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How Summer Mindfulness Practices Can Help Mitigate School-year Stress

Though the summer is often busy, it might provide just enough space to begin a mindfulness practice that can make a positive difference during the school year.

Audrey Breen

The school year can bring elevated levels of stress for many. That is especially the case for teachers. According to Patricia “Tish” Jennings, a renowned expert on mindfulness and teacher stress, the levels of stress teachers experience in the classroom can sometimes rival that of an emergency room

According to Jennings’ research, mindfulness practices can help mitigate teacher stress levels and improve well-being. Larger systems changes are needed to combat many of the stressors teachers face—those that come from both inside and outside of the classroom. But evidence does show that personal mindfulness practices can make a difference for teachers and for students in the classroom. 

“The summer can bring some much-deserved space for educators to reduce their stress levels,” Jennings said. “But there is no way to bank enough mental and emotional well-being over the summer to sustain teachers through the school year, especially when many of them are also spending their summer days in professional development, taking extra courses, working a second job or reading and preparing for the next year.”

Instead, Jennings suggests the summer can be a time for educators to begin to put in place a mindfulness practice they can carry with them into the school year.

“Mindfulness practices are exactly that—practices,” Jennings said. “They are activities that can be honed and improved over time. And the summer is the great time to continue or even begin some of these practices so that they are readily available when the school year begins.”

Taking the time to foster one’s own well-being may take some intentional effort, especially for people who spend their lives investing in others.

“Teachers are really good at caring for other people,” Jennings said. “It may not be as easy to care for themselves. But being in such a care-taking field may make it even more important.”

Areas of Well-being

When it comes to spending time discovering what supporting well-being might look like, Jennings suggests looking in four different areas: physical, emotional, cognitive and spiritual. Physical well-being is perhaps the most common and most obvious. That might include exercise, nutrition, or sleep. But, according to Jennings, the others deserve investment, too.

“Our emotional well-being includes doing things that are fun or being with people you love,” she said. “Listening to your favorite music or watching your favorite movie.”

Cognitive well-being could include puzzles, games or learning something new. Spiritual well-being is not necessarily religious—although it can be. Jennings describes it as a feeling of connection, awe, or inspiration.

“Watching the Olympics could bring a feeling of spiritual connection,” Jennings said.

Discovering what is enjoyable is an important part of the practice. 

Mindfulness Practices

Effective mindfulness practices are likely not novel. But it is making them a habit that is the tough part. And it is even harder to implement a new practice during a season of high stress. Carving out time over the summer to make them a habit can help make these skills accessible during the school year. 

“A routine we use in our Compassionate Schools Project curriculum that is also really helpful for adults is something called calming and focusing,” Jennings said.

Calming starts with breathing. 

“Place a hand on your chest and begin to take deep breaths, paying close attention to the breath,” she said. “If it helps, you can also pay attention to the movement of your hand and chest as you breath.”

The focus then comes by paying attention to sound. 

“If you have access to a chime, you can ring that. Otherwise, you can pay attention to the sounds around you, a ticking clock, the hum of the refrigerator, or maybe the sound of traffic.”

According to Jennings, regularly practicing the first step—taking some deep breaths—can help make it a habit that can be incorporated into the rhythm of the school year. 


Regularly accessing a mindful practice can play a critical role in supporting teachers’ resilience navigating the stress of teaching. 

“There’s very compelling evidence that regularly practicing mindfulness helps us manage stress and emotional reactivity,” Jennings said. “As we build a regular practice, we begin to establish mindfulness as a more constant state of awareness.

That awareness is the key to resiliency.

“The more aware we are of our internal physical, emotional, and mental states, the more we are able to assess our needs in the moment as an ongoing practice.”

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Audrey Breen