Top 21 Tips on How to Handle Stress While Teaching Abroad

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Are you a teacher who is feeling stressed out? Whether you are new to teaching or have been doing it for years, the experience can be stressful.

A woman teaching a table full of students

There are many things to deal with, from managing a classroom full of students to adjusting to a new culture, stress can become overwhelming at any stage of the experience!

I’ve lived and taught abroad, so I know how you might be feeling!

Here are 21 tips to help you reduce stress in your life teaching abroad.

21 Tips to Handle Stress When Teaching Abroad

how stressful is it to be an English teacher

1. Evaluate your workload and try to cut down on unnecessary tasks.

Your workload is one of the most stressful aspects when teaching abroad. You may be the only English teacher in your school teaching many classes throughout the day.

In the beginning, it may feel like you’re spending all your time either planning (both at home and school) or grading all the assignments, so you’ll want to put your energy towards the tasks that are necessary to make sure your classroom runs smoothly.

These tasks can be anything from making copies in the morning to setting out the next day’s lesson plans before leaving for the day. Once you get into your groove of teaching you’ll find yourself with extra time on your hands.

2. Leave work at work – don’t bring it home with you.

It can be very tempting to take work home with you, but this can actually lead to more stress and decreased productivity. Keep in mind that there may be times when bringing work home is unavoidable (think reports being due) so you’ll want to manage your time wisely.

If you find yourself constantly bringing work home, start by picking a specific work-free time or day when you will not think about work at all. This doesn’t mean you stay extra hours in the classroom, but choosing a specific day will help motivate you to complete all the necessary tasks for the next day before you leave.

If you absolutely need to bring work home over the weekend, make sure to continue setting up a specific time to plan or grade so that you’re not spending your whole weekend thinking about work.

One of my favorite ways to keep track of my tasks and time was bullet journaling. I actually discovered this method while living in China and now that is how I keep myself organized.

Check out bullet journaling to see if it’s a good fit for you!

3. Get your classroom under control.

It can be stressful when your classroom is out of control. One way to reduce this stress is to make sure you have a set routine and rules for your students to follow.

In order to not become overwhelmed with your classroom, start by organizing your lessons, making sure there’s a good flow in your classroom, and managing your time by having a schedule each day. You’ll also want to enforce the rules consistently and create a calm and organized learning environment throughout the day.

If you have a teacher’s budget from the school, you might want to look into purchasing some items to make your classroom feel like home. Some of these items might be a cozy rug, a helpful bookshelf, or a teacher’s chair just for you.

Read next: Is teaching abroad difficult?

will teaching abroad hurt my career

4. Overcome nervousness.

Many ESL teachers feel nervous before their first class. Some reasons you might be feeling nervous are if you don’t feel prepared, if you’re not familiar with the material, or if you’re teaching a class for the first time. With time and practice in the classroom, you’ll start to feel more comfortable and soon you’ll be a pro-teacher!

Some tips to overcome nervousness include breathing deeply, focusing on your positive qualities, and picturing yourself being successful.

You might also want to start connecting with other teachers in your school so that you have someone to talk to when you’re having a rough day. Having someone there can also help you explore different ideas and ways of teaching as well.

5. Tap into your empathy.

One of the best things about being an ESL teacher is that you have to ability to tap into your empathy. You will often find yourself in situations where you have to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and try to understand their point of view.

This ability can be extremely helpful when it comes to reducing stress. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a few minutes to think about how your students are feeling and try to understand their perspectives.

This puts your focus on them and not on you, which then starts reducing stress and anxiety and increasing compassion. Read more about the research through this article published in the Greater Good Magazine.

Read next: Can you teach English without knowing the language?

is it a good idea to teach English abroad

6. Find a teacher community.

As an expat ESL teacher, it can be helpful to find a community of people who understand what you’re going through. This can include other ESL teachers, expats in your city, or people who have teaching experience.

Attending teacher meetups, online forums, or Facebook groups can be a great way to connect with others and share advice and experiences. You can commiserate in the bad and rejoice in the good – it’s always so nice to find someone that knows exactly what you’re going through so you don’t feel alone!

7. Get to know people who aren’t teachers – or students.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in your own little world as an ESL teacher. Spending all your time with other ESL teachers and/or students can also lead to burnout. Make an effort to get to know people who aren’t in the teaching profession or your students’ age group.

From the coffee shop I volunteered for (mentioned below in #9), I started making friends who were not a part of my school world. They were local Chinese people who were engineers, business leaders, and so many more! I also met other foreigners who were not employees at my school.

With these new friends, I was also able to go out and explore my host city with people who knew their way around. If you don’t have a regular joint like the coffee club, other ideas include going out for coffee with a friend, joining a sports team, attending cultural events in your city, or hosting a game night at home.

