Simple Stress Relief (Though I Can’t Imagine Why You’d Need It…)

Picture of a cartoon alligator looking concerned. It's surrounded by fire, with a pile of burning books nearby. There are gray clouds above. Text in the upper-right corner reads, "This is fine." Text in the lower left corner reads "What, Me Worry?"What, me worry?

Back in April, the New Jersey Association of School Librarians (NJASL) held our Spring 2023 Virtual Mini-Conference. Our theme was “Hope & Healing”. We figured that would be a theme that would hit home with folks after a long, increasingly contentious winter. 

It was a great day – we had excellent, informative, and uplifting presentations, and a great prize raffle. But due to overwhelming requests, we also held the second mid-day Dance Party. We enjoyed a bunch of tunes from across the decades, and folks (and their families!) were shaking and shimmying. It was a great, energizing break. 

Even more, it was a great reminder that we should – and we can – take a few minutes for stress relief.

Recently, I’ve needed to refer back to those de-stressing ideas. Knowing lots of us are facing some stress, I figured I’d share some of my preferred ways of lowering my cortisol levels. 

Music Soothes the Savage Steve

I’ve always had an affinity for music. But I realized I had grown away from music over the past few years. I didn’t have time to goof around on my guitar, and I had traded out listening to songs for listening to podcasts. I really enjoy podcasts – I love to learn, and making use of every car ride to learn something new is both entertaining and efficient. But while learning how constitutional law is being interpreted or the links between the economy and egg prices feeds my brain, it doesn’t feed my soul. 

So I now start each day with a song. It might be upbeat to capture (or improve) my mood, or it might be a bit angry or broody. Whatever feeling the song carries, it carries me with it. Since starting this tradition about 18 months ago, I’ve found my day-to-day mood has improved. Getting that quick shot of something that brings me happiness is a great kickstart to the day! 

Jump Around! 

It’s not news that adding more physical activity to your day increases happiness. First I had to find the time to make it happen. For me, that has to be first thing in the morning. If I don’t roll out of bed and start whatever my exercise for the day is, it’s not going to happen. 

Other folks prefer to get their time in at lunch, or after school. I’ve also read that exercising before bed can actually promote better sleep

The other challenge I had was finding the physical activity that worked for me. After a lot of trial and error, I found that running on a treadmill while watching TV allowed me to get a good sweat going while keeping my mind off my discomfort. But trying to run every day was proving too much. 

My solution actually arrived via my nephews. They were showing off their VR headset over the winter holidays, and I was taken with a game called Beat Saber. I’m not a video gamer, but Beat Saber combines music, movement, and gaming in a way I found very enjoyable. And it’s surprisingly effective – my smart watch logs my Beat Saber time as vigorous exercise! 

The headset wasn’t cheap, but it’s an indulgence I’ve been getting good mileage out of – both literally and figuratively.

Mindfulness: It’s Not Just For Students!

NJASL Past President and wonderful human being Angela Coxen gave a wonderful workshop at the NJASL Spring event on being mindful. Ang’s session was a wonderful, peaceful fifteen minutes of being present. It is amazing how much calmer I felt after this short but powerful reminder to be present. 

Over the past several years, “mindfulness” has been thrown around quite a lot.When my school started instituting social-emotional learning components several years ago, I rolled my eyes and read the scripts and wondered how long this new “edutrend” would last. But when I got over myself and spent a few minutes actually buying in to some of the exercises, I realized how powerful they could be, especially mindfulness.

Focusing on the physical and emotional sensations of the moment – being “present” – is important for multiple reasons. It can be a useful check-in to see if our emotions are leading our thoughts. It can help us disconnect from something that has finished and prepare for what is ahead. And it can be a good way to remind ourselves to appreciate the little things that can add a bright spot to our memories of the day. 

Despite knowing mindfulness is important, I often bury myself in work to the point where I completely lose track of the day. Trying to build in a mindfulness moment helps me to refocus a bit when things are hectic.

“One Good Thing” 

At my therapist’s suggestion, I’ve started making a physical note of “One Good Thing” at work each day. Even when there are ten things that make me want to tear my hair out, there is always at least one positive moment I can sift from the day. 

Humans tend to focus on the negative over the positive. It’s a good survival strategy for living in the wild; it’s less helpful in modern society. Building up a little list of good things – no matter how small or trivial one may seem – has helped me start to reorient my entire focus. There are still plenty of trying situations; but it’s gotten just a little bit easier to counter their weight with one good thing firmly in mind. 

What do YOU do?

What works for me may not be your cup of tea. So please, take a minute to share some of your favorite ways to unwind. After all, sharing is caring!

And if you’re looking for more ideas, be sure to check out these other posts from KQ writers:


Author: Steve Tetreault

After 24 years as a classroom English Language Arts teacher, Steve became a school librarian in January 2022. He has earned an M.Ed. (2006) and an Ed.D. (2014) in Educational Administration and Supervision, and completed an M.I. degree in Library and Information Science (2019). He is certified as a teacher, school library media specialist, supervisor, and administrator. He is an old dog constantly learning new tricks!

Categories: Uncategorized

2 replies

  1. Two practices are helping me manage my stress this year, and one is so out of character, I can hardly believe I do it (hating both morniing and exercise, as a general rule), but I go to a barre class 3-4 mornings a week before school. The class starts at 5:30 and is over by 6:20, which leaves me just enough time to go home and get ready for school.

    Crazy, right? But THE CLASS IS FULL OF TEACHERS! Most of whom have their own children at home!
    Everyone there is trying to do the same thing–get some oxygen and endorphins going before facing the increasingly difficult environment in schools. (5:30 is too late for anyone who works in a hospital, and too early for anyone else.)

    I get to work cheerful, feeling as if I’ve already done the hardest thing I will attempt all day.

    The other practice is journaling. When I feel stuck or overwhelmed, I try not to complain to colleagues (who are also stressed themselves!). Paper is patient, and a few minutes of writing to clarify my feelings, identify the problems, find the positives (if there are any), and make a plan, goes a long way.

    This isn’t an easy time for me, but my students and colleagues don’t deserve a grumpy librarian.

    Thanks for starting this conversation, Steve!

  2. What a great set of stress-management strategies! I would never have thought of dance class, but that is really pretty perfect. I don’t know if barre is quite my jam, but you’ve got me thinking about how wonderful NJASL’s mid-conference dance parties have been, and how much fun the dancing was at the AASL after party. I might have to start pencilling in some dance breaks into my day…

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