16th May 2023
Dealing with teacher anxiety
It is no secret that teaching can be a stressful profession. Teachers themselves have to be feeling mentally strong in order to be able to help their students with their mental health and there clearly needs to be more talk about teacher anxiety.
The job is a demanding one — you are standing in front of a classroom of students all day, you often take work home and you are often assessed on measures which you can have little control over (such as students’ grades). These issues are challenging for all teachers, especially those who are suffering from anxiety.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can be mild or severe. We all feel anxious from time to time and that is perfectly normal, but anxiety as a condition means that the anxiety is more severe and constant, affecting your daily life.
Anxiety can be generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) or can be the main symptom of several conditions, including:
- Panic disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
The symptoms of anxiety can be physical as well as psychological and they can have a knock-on effect. For example, if you have difficulty sleeping due to anxiety, the resulting tiredness can make your psychological and physical symptoms worse. All this can also lower your immune system so that you pick up the bugs circulating around school more easily. The list is endless, but symptoms can include:
|Trouble concentrating||Chest pains|
|Feeling time speeding up/slowing down||Feeling or being sick|
|Inability to relax||Dizziness|
|Derealisation||Headaches and teeth grinding|
What can cause anxiety for teachers?
Some people feel a constant sense of anxiety all the time, without any distinct trigger. Teaching, however, can often be a trigger for anxiety as teachers can find that they experience ‘burnout’ when they go through long periods of stress. Sometimes a stressful situation is obvious, like a student or parent who is challenging you. Often the stress can be low-level and constant so you don’t notice it until you start to feel physical symptoms.
Feeling anxious as a teacher can be exacerbating if you feel unsupported and isolated. The nature of the job can be isolating, because a teacher spends most of the day talking to children in the classroom, only coming together with other adults to talk in the staffroom.
Teachers are also often highly conscientious people by nature who have an exceptional drive to help others, and so put unrealistic pressure on themselves. Teachers can also deal with issues that can be emotionally challenging in schools, such as pupils being taken into care or taking on a role as a pupil’s confidant as they talk about difficult situations at home.
If you have always been a naturally anxious person before teaching and find that the job is making it worse, then it is vital that you seek help from your GP and talk to your school so that you can enjoy your work again.
Relief for anxiety
Knowing how to deal with anxiety as a teacher is so important, as you should know how to manage and mitigate the symptoms. It is vital to not suffer alone — there are ways of overcoming anxiety so that you can have a happy and healthy career. Here are some ways to deal with anxiety as a teacher:
Ask for help
Your first port of call should be your GP, so many people put off going to the doctor about a mental health condition. It is vital that you do go because your doctor will be able to refer you to the appropriate treatment, whether it is medication, counselling or both — the results can be life-changing!
Remember that your mental health comes first
Officers in the army are taught to look after themselves first on the battlefield as only then can they be of use helping others — they need their strength to be able to physically and mentally help those in need. The same applies to teachers! As a teacher you need to be mentally fit and well; it is a fundamental prerequisite for quality teaching and inspiring your students.
Set work boundaries
Teaching can be all-encompassing, particularly if you are a perfectionist. But you have to set boundaries or you will end up working all hours and may suffer from teacher burnout. It helps to set up a routine and stick to it. For example, limit staying behind after school to one-hour maximum. Have a set bedtime and nighttime routine. Don’t leave weekly lesson planning until Sunday night. At first, you may find it hard, but in time your body will synchronise with the new routine and you will relax. It’s amazing how much more productive you can be when you have limited time to complete a task.
Find pursuits outside of school
Teaching can take up your entire life if you let it, so it is vital that you take some time to carve out some interests outside school. Consider things like an art or music class, a choir or a book group or an activity of interest to you! Meeting new people and relaxing with them will give you the respite you need. Alternatively plan trips — from local trips to the theatre or travelling abroad in the school holidays. Making meditation part of your daily routine can also help to reduce your stress levels and there are meditation techniques and breathing exercises which you can apply during quiet times in your school day. Meditation apps and videos online will help guide you and many only require a few minutes of your day.
Diet and exercise
Exercising regularly will trigger the feel-good endorphins in your body triggering a positive feeling. Finding something you enjoy and which is sociable will add to this — something like zumba, horse riding, cycling or swimming. If you are short on time, work exercise into your commute, lunch breaks and walk as much as you can within the school grounds, you could even volunteer for sports teams and activities, coaching students can be an excellent way to relieve stress!
It is important to combine exercise with a healthy and nutritious diet with plenty of fruit, vegetables and wholegrain