8. Build a support system.

As you start building your community and friend group, it’s important to have a handful of people you can rely on when you’re feeling stressed. This is the person(s) you call when you start overthinking, need a pep talk, or even go out on a shopping spree with.

Your support system can include your partner or roommate, friends, family, or other teachers.

When you’re feeling overwhelmed, reach out to them for support and advice. Talking about your problems can often help to reduce the stress that you’re feeling. It’s always better to know that you are not alone.

is teaching ESL hard

9. Find something meaningful to do outside of teaching.

It’s important to have a hobby or activity that you enjoy doing outside of teaching. This can help reduce stress and keep you feeling refreshed. It’s also a great way to meet new people and make friends in your new town or city.

One of my favorite things to do was visit a coffee shop owned by a foreigner who offered an English club to Chinese university students.

I would volunteer to be an English conversationalist on Wednesdays (which was also one of the days I didn’t bring work home) and just had random conversations with whoever shows up. I got a free drink to show up, too!

Other ideas might include: joining a book club, going on a hike, taking a dance class, or cooking classes.

10. Learn to have gratitude.

When you’re feeling stressed while teaching English abroad, it can be helpful to take a step back and think about all the things you have to be grateful for. This can include your health, your family, your friends, and even the simple things like a roof over your head.

Start a gratitude journal and write down 5 things you’re grateful for every day. This can help shift your focus from the negative to the positive and give you a bright outlook on life.

Grab this gratitude journal to write down everything you’re grateful for!

how do you handle stress as a teacher

11. Keep a diary about the good and the bad.

In addition to keeping a gratitude journal, it can be helpful to keep a diary about your teaching experience, both the good and the bad. This can allow you to reflect on your journey and see how far you’ve come.

For me personally, this was a therapeutic practice to write down things that happen throughout my day. Keeping a journal can also help to identify any areas that might be causing you stress and allow you to address them.

12. Turn off your smartphone.

It can be very easy to become addicted to our smartphones and constantly check them for notifications. This can lead to a lot of stress, especially if you’re expecting work-related emails or calls.

Checking your phone often, especially on social media, can also cause feelings of longing as you see your friends and family living their lives without you. You might see a special birthday party celebration, see your close friends going on a fun trip together, or more and this can start to cause feelings of resentment.

Try to put your phone away and turn it off for a few hours each day. This will allow you to focus on the present and reduce the amount of stress you’re feeling.

overcome your nervousness

13. Talk to your advisor or seek help.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed, it can be helpful to talk to your advisor, mentor, or principal. They might be able to provide you with some advice or suggestions on how to deal with the stress you’re experiencing.

Talking to someone can help give an objective perspective or possibly even give you a plan to manage your stress. Also, keep in mind that this person doesn’t have to be a part of your school either.

The school I worked for actually had a person similar to a counselor who wasn’t a teacher for us to talk to. They also brought experts who lived abroad for us to schedule a time to talk with as well so that we can talk about all aspects of work and life causing us stress.

Check with your school to see if they have a counseling or advising plan in place for when things get tough.

14. Give yourself a break (and a pat on the back!).

It’s important to remember that you’re only human and you’re going to have good and bad days. Don’t stress out if you have a bad day or if things don’t go as planned.

This can be a day when the students were going stir-crazy, you forgot to make a copy of that worksheet you were going to use, or even if you had a mess up when the principal came to observe you.

Instead, give yourself a break and relax. Take a walk, watch a movie, or just spend time with your support system. Practice positive self-talk and then reflect on the next steps you need to take.

15. Manage your finances.

Teaching English abroad can be a very lucrative career, but it’s important to manage your finances well. It can be helpful to have a budget and track your expenses so you’re always aware of how much money you’re spending.

If you’re like me and you have student loans, you’ll want to make sure that you are managing those well (they don’t go away just because you moved overseas). In fact, I was able to pay off many of my student loans while I was living abroad, I was able to save for travel, and pour money into my savings account.

One of the best methods I used was the debt snowball method which helped me to manage my finances well! I also used an app called the Good Budget, which I don’t think exists anymore, but you can check out the newer version, Every Dollar.

Download the Every Dollar app to help you budget well.

16. Stay safe.

As an ESL teacher working abroad, you might find yourself in some risky situations. It’s important to take precautions and stay aware of your surroundings at all times.

You most likely won’t need to take your travel documents like your passport to work with you every day, so have a safe place for those in your home.

But you’ll want to be aware if you’re walking, taking public transit, or biking to work. I’ve fallen off my bike or ran into people (on accident!) before while trying to get to work – you never know what can happen!

