Archive for the ‘stress management’ Category


The Spirits That Visit Me In The Night Are The Reminders Of Work Undone, The Lists Of Tasks Yet To Be Completed, And The Host Of Possibilities Of Things I Could Accomplish If Only I Were Less Human

December 1, 2010

By surviving passages of doubt and depression on the vocational journey, I have become clear about at least one thing: self-care is never a selfish act—it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others. Anytime we can listen to true self and give it the care it requires, we do so not only for ourselves but for the many others whose lives we touch. • Parker Palmer (2000), Let Your Life Speak

I’m currently teaching a course called Human(e) Relations, the “e” added by me as a reminder to all of us that in our dealings with others, it is important to be humane because we are all human and thus fallible and likely to disappoint even as we also deliver joy and delight. It is inevitable that few of us will be as practically perfect as Mary Poppins claimed to be.

It is three o’clock in the morning and I cannot sleep. Too many things that need my attention are lined up, waiting their turn. They are patient, but they do not go away. They wait. And I feel their weight. I close my eyes and hope that sleep will take me away for a few more hours, but soon I stare into the darkness, knowing that it will not, and I succumb to temptation, turn on the light, pick up my pen, and write my way into the day.

It’s the end of a quarter. Next week is finals week. Assessment tasks loom as does the necessity of preparing for a new quarter even as I finish with this one. My lists have lists and all my good intentions mock me, a chorus of inky voices reminding me of the undone, half-completed, unfinished realities of my life. No matter how much I do accomplish, it is never enough.

The life of an educator embodies the realities of “never enough.” No matter how much we do or how much we give of ourselves, it is never enough. There is always more that we could, should, truly believe we ought to do to enhance our students’ learning experiences. There is further research to be done. There are new technologies to embrace and integrate. There are additional effective methodologies to employ and additional worthwhile activities to design. There are always always always more connections to be made—real world and individual and interdisciplinary—that will help students engage with whatever it is that we are teaching. There is always more.

We do what we can.

We do more than we have energy for.

We plan to do better—and more—next time.

We hope.

As I watch the clock tick out the minutes before I must get ready for the morning’s work, I create a new list of things I hope to accomplish at quarter’s end: a book proposal to finish, articles to write, conference presentations to prepare, dusting and other mundane chores that get neglected because there is always something more interesting or pressing that I need to do, books to read, research to delve into, artmaking I’ve put off, cookies I’d like to bake just because I seldom do, friends I’d like to see, and I realize that although these things are all worthwhile and some of them are even likely to be relaxing, there is no place on my list to simply stop my headlong rush into life and relax.

I must relax. I must renew. I must remember to reconnect with myself and revive my spirit if I am to continue the work that is my vocation. So must we all.

Regardless of how or whether you celebrate any holiday at this time of the year, I hope you’ll give your self the gift of time. Your life is your gift to the world and it deserves some loving care. You do not have to be an educator to need–or heed–this advice.

No one has time; we have to make time. • James Rohn

For the sake of making a living we forget to live. • Margaret Fuller


My Head Is Too Full Of Ideas Right Now, Many Of Them Unrelated To Things I Absolutely Must Finish Immediately; It’s Impossible To Bring Coherence To Anything But The Necessary And That Requires Ruthless Dedication, Leaving Little Time For Frivolous Frittering (Although There’s Always Time For Allitering)!

June 17, 2010

For Wednesday, June 15, 2010

Dream small dreams. If you make them too big, you get overwhelmed and you don’t do anything. If you make small goals and accomplish them, it gives you the confidence to go on to higher goals. • John H. Johnson

Is a blog a confessional? Sometimes it seems to be. It’s tempting to talk to the screen and confess your sins to the silent and quickly erasable electronic page. No judgment from the computer. It just sits there, no matter what you write. This is comforting. It’s also frightening because it’s so easy to blurt your woes and weaknesses to an invisible audience.

The essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection. • George Orwell

I am, however, wary. I confess cautiously. Today I am in the midst of a mess. The syllabus I’m working on is the equivalent of the closet you’ve been meaning to clean out for ages and when you finally get to it and get everything pulled off of shelves and racks and sorted into piles you aren’t sure what to do with—well, you wish you’d never begun. I’m teaching a course I didn’t plan to teach again until summer 2011, and I’d hoped to organize the syllabus into a syllabook that could be printed to use as the text before I taught it again. I’ve been adding materials to the files for two years.

