn’t forever. I’m not a psychic, and I cannot predict what is going to happen to me.”

Now, if you have never practiced with a mantra or talking to yourself in the mirror, you are probably like me and where I was where it felt really silly. You don’t want to do it. It feels like you’re going to be embarrassed to do it. This has been something that has been so helpful for me. Before I do interviews, before I speak at large conferences on stages, I look myself in the mirror and I have to tell myself over and over again, “People like you. You’re smart. You’re capable. You’re going to do a really good job. Right now you are feeling excited about the possibility, not fear.” Those words over and over again eventually become true and they calm me. And I wish I didn’t just acknowledge that because it’s embarrassing.

But if you haven’t given it a shot, I recommend that you try it and continue to say it a couple times until it starts to feel true. So recapping today’s podcast episode. These calming techniques can help you reduce your heightened emotions, which can improve your mental clarity. It can boost your energy level or increase your self-awareness, all which can help you maintain motivation during a huge transition period of your life. This might be the time to write down and practice some positive mantras or turn off social media for a little bit if it is making you feel overwhelmed.

It is okay to rest. It’s okay to take some time off to heal. But I encourage you not to give up altogether if you know in your heart that this is important to you. Because you are strong, and you are capable, and this feeling isn’t going to be forever. Make sure to write down some of the strategies that you plan to try this week. If you’re anything like me, you may need to put it on a Post-it Note where you see it so that you don’t forget it when you start to feel overwhelmed.

Mentioned in the episode:

Step out of the classroom and into a new career, The Teacher Career Coach Course