If you’ve already got an impending sense of doom about going back to school, check out neurologist Judy Willis’ tips on beating stress and boosting optimism
Creating two playlists – one to cheer you up and another to calm you down – can help boost your dopamine levels in moments of crisis.
If you’ve ever experienced a rush of achievement from vigorous exercise, or the deep pleasure of falling in love, you have endorphins, oxytocin, neuroproteins and hormones to thank.
But you should get to know an even more powerful brain chemical: dopamine. It can bring you feelings of deep satisfaction, reduced stress, increased motivation and even exuberant alertness. As a new academic year gets under way, it could also help you improve your outlook – and sustain that positivity.
I’ve written before about how you can promote this helpful chemical by setting yourself achievable goals. But here are a few more ideas to boost your dopamine levels.
Before you step back into the classroom, take a positive inventory of your strengths, skills and best traits, along with the goals that you are working towards and those that you have already reached. Write them down somewhere accessible so you can reignite your reasons to be optimistic in times of need. If stress and worry are blocking you from connecting to happy thoughts, write down the negative ideas on a worry pad to divert your brain from obsessive rumination. Acknowledge your progress towards your goals with 10-minute mini celebrations where you do things you enjoy, such as listening to music or checking social media.
Likewise, seek to find the best in each student; helping them to see their good qualities will boost their optimism, mindset and perseverance. Try kidwatching: in this technique you keep a list of your students’ names and each time one of them achieves something (a kind act or refraining from a bad habit, for example), you write it down. Later, when circulating around the room or saying goodbye at the end of class, you can give specific praise for what you observed.
Practice gratitude and kindness
These dopamine boosters are two-way streets; you get a boost when you give or receive kindness and gratitude. Be alert to the small, thoughtful acts of others and express your appreciation for them. Doing things for other people is a large part of teaching, so make time to be in the company of friends and colleagues who are open in their appreciation and admiration for you, and do the same for them.
Start the term with habits that let students appreciate your kindness. Be at the door as they enter and welcome them in by asking questions about their weekends and saying how happy you are to see them.
We are often so involved in correcting students who are off-task or doing something wrong that we miss opportunities to catch them doing things right. When a child puts in extra effort, be sure to acknowledge it with a quick note to their parents or carer. Letters from school can often be negative, so they will be grateful to receive good news.
Listen to music
If you don’t already, put some of your music onto a tablet or computer that you use at school and have your uplifting favorites ready to enjoy during your breaks. The same goes for audiobooks or podcasts. Make a playlist of songs that can boost your mood and another that can calm you down when stressed. Then you’ll have customised go-to dopamine boosters to suit your emotional needs.
This should be the easiest of all, but at times of stress we can feel guilty about having fun. Keep a supply of funny quotes, quips and cartoons in your classroom and wherever you work at home. You’ll find that humour goes a long way in brightening your students’ moods as well, and their gratitude will bump up your dopamine.
Keep your boosters handy
Make a note card of the dopamine pick-me-ups that work best for you and keep a copy near your workplace at home and in your classroom to remind you how to reboot your positive mindset and outlook. A mood boost in time saves nine (hours of whining).
Eight tips to prepare for a positive new term