Try as hard as we may for perfection, the net result of our labors is an amazing variety of imperfectness.  We are surprised at our own versatility in being able to fail in so many different ways. • Samuel McChord Crothers

Alas. It is still a syllabook, but despite a prodigious wrestling match that took all day, it remains a work in progress. A 57,692 word work in progress. I have had to accept defeat. I must quit when I am not ready to. I do not like this at all, but I tell myself that it is good for me. I have other courses that begin on Friday that need work too. And many miles to go before I sleep.

A man [or a woman] would do nothing if s/he waited until s/he could do it so well that no one could find fault. • John Henry Newman

Letting go is good. Letting go is good. Letting go is good. Perhaps if I write this enough, I will believe it.

Always live up to your standards—by lowering them, if necessary.• Mignon McLaughlin (1966), The Second Neurotic’s Notebook

What do you have to let go of because there just isn’t time?

Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralizing.  • Harriet Braiker


A Thought That Sometimes Makes Me Hazy: Am I or Are the Others Crazy?*

April 24, 2010

He suffered occasionally from a rush of words to the head.
• Herbert Samuel

Once upon a time, almost thirty years ago, I had an appointment with a psychiatrist. I was selling radio advertising for a living and I detested the job. I thought there was something wrong with me. I liked my clients. My clients liked me. I was successful, but I dreaded every morning that I had to go into the office and out onto the streets. I was so stressed that my doctor recommended I see someone. It only took one visit to find out that the problem was the job. I quit sales and have never done that kind of work since.

Of course, I already knew that this was what I needed to do. Sometimes, we just need official permission.

I wrote a poem in the waiting room:

Owed to a Psychiatrist
by W-OZ

Welcome to my brain,
take a walk inside my head.
You’ll find it more than int’resting
for you can see what I once said.
‘Cause all my thoughts and secret dreams
are filed in little drawers,
and pictures from my past still hang
along the corridors.
Yes, my brain’s a fine and lovely place,
a dandy place to visit,
and while you’re there
I’m sure you’ll see:
It isn’t crazy,
is it?

I spoke with the doctor for less than fifteen minutes. He told me that his prescription was that I find another job. I did.

Are you doing something you shouldn’t be doing? What are you going to do about it?

If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad.
• Lord Byron

Oh, you hate your job? Why didn’t you say so? There’s a support group for that. It’s called EVERYBODY, and they meet at the bar.
• Drew Carey

* Thanks to Albert Einstein for the title couplet.


You Have to Know What’s Important and What’s Unimportant, for You.*

April 20, 2010

I always wanted to do movies—great ones. But having fun means a lot to me. I don’t want to turn eighty and go, “I should have.”
• Jenna Elfman, quoted in “Jenna Elfman Takes Life by the Throat,” by Jeanie Pyilh, May 1998,
Mademoiselle, p. 157

I just sent an email canceling a Friday meeting and I feel good about it. I probably ought to feel a little bit guilty. I was going to present on the topic of work/life balance, “It’s a Juggle Out There,” something I definitely need to think about, since I almost always overimagine what I’ll be able to accomplish. I’d call this failing overestimation, but I don’t estimate. If I did, I’d probably realize the impossibility of my goals. Instead, I imagine, fantasize, and often delude myself into thinking that I really can do it all—regardless of what needs doing.

When the planning committee met, we decided that everyone who was juggling competing meetings would appreciate hearing that they had one less obligation to shoehorn into their lives. Instead, we encouraged them to view the cancelation as a gift of time, an hour and a half to do something they wouldn’t ordinarily do that would relax, refresh, and rejuvenate them.

I’m inviting you to do the same thing. In March 1999, Jenna Elfman told Us Magazine, “If someone said, ‘Write a sentence about your life,’ I’d write, ‘I want to go outside and play.’” If I had to write a sentence about my life, I’d write, “I’m never bored and I wish I had endless time to pursue all my interests and take long walks and go to the movies and lollygag and write poetry and make art and bake cookies and be silly and thrift shop and  read and connect with everyone I love and that’s not all, but it’s enough for one sentence!”

What sentence would you write about your life?

Don’t underestimate the value of Doing Nothing, of just going along, listening to
all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.

• Pooh’s Little Instruction Book, inspired by A.A. Milne (1995, Trustees of the Pooh Property)

* Thanks to David Harold Fink for the title quotation.


