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Hello Idaho: Mental health tips for teachers dealing with stress during the pandemic

While these tips are catered specifically to teachers, they really can apply to anyone who is struggling with mental health issues as a result of the pandemic.

BOISE, Idaho — In a recent Hello Idaho segment, we dove into the stress and struggles many teachers are dealing with during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This week, we are speaking with a neuropsychology expert, Dr. Dennis Woody with Optum Health, to give teachers some solutions for dealing with stress, and ways to take better care of themselves.

And while these tips are catered specifically to teachers, they really can apply to anyone who is struggling with mental health issues as a result of the pandemic.

According to Woody, it may be a good idea for educators to limit their exposure to the often-toxic environment provided by social media.

"Ultimately keeping yourself informed might include limiting the amount of total contact you have with social media," he said. 

"If you feel stressed there are people out there who care about you," Woody added. "Focusing on some of the things that you are grateful for despite the pandemic and all the stressors, the gratitude focus can assist you in a variety of things from physical comfort to how well you sleep."

Woody also recommends focusing on breathing.

"When you are focusing on your breathing you are centering yourself on wellness and comfort," he said. "And when you take several deep breaths in a methodical fashion, you are oxygenating your body and it helps your brain relax."

RELATED: Hello Idaho: Resources for Idaho teachers trying to cope with the stress of teaching in a pandemic

Listening to music and exercising are two simple ways to relieve stress.

"Moving our bodies does two things," Woody said. "It enables us to release tension, moves muscles and actually creates energy in our body.

"It doesn't take much," he added. "Five to 30 minutes of continuous movement can restore your sense of focus, not to mention getting outside right now and breathing that fresh air."

Teachers who are feeling sad or depressed may find comfort and support by reaching out to close friends or family. Ultimately, it may be necessary to seek professional help.

"Talking to someone can make all the difference," Woody said. "It doesn't mean you need to start going to therapy five times a week, but what it does is that hearing the voice of someone else can be very valuable."

Watch the full interview with Dr. Woody in the video player below.

Below is Dr. Woody's full list of tips for dealing with stress during the pandemic:

Limit media to reduce anxiety

•By now you have heard this recommendation many times and there is research behind it: Watching or scrolling through the media makes us even more anxious. An excess of news and visual images about a traumatic event can create symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and poor health years later, according to research by UC Irvine's Roxy Silver, PhD, and others.

Get and provide warm, comforting, social support by video, phone, or text

•This is critical! Taking time to share your feelings and to listen and support others will go a long way. Talking with others who have our best interests at heart makes us feel safe. Use phone, video, text, or email. Fortunately, these new highways of social contact are unlimited resources. More than just providing social support about the current crisis, it is a good idea to use these connections to talk about the things you normally would - host your book club online, for example - which can create feelings of connectedness. (See 8 Free Apps to Help You Stay Connected During Coronavirus). Host a dinner using FaceTime or Zoom so you can talk while you eat (and talk about some positive things, not just this crisis). Loving and caring for our pets can be phenomenal stress reduction for us too!

Find ways of expressing kindness, patience, and compassion

•Be extra kind to yourself. This is a hard time for everyone. Humans across the world are sharing this experience with you. We are all in this together and we may all emerge with a renewed appreciation for our interconnectedness. Helping others in need is both critical to get through this well, and also creates more purpose to our days and well-being.

Talk to yourself 

• Talking out loud to yourself, especially in the third person, can be extremely helpful in stressful moments. If you’re by yourself, say what you need to say about a problem and then talk about options or outcomes. Validate and soothe yourself. If you’re not alone, take a minute to write down your concerns and challenges until you can speak them aloud later. Try adding soothing and comforting words you need to hear and say those out loud whenever you need them.

Control what you can control

• When we’re feeling anxious, overwhelmed, and worried, we can lose perspective on what is realistic and, in our control, so it can be helpful to create a short list of the experiences, events, or situations that we can control and those we cannot. Sometimes when we’re feeling dysregulated, we forget to pause, step back, and try to find a deeper perspective. As educators, we tend to want to fix problems, soothe troubled student feelings, and quickly find a solution. Often, we need to let go and observe, allowing the experience to unfold. Follow the quiet. Allow the quiet of contemplation to enter, and to leave when its work is completed.

Try to keep a normal routine 

•Maintain some structure during the quarantine days. If you have children, sticking to a routine might be easier, but for those who have to work from home, it may tempt you into a more lethargic lifestyle. You might not even have the proper set-up for being at home which makes it harder to work. The key is to try your best. Make sure you wake up and go to bed around the same time, eat healthily, shower and get ready in the morning as usual. 

Remember to breathe! 

•Breathing exercises are helpful for anyone dealing with anxiety. Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose while keeping your shoulders relaxed. Exhale slowly through your mouth. As you blow out, purse your lips slightly but keep your jaw relaxed. Repeat this exercise for several minutes.

Eat a healthy snack 

•When you’re feeling stressed, it can be hard to pass on sugary donuts or salty food that are not good for you and will ultimately make you feel worse. Eating a balanced diet that’s comprised largely of fresh, whole foods improves mental well-being and brain health. You’ll be happier that you reached for that apple rather than that chocolate bar at the end of the day.

Listen to music

•Take a break and listen to calm music which has a positive effect on the brain and the body. It can lower blood pressure and reduce cortisol, a hormone linked to stress. Listening to nature soundtracks works too—turn on the sounds of a waterfall or rainforest. Focusing your mind only on serene sounds can help clear your thoughts. 

Exercise, even if it's a little bit

•Running in place for 5 minutes or doing a couple of simple stretches can get the blood pumping and offer immediate relief in a stressful situation. If you’re able, go for a 20-30-minute walk.  When you move around, your body releases endorphins which can improve mood almost instantaneously.

Get some sunlight!

•Sunlight and darkness trigger the release of hormones in your brain. Exposure to sunlight releases serotonin, which is associated with boosting mood and helping a person feel calm and focused. Without enough sun exposure, your serotonin levels can dip. Being out in the sun is proven to make you healthier not just emotionally, but physically as well.

Take a bath or a shower

•From Roman baths to mineral hot springs, cultures around the world have used water for centuries to treat a variety of health concerns. Also known as “water therapy,” hydrotherapy includes such treatments as saunas, steam baths, foot baths, contrast therapy, hot and cold showers, and whirlpools. Submerging into a pool of water can help you unwind after a stressful day. Proponents of hydrotherapy say that within the first five minutes of treatment your blood pressure will drop, and you’ll feel calmer. Further exposure will increase circulation and make your muscles feel less tense.

There's also a new Facebook group organized by a West Ada School District teacher that offers support and inspiration for fellow teachers. All teachers can join! 

Watch more 'Hello Idaho':

Watch our latest conversations about mental health in our YouTube playlist: