How The 5 by 5 Rule Alleviated My Teaching Anxiety For Good

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LAST UPDATED: December 19, 2022

We share our favorite method for dealing with teaching anxiety. And suggest the value of teaching this strategy to your students.

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Stress and anxiety are often side effects of teaching. You probably find yourself worrying about several school-related things every day. We know that stress isn’t good for our bodies, but relaxing can be hard, even when not at school. The 5 by 5 rule can help you deal with these frustrating emotions and alleviate your teaching anxiety for good.

What Causes Anxiety for Teachers?

When I was an instructional coach, one of the first questions I asked teachers was always: “What is keeping you up at night?” I never worked with a teacher who didn’t have a long list of worries that she was losing sleep over. While everyone’s responses varied, there were trends.

These were some of the top causes of stress for teachers. 

  • My students aren’t motivated, and I don’t know how to motivate them.
  • I never feel like I am done working; there is always something I missed or didn’t get to.
  • Parents don’t respect me or value the work I do with their children.
  • I don’t have the energy to try something new or grow in my teaching practice.
  • My students’ behavior is impossible to manage, and I don’t know how to help my students.
  • I am living paycheck to paycheck, and I am not sure how I will save for my future.

As I type this list, I find myself nodding. I can relate to so many of these worries because mine were similar. When coaching, I noticed that teachers would go down a worry spiral where one anxiety led to another. I couldn’t help but wonder if all this worrying was unproductive and a waste of brainpower.

Related article: 7 Biggest Challenges for Teachers in 2022 [According to Teachers]

What Is the 5 by 5 rule?

The 5 by 5 rule is a strategy you can use to manage your anxiety. The problems you’re facing seem really big right now. They consume your thoughts and keep you from focusing on other parts of your life.

The 5 by 5 rule allows you to take a step back and evaluate just how important these problems will be in the long run. It will help you focus on the most important things and save you from that worry spiral that can start so easily.

When you use the 5 by 5 rule, you ask yourself, “Will this problem matter in 5 years?” If the answer is no, you should spend only 5 minutes thinking about it. Then, let it go and forget about it. This will free up your brain to think about the most important issues and save you from many sleepless nights. You will probably realize that you were spending too much time thinking about the little things that don’t matter.

How Does the 5 by 5 Rule Work?

Let’s break down the 5 by 5 rule into easy-to-follow steps.

  1. Write out a list of everything that is keeping you up at night. Don’t censor yourself, and try not to edit your list. The goal is to get all your worries down on paper. 
  2. Reread your list and ask yourself if what you are worried about will matter in five years. 
  3. Cross out the things that won’t matter in 5 years. By writing them down, you are naming your worries. By crossing them out, you are releasing them. Don’t spend more than five minutes thinking about the things you crossed out. 
  4. Look at the words you didn’t cross out. Since these are the things you think will matter in 5 years, it’s time to take action on them. Can you talk through your worries with a therapist? Can you write more about how you are feeling and, by doing so, release some of your anxiety? Can you create a plan to help you solve some of the problems?
  5. Leave your list and come back to it in a few days. Do you still feel that these worries will matter in five years? The anxiety you felt when you were writing your list might have dissipated. By giving yourself space and time, you will likely find that your feelings about some items on your list have changed.

"The 5x5 rule can help you deal with these frustrating emotions and alleviate your teaching anxiety for good."

What Is an Example of the 5 by 5 Rule?

Let’s pretend you sat down and made a list of things causing you stress. They are written beside the bullet points below. We’ll work through each one together to see how the 5 by 5 rule works. 

List of Things Keeping Me Awake at Night:

  • A student’s mom yelled at me because her child didn’t do well on a test.
  • My students won’t stop talking, and I’m not finishing all the lessons I need to cover.
  • I don’t have enough time or energy for my own kids when I get home from a long day of teaching. 

Let’s start with the first one. Start by asking yourself if this student’s mom yelling at you will matter in five years. The answer is probably no. You will have a new set of parents by then, and this one will be in the distant past. Allow yourself to think about this problem for five minutes or less, and then cross it off your list. Don’t let this worry you anymore.

The second problem is that your students won’t stop talking. Ask yourself if this will matter in five years. If you have an especially chatty group of students, this problem may be limited to this school year. However, you will probably have another talkative group within the next five years. This may be a problem you want to take some steps to solve. You could try some new classroom management strategies with your class to control the talking.

The third stressor is a very common one for teachers. If you’ve been giving your all in the classroom during the day, it’s hard to go home and take care of your family. Ask yourself if this will still be a problem in five years. If you’re not planning to change your profession, this problem will likely still exist several years from now.

Since this is a long-term problem, take the time to plan how to solve it. Try simplifying some of the school-related tasks you must do daily. Leave school as soon as you can at the end of the day to maximize your time at home. Listen to your favorite song or podcast on the way home to relax. Start practicing self-care. Exercising, eating well, and taking time for yourself will give you more energy when you get home from school. If you’re looking for more ways to build self-care into your daily schedule, this 9 Self-Care Tips for Teachers eBook has many great ideas!

Why Does the 5by 5 Rule Work?

Perspective is powerful. The 5 by 5 rule helps us realize that some problems don’t need our full attention. We often spend a lot of time thinking about trivial things. When we cross out the problems that won’t matter in five years, we realize that our list of worries isn’t as long as we thought.

The 5 by 5 rule also allows us to focus on our really important problems. When we see which ones are left on our list, we can work on finding ways to solve those long-term problems. Even if they aren’t solved immediately, we feel much better when we have a plan and know the steps we can take to improve those areas of our lives.

"When you use the five by five rule, you ask yourself, “Will this problem matter in 5 years?"

Who Is the 5 by 5 rule for?

The 5 by 5 rule isn’t only for adults. I believe the strategies we find helpful for ourselves are worth sharing with our students. We know our students have worries keeping them up at night. Many of these worries are related to school. Students might be anxious about an upcoming test. They might be worried that they aren’t going to make the soccer team or get a role in the play. They could be stressed about something they saw on social media. We ask a lot of our students, but we don’t always teach them strategies for how to manage their emotions and stress. Why don’t we make time to teach those skills?

You can share the 5 by 5 rule with your students. Model the process, and walk them through it. Allow them to use some class time to generate their list of worries. Provide time and space for them to come back to their list a few days later. Giving your students the gift of perspective is equally as important as teaching them how to punctuate a sentence or use the Distributive Property correctly.

How Can I Use the 5 by 5 Rule in My Daily Life?

I like to end each day by reflecting on my life. The 5 by 5 rule is a great way to do this. You can write down all your worries and clear them out of your head. This can help you feel more relaxed and sleep better.

The 5 by 5 rule is just one strategy for dealing with anxiety. It can be used in conjunction with other stress-management strategies. Try using positive affirmations and inspirational quotes to improve your mood and to help you focus on the good things in life. You may also want to build some mindfulness and stress management techniques into your daily schedule.

If you’re wondering if the 5x5 rule works, just try it. It will only take a few minutes, and you might find that you don’t have as much to worry about as you initially thought you did. The 5x5 rule has helped many people improve their personal lives, and it can do the same for you.

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