By Jill Kessler
In my last blog post I described a true scenario that caused a great deal of stress. Some days in the headship are harder than others. I remember a statement one of the facilitators said when working with the group I was in at The Art of Leadership, at The Principals’ Center at Harvard University in 2010. She said some days she loved her job so much she would do it without pay and some days there wasn’t enough money in the world to keep her at her job as principal. Does this ring true for you?
Somehow we must find a healthy balance. What is the science of stress and why is it important we pay attention to long-term or chronic stress? It is the continuous presence of stress that has the potential to harm our physical or mental health. When stressed, some people get headaches, stomachaches, or can’t sleep at night. Others get sad, irritable, angry, or depressed. Some people can’t eat while others overeat as a result of stress. According to the American Psychological Association, 66% of people regularly experience physical symptoms of stress and 63% experience psychological symptoms. (Psych Central 2017)
Research has shown that there are physical differences seen in the brains of people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). MRI’s have shown that brain matter looks different in people who have suffered the death of a loved one or other significant life challenges. Recent research, however, from the University of California, Berkeley, has shed new light on why chronic stress can be detrimental.
A simplified version is that stress causes more myelin-producing cells and fewer neurons. This disrupts the balance in the brain, causing communication in the brain cells to lose normal timing that can lead to mental health problems.
Unless you decide the headship isn’t for you, and I certainly hope this isn’t the case, here are some ways to combat stress. First, remember what you love about your job. If you need to write yourself a note as a reminder, store the notes in your phone and read them as needed. Try and pinpoint what causes you the most stress. Actively think about how you can make those feelings more tolerable. Can you speak with a co-worker, friend, or spouse to process how best to lower the temperature when these feelings arise? Can you slow yourself down with mindfulness, take some deep breaths or stretching your head and neck when no one is in your office? Can you identify one or two actions that would make you feel good about yourself? This might include writing a note to a teacher and thanking her for going above and beyond for her students, visiting the kindergarten class and reading them a story, or observing students in the science lab. Showing appreciation and expressing gratitude for all the good around you at school can be uplifting. The reminder of why we serve in the roles we do can ignite your emotion and touch your heart. It’s holy work leading a Jewish day school. Thank you for all you do. You are greatly appreciated!