It’s also important to know where your embassy is or be aware of where to go in case of a country-wide emergency. For my school, our teachers were told to head to the school in case anything major happened. What is it for your school or teacher?

how hard is teaching English abroad

17. Prioritize self-care.

It’s important to make time for yourself and practice good self-care habits. This can include things like getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, and exercising regularly.

When you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a few minutes to relax and pamper yourself. Take a hot bath, read your favorite book, or listen to calming music.

You might even want to go out and get a massage (those are super affordable in Asia!) or have a spa night with some friends.

18. Have quiet time or meditate.

When you’re feeling stressed, it can be helpful to spend some time meditating or having quiet time. This can allow you to relax and clear your mind.

There are many different ways to meditate, so find one that works best for you. You can also try out different relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation or yoga.

If you are religious, spending time in prayer can also help you share your inner thoughts and gain peace in knowing that there is Someone on your side.

19. Have a regular workout routine.

Exercise is a great way to reduce stress and anxiety. When you have a regular workout routine, it can help to improve your mood and increase your energy levels.

There were several teachers in my school who were fitness-oriented and they would set out different challenges for us to participate in monthly. One of these challenges was to reach 10,000 steps daily on a fitbit or apple watch and win a prize in the end.

I also had friends who trained for 5ks and marathons so we would go out regularly for a walk or a run. I also had a bike so on the weekends, I would spend 2-3 hours bike riding around my city. It was great to be out in nature and take care of my body at the same time!

20. Stay in once in a while.

If you find yourself doing too much, trust me this happens, then it might be a good idea to just stay in once in a while. This can allow you to catch up on your sleep, relax, and recharge your batteries.

At one point, I found myself going to work during the day and my evenings filled with dinner dates with friends, volunteering, or wanting to explore the city on my weekends. I would then start my week overtired.

So if you find yourself adding too many commitments to your calendar, find some time to just stay in and veg out on Netflix.

prioritize self care

21. Take the opportunity to travel.

Teaching English abroad can be a great way to travel and see the world (which sounds like the opposite of #20, but you’ll have so much fun traveling!). You might find yourself with more vacation times than usual when your school observes the host country’s holidays.

When your vacation times come, take the opportunity to travel and explore new places. You’ll likely learn a lot about other cultures and get to experience new things. It’s also nice to know that you have a vacation coming up so you can start feeling excited about it!

Read next: 10 Reasons to Hop on a Plane Today

Final thoughts on how to handle stress when teaching abroad

Although it can be stressful to teach English abroad, there are ways to handle the stress and enjoy your time. By preparing for potential challenges and knowing how to take care of yourself, you can minimize the amount of stress you feel.

How do you deal with stress when living in a foreign country? Share your tips in the comments below!


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My Favorite Travel Tips + Resources

Here is a quick glance at all my go-to travel tips and resources that I use to plan every trip! For more information, check out my travel resources page.

  • Booking flights: I use Google Flights to check all routes and find the best flights. Then I compare them with Expedia (for reward points) and Skyscanner (for the lowest prices) before I book.
  • Accommodations: I love budget-friendly rentals or booking at a hotel where I can earn points. For hotels, I go through Booking.com or book directly with Marriott (for points + rewards). When I travel internationally, I’ll book through Hostelworld for very budget-friendly stays. For vacation rentals, I usually look through Airbnb, but you could also use Vrbo. Expedia also has some great bundles for hotels, flights, and car rentals altogether.
  • Transportation: For travel in the United States, I love renting through Expedia with Enterprise or Thrifty. They have been consistent and provide the best customer service. For international travel, I’ll book through Rome2Rio or Eurail for trains or bus fares.
  • Travel Credit Card: I book all my travel (flights, hotels, car rentals) through my favorite travel credit card. I also use this card for everything on my trip including dining, excursions, and souvenirs. Apart from earning 5x more points towards free travel, there are amazing benefits: no foreign transaction fees, trip cancellation/interruption insurance, trip delay reimbursement (so I can book worry-free), fraud protection, emergency assistance – it’s really a great deal! Check it out here!
  • Vaccines and Medications: Check the CDC website for updates on necessary vaccines to enter a country, including updates on Covid-19 and recommended places to visit. I recommend getting all the vaccines you need before you go!
  • Tours + Experiences: I absolutely love my tours! Everything from eerie walking ghost tours to food tours, I’ll usually book something every trip either through Viator or GetYourGuide. I also love LastMinute.com for very affordable tickets to theaters and other experiences in Europe.
  • What to Pack: I almost always travel by backpack. For products I like, check out my packing guide page for all the things I take with me on different trips.