The role of a program leader is dynamic and multidimensional. On any given day, you must serve as a teacher, administrator, manager and nurturer for your students and staff. And the list goes on.

The role of a program leader is dynamic and multidimensional. On any given day, you must serve as a teacher, administrator, manager and nurturer for your students and staff. And the list goes on. 

As you carry out each role, stress can be hard to avoid. But it’s not impossible to manage.

Stress affects your body, thoughts and behavior as well as contributes to various health problems like high blood pressure and heart disease. And ongoing stress can negatively impact your ability to focus and carry out your responsibilities effectively.

To help you better relax and focus, we’ve shared 9 stress management activities below. These activities are proven to reduce stress and improve your mental health.

Declutter your space.

This quote from author and professional organizer Christina Scalise defines clutter perfectly: “Clutter is like a physical representation of a to-do list.”

Clutter isn’t just the pile of papers on your desk or the loads of shoes in your closet. It could also be emotional, mental and digital. And any one of these can lead to high levels of stress.

Neuroscientists at Princeton University found that physical clutter in your surroundings competes for your attention, resulting in decreased performance and increased stress. In general, clutter overloads your senses - making you feel stressed - and impairs your ability to think creatively.

So whether it’s your desk, your closet or even your email, take time to declutter your spaces to help you reduce stress.

Get organized.

As program leader, you have a vast list of tasks and responsibilities to tend to on a daily basis. Therefore, organization is key. The lack thereof can lead to feelings of inadequacy, guilt and yes, stress.

To protect yourself from these feelings, build systems, create processes and establish schedules to organize your time, files, emails and other variables that can contribute to stress. Organization may seem like a mundane task, but it’s one way to eliminate the stress you may encounter in your day-to-day routine.

For more help on this, check out 10 Time Management Tips For Afterschool Program Leaders.

Fuel your body.

Did you know that your diet affects your stress levels?

When we’re stressed, our bodies go into “recovery mode” where our appetites increase, food cravings arise and metabolism drops. While it’s natural to turn to comfort foods during these stressful periods, high-fat foods actually hurt your body’s ability to deal with stress.

Here a few guidelines on what and what not to eat on stressful days:

  • Eat a healthy breakfast to kickstart your metabolism and stabilize your blood sugar level.
  • Focus on foods containing Vitamins B and C, and Magnesium. These vitamins and minerals reduce stress and boost energy.
  • Include high-fiber, carbohydrate-rich foods, which cause the brain to produce more serotonin, a hormone that relaxes us.
  • Don’t forget fruits and vegetables to boost your immune system during a time when stress weakens it.
  • Limit your consumption of high-fat foods, caffeine and sugar which tend to induce stress.

Keep a journal.

We often discuss how journaling is a great method for helping students understand and manage their feelings. But you, too, can use journaling as a healthy outlet in which you gain and maintain control of your own emotions.

Simply writing down your thoughts and feelings can help you identify what’s causing you stress, create a plan to eliminate or manage those stressors and, in return, reduce stress.

Why does journaling work? Maud Purcell, a psychotherapist and journaling expert, told Fast Company: “Writing removes mental blocks and allows us to use more of our brainpower to better understand ourselves and the world around us.”

While there’s no right or wrong way to journal, most sources recommend writing 15 minutes daily to effectively reduce stress.

Unplug.

Whether you’re answering emails, building student reports or browsing social media, chances are you spend a chunk of your day staring at a screen.

In fact, the American Optometric Association (AOA) reports that an average American worker spends at least seven hours a day on the computer either in the office or working from home. Add the time spent on other screens, like mobile devices, and that number increases to 11 hours, according to other reports.

The problem is that excessive screen time can cause stress and anxiety in both children and adults. If you feel like screen time is a culprit for your stress, here are a few proven tips for unplugging from technology:

  • Limit screen time to six hours per day.
  • Avoid all screens at least one hour before bed.
  • Take the weekends “off” from social media.
  • Manage text, email, social and other app notifications.
  • Streamline your work so that you can limit your time spent on digital devices.

Decreasing your screen time can improve your mental health and help keep stress at bay.

Plug in.

Not all screen time is created equal. Stress management apps like Pacifica and Happify can be used to help you beat stress throughout the day.

These apps are designed to help you identify and understand your stressors plus guide you on coping techniques like deep breathing, meditation and positive visualization.

Get moving.

It’s no secret that physical activity reduces stress and anxiety. But how?

According to Harvard Health, exercise reduces levels of the body's stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. It also stimulates the production of endorphins, the body's natural painkillers and mood elevators.

Regular aerobic exercise, like walking, swimming, dancing, etc., has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep and improve self-esteem.

And here’s the good news: even five minutes of aerobic exercise can make you feel more energized and less stressed. Find fun, energizing activities to get your students moving and join in for a little stress-relieving action.

Laugh.

As Mark Twain once said: “Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.” And yes, that includes stress.

Like the adage goes, laughter is good medicine, and has the ability to boost your mood and help you avoid the effects of stress. According to HelpGuide.org, laughter:

  • Relaxes the whole body, relieving physical tension and stress.
  • Decreases stress hormones.
  • Releases endorphins, similar to physical activity.
  • Adds joy and zest to life.

And HeartMD even referred to humor as a coping mechanism as it helps people diffuse difficult emotions such as anger, fear, grief and sadness.

So feel free to watch your favorite comedy, read a funny book or share a hilarious joke with your students or staff. A good laugh is a great way to destress throughout the day.

Seek support.

As an afterschool professional, you’re surrounded by principals, teachers, staff, parents and even students who are willing to lend a hand or ear on your tough days. Ask for help, delegate tasks and seek guidance from your peers. In other words, “take a load off” in order to help your destress.

Running an afterschool program is no easy feat and stressful days are inevitable. But use the tips above throughout the day to destress and keep your mental health in check.