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Are you an adrenaline junkie? Pace yourself!

Educators are very busy people. Just ask them! The most common response you’ll hear when you ask someone how they are, is, “BUSY!” Being busy has acquired a new status. It is now equated with importance. Many educators only know two speeds – flat out and asleep! This is typical of the adrenaline junkie.

Working in schools is complex and can be intensive. There is always a lot to be done and the workload appears to be increasing exponentially. Educators often rush from one priority or crisis to another. We often complain about being overloaded but somewhere inside we also like the sense of being indispensable and in-demand. Adrenaline junkies are susceptible to packing their days to the brim. The trap is that being busy can add up to lots and lots of activity that isn’t all that productive in the end. 

In his 2012 book The Advantage, Patrick Lencioni highlights the ‘The Adrenaline Bias’. “Many leaders suffer from a chronic case of adrenaline addiction, seemingly hooked on the daily rush of activity and firefighting within their organization”. I believe that many educators suffer this bias.

The feeling of an adrenaline high is addictive. The natural chemical of speed, adrenaline gives you a ‘rush’. When you’re on adrenaline you think quickly, talk quickly, eat quickly and even finish other people’s sentences. A crammed life is typical of the adrenaline junkie – you try to be ‘on’ 100 percent of the time. If you have been an adrenaline junkie for some time, you may have lost the ability to relax, according to Matt Church, author of 2007 book: Balance Your Body Chemistry and Feel Uplifted.

However, the rush that we get from adrenaline is not sustainable and may not be helping us. When the entire day becomes one big stress event, fuelled by adrenaline, this can lead to burnout and exhaustion. This can contribute to serious stress-related illness and premature ageing. It also makes you less fun to be around.

There are two ways to get a natural high – one from adrenaline, which makes you feel switched on for short bursts; the other from serotonin, which makes you feel calm and comfortable for longer periods. The real natural high comes from an appropriate balance of both adrenaline and serotonin. The first step is becoming aware that you may be an adrenaline junkie.

According to Church, if you do everything in fast forward, you need to slow down and make some space in your life. When you learn to switch onto adrenaline only when you need to, and manage the rush in a healthy, balanced way, you can be naturally high more often, rather than using your ‘drug’ to get through everyday life.

Take responsibility for your own personal well-being

Many educators put themselves last! They work long hours and tirelessly try to be all things, to all people. Looking after your own well-being needs to be a priority.

Undertake a thorough health appraisal every year

Early detection is often better than pursuing a cure. It is important to commit to a full health appraisal on an annual basis.

Replace the term work-life balance with work-life satisfaction

‘Balance’ can be very difficult to achieve. Our work in schools takes up a significant amount of our waking hours. It is important that we get satisfaction from our work as well as the other aspects of our lives. Instead of aspiring for work-life balance, aim to get satisfaction from your work as well as the other roles that make up your life.

Set boundaries on your work hours

There is always more that can be done. No matter how many hours you work there is always more that could be done. It is vital to set boundaries to stop work overtaking and having an impact on the other aspects of your life. Which day of the week could you leave school at 3.30pm and do something for you?

Monitor your self-talk

It is vital that we monitor that little voice inside our heads and ensure that our expectations of ourselves are fair and realistic.

Clearly communicate that harassment and violence are NOT tolerated

It is a sad reflection on our society that many public hospitals now display ‘Zero Tolerance to Abuse’ signs clearly communicating that harassment and violence towards staff will not be tolerated.

Ensure that your expectations of yourself are realistic

At times, as educators, we can be our own harshest critic. At the end of each day we should reflect on what we have achieved and not be too harsh on ourselves if there are still tasks on your TO DO list. School days can be unpredictable.

Seek expert help if feeling over-whelmed

If you are feeling over-whelmed, seek professional support. It is not a sign of weakness but a recognition of the real complexity of the role we play.

Book a holiday – every break

It is vital that we take some time each school holidays to rest and recharge. A holiday doesn’t have to be extravagant. Even if you only go away for a night or two, the change of scenery and short break are worthwhile. The anticipation of the holiday can be almost as good as the holiday itself.

Establish and commit to an exercise routine

Exercise has benefits for both our physical and mental health. Establishing an exercise routine is one of the most powerful actions you can take. Choose an exercise that works for you and establish regular exercise as part of your routine. Often when we get busy and stressed, the first thing many people stop doing is exercising. Yet exercising is the best thing they could do for their well-being. Don’t make that mistake.

Stop for lunch

We know eating well is important to looking after our health, but we often skip lunch, and eat on the run or at our desk. Take at least 15 minutes away from your desk to stop and eat lunch.

Drink more water

We should drink at least 2 litres of water per day. This equates to about 8 glasses of water.

 Prioritise ruthlessly

Time is one of the most precious resources we have. It is vital that we use it well. Ask yourself often, “Is this the most important thing I could be doing with the time I have available?”

A good way to feel that you are moving ahead and gaining traction is to identify at the beginning of each day, one important task that we need to make sure is completed that day, for the day to feel successful.


Time for some tough love!

Are you hooked on the adrenaline of being ‘busy’ and feeling ‘needed’?

Are your own expectations of yourself realistic?

Is your self-talk positive or are you your harshest critic?

Steve Francis

Steve Francis created the Happy School program to reduce stress and improve the well-being of people who work in schools. Steve works with staff to optimise schools. He is the author of four books including First Semester CAN MAKE OR BREAK YOU! and Time Management For Teachers.

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