5 Ways To Maintain Sanity During Stressful Times

This past spring, as I transitioned from assistant principal to principal, I began to wonder if I had made the right decision.

As the school year closed, and my former principal departed, I found myself wrapping up many of my former responsibilities while simultaneously managing my new ones. In essence, I found that in the short term, I would be doing two jobs at once.

Suddenly, my sense of control began to melt away as my list of “to do’s” seemed to grow longer and longer. Eventually, I found myself in the same place I had nine years earlier as an assistant principal and ten years before that as a new teacher. Frankly, my plate was full and I was beginning to feel overwhelmed.

Thankfully, I was able to remember that familiar feeling I had had before in new positions, and I reminded myself that stressful times are often a season. I was able to step away mentally from my situation and analyze some best approaches.

Do you ever find yourself in a place where you wonder how you will maintain your sanity during stressful times? If so, it may help you to consider and act on the following four helpful tips:

1. Maintain a sensible schedule (where you can).
Exercise and family time may not seem as urgent as to-do’s and deadlines, but ignoring these priorities will lead to less energy and loss of focus. I find that if I can still maintain some semblance of normality in a daily routine, my work seems more manageable.

Identify what habits you need to keep practicing even during stressful times. At the same time, it is okay to be forgiving of yourself during the hardest times and admit you cannot do it all. During a stressful season, give yourself some grace and remember a more sensible time will come again.

2. Remember, you are not always in complete control.
This is hard for me, but stressful times are good reminders to me of my own infallibility. I am not ultimately in control of all my circumstances. It is good for me to rest in knowing I need God’s help in every task of life.

The best part about school is that regardless of how long my to-do list becomes, I can’t control the school calendar. Some things may be left undone, so stay focused on the ones that matter most. Separate what needs to be done from what may have to be left undone.

3. Maintain a To-do List
I know it seems like a no-brainer, but sometimes overwhelming tasks are more easily managed when you write them down first, prioritize, and then mark them off as you accomplish them.

I have been using Workflowy as a way to do this better, and I love it!

4. Let others know you need help.
As I heard someone once say, “You are not Superman, so tuck in your cape and ask for help.” If you work in a school or on a team, you must realize you are surrounded by incredible people who could also help. I found sharing my schedule with co-workers allowed them to give me feedback on ways I could better tackle issues.

It also gave us the ability to discuss how to work together on some of tasks we could share. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Leaders who fail to delegate usually fail to accomplish their most important goals and eventually burn out.

5. Keep Your Work Load In Perspective
I touched on this point before but I want to reiterate that seasons of hard work are usually seasons. I remember once in college when I worked on a landscape crew. We showed up on a work site one day where we had been asked to clear a 5-acre lot of leaves. The entire property was surrounded by trees and all we had were rakes, a mower, and a trailer.

At first, I turned to other college friend in charge of the job and said, “I don’t think we can do this.” He replied, “We can’t if we don’t get to work.” Thankfully, our crew of hard working guys were also creative. Soon we started using a mower to blow leaves, blankets to transport the leaves away, and we raked and raked all day. We finished the job. Lesson learned? You never finish a job until you start, and you often accomplish it one rake full at a time.

If you find yourself overwhelmed by work, please remember you are not alone. And remember not all stress is bad stress. But don’t be overwhelmed. Remember to keep a sensible schedule where you can, give yourself grace, share your workload when possible, and accomplish your goals one task at a time. And when it is all said and done, don’t forget to celebrate!

For a good resource on prioritizing and delegating, I recommend listening to Michael Hyatt’s The Fine Art of Delegation podcast. I listened to part 1 and 2 during my morning commute. He speaks directly to the importance of learning how to work without feeling overwhelmed, and he also gives some great advice on managing your to-do lists.

What are some ways you find to hold on to perspective during stressful times? How do you manage your to-do’s so that you can accomplish goals without feeling overwhelmed?

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William D. Parker
William D. Parker