The True Object of All Human Life Is Play.*

April 19, 2010

Play is our brain’s favorite way of learning.
•Diane Ackerman

I laughed my way through several committee meetings on Friday. Back-to-back meetings for several hours. It could have been torturous, but because of the various groups of people I was with, it wasn’t. I could have left campus bogged down and tired, but I didn’t. I felt energized. There is a lesson to be learned here for students.

There are study group sessions that suck the success right out of you, so boring and humorless that you no longer even care if you learn anything from the experience. There are study group sessions that waste your time when they devolve into giggling goofiness without purpose. And then there are the sessions that blend fun and camaraderie with seriousness. It might seem that fun has no place in a gathering devoted to test prep or peer editing or presentation planning or whatever it is the group’s meeting for, but shared fun is a powerful way to create cohesiveness within a group.

The degree to which playfulness becomes part of the process will depend on the group’s task. Memorizing complex formulas is likely to call for more seriousness than planning an engaging presentation.

When I teach a creativity course, I ask my students to reframe their instructions to students, asking them to “play around with” something rather than “work on it.” This simple twist of words can alleviate stress. Certainly the teacher needs to make sure that what students are playing with are the requisite ideas, but permission to play often frees new pathways in the brain.

One of the books on my shelves of favorites is Anne Bruce and James S. Pepitone’s (1999) book, Motivating Employees. I find lots of wisdom applicable to education in things written for business and I especially like Bruce and Pepitone’s list of the “10 Characteristics of Fun” (p. 91):

1)    Humor alleviates stress and tension.
2)    Fun improves communication.
3)    Fun eases conflict
4)    Laughter can help us survive.
5)    Laughing at yourself is the highest form of humor.
6)    Laughter has a natural healing power.
7)    Humor helps lighten the load.
8)    Fun unites people.
9)    Fun breaks up boredom and fatigue.
10)    Fun creates energy.

I’ve experienced the truth of these things in my own personal and professional life, most recently on Friday during a stretch of potentially boring meetings made delightful by the presence of others willing to laugh and take lightly—yet seriously—the tasks we faced.

In my research into fun in learning, I’ve found that the coin of fun has two sides: one is playfulness and the other is deeply serious engagement in whatever it is that needs to be done. This seemingly paradoxical duality has to be experienced before you can fully understand it.

Have you ever had fun while accomplishing a serious or meaningful or difficult task?

Necessity may be the mother of invention, but play is certainly the father.
• Roger von Oech

* Thanks to G.K. Chesterton for the title quotation.


Sanity May Be Madness but the Maddest of All Is to See Life as It Is and Not as It Should Be *

April 10, 2010

We use the word “hope” perhaps more often than any other word in the vocabulary. “I hope it’s a nice day.” “Hopefully, you’re doing well.” “So how are things going along? Pretty good. Going to be good tomorrow? Hope so.”
• Studs Terkel

It’s been quite a while since I nagged about adding new words to your vocabulary, but I will spare you such bloviation (speaking or writing boastfully or pompously) and instead share one of my favorite words. There are words I just like to say: Congoleum® and thistle and murmur, for example. There are other words I am fond of because they evoke worlds of memories: Oz and toddler and Disneyland.

And then there is my favorite word: hope. I am a relentless optimist. This does not mean that I am never pessimistic. I am. More than I might wish to be. I do see life’s realities. I do not live in a magical dream world of my own creation. (Well, okay, The House of Stuff and The Office that Makes Me Smile ARE magical places, but that’s not what I’m talking about here!) But I also know that the world goes on and life happens and that my perspective on possibilities—my optimism or pessimism—colors every moment of that life.

Hope (n.): the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best. Antonyms: despair, hopelessness, pessimism, discouragement, disbelief (

I can live in hope or I can live in despair. Neither is constant, but despair is easier. Hope is a deliberate decision and is a difficult attitude to maintain. particularly when you’re surrounded by people who want to enlighten you by providing all the reasons why you should not hope.

Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing the dawn will come.
• Anne Lamott

As a teacher and a teacher educator, I sometimes feel as though I am adrift in a sea of hopelessness as I read and hear ongoing accounts of the failures of education. Yet I continue to hope. I continue to do my job. I continue to try to inspire hope in others who will also teach and go on to inspire hope in their students. Why teach if you do not believe that your work can make a difference for someone? The uncontrollable variables of teaching sometimes seem insurmountable and the calls for accountability grow so strident that being a hope•full teacher is a daily challenge.

Hope is but the dream of those who wake.
• Matthew Prior

I often frame things I want or plan to do using the word “hope:” I hope to finish my grading this weekend. I hope to organize materials for summer courses by the end of next week. I hope to do all of the things on my endless lists eventually. And I will. But I am not my own stern taskmaster. I am prone to guilty feelings no matter how long and hard I work, and using the gentler kind of goal-setting that frames my aspirations in terms of hope helps me remember my own human limitations.

To say “I will do x by y” and tape it to the mirror in my bathroom as a constant nagging reminder of the things I must do, or even those I simply want to do, has never appealed to me. I can do this–teachers have to do this–it’s called writing objectives, but it’s not my natural mode of expression even though I am just as determined to make things happen.

Hope is like a road in the country; there never was a road, but when many people walk on it, the road comes into existence.
• Lin Yutang

I am uncomfortable promising things I cannot necessarily deliver on. I prefer to plant seeds and hope that they will come to fruition if I diligently nurture them. However, there are some things that I cannot will to bloom no matter how much I might wish that they would, particularly if they are dependent on the actions of others.

Relentless optimism is often required of anyone who hopes to engage others in anything. Our lives are so busy that even the best of intentions of others can be overwhelmed by the sheer busyness of life. Hope allows for the possibility of success even when it seems as though the pessimist would say enough and walk away.

It is the around-the-corner brand of hope that prompts people to action. . .
• Eric Hoffer

I hope always to be hopeful.

What do you hope for?

The road that is built in hope is more pleasant to the traveler than the road built in despair, even though they both lead to the same destination.
• Marian Zimmer Bradley

* Thanks to Miguel Cervantes’ Don Quixote for the title quotation.


“Fun Is Good,” says Dr. Seuss

April 4, 2010

Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun.
• Mary Lou Cook

I was once part of a collaborative presentation where two members of the group left in a snit*—and left the rest of us to address key issues without their materials—because audience questions and concerns had put the presentation behind. Not only did they leave, they left vocally, calling the rest of us inconsiderate and rude. Their parting shot: “Thanks a lot for wasting our time,” pretty much signaled the end of accomplishing anything productive. This experience has left me skittish. It was difficult to finish, although the rest of did our best, feeling as uncomfortable as the audience.

Yesterday, I had the opposite kind of experience and here’s my advice for you if you’re a student who ever has to collaborate with your classmates on any kind of presentation: Be kind. Be generous. Be understanding. Be flexible. Smile. Create comfort with your presence. These things matter and you might as well do them. After all, once the presentation is going, it will be what it will be regardless, and your bad attitude can turn what could have been a meaningful shared experience into a disaster for everyone. I’ve seen this happen in class.

Over the years, I’ve observed a student “walk out” on fellow presenters by going back and sitting at his desk. I’ve seen others interrupt colleagues who are speaking. One student asked her partner to “shut up.” Fortunately, even though I’ve been teaching more than two decades, I haven’t seen much of this uncivil behavior, and I’m grateful for that. Teachers can see what’s happening when one person is hogging the time (although we also know when it’s happening because other member(s) are ill-prepared).

I am sympathetic when I see such things happening and I debrief with groups to sort things out for grading purposes. Publically humiliating anyone—even a schmuck who isn’t giving you your allotted speaking time—is unlikely to endear you to a teacher’s heart since that kind of behavior can affect the whole class negatively.

Yesterday was a delight because everyone from audience to co-presenters was generous and understanding as we did our best to stay on track and on time, even though we didn’t entirely succeed. I’m a teacher who researches fun in learning and I appreciate experiences that remind me of the importance of other people in helping make learning of any kind fun or a drag. On a recent episode of the television show, Community, Troy (Donald Glover) said to Britta , “You’re more of fun vampire because you don’t suck blood, you just suck.” It’s much better to be someone who infuses activities with joy than someone who sucks the joyful spirit from the room.

The occasional bit of ill humor or grouchiness is understandable, but are you generally fun to work with or are you a drag?

I cannot even imagine where I would be today were it not for that handful of friends who have given me a heart full of joy. Let’s face it, friends make life a lot more fun.
• Charles R. Swindoll

* They could have left in a huff, but on this day, they’d driven their snit to work. And since a snit is a fit of temper and a huff is a peevish spell of anger, snit seems to fit their behavior more closely. See how gracefully I work a vocabulary lesson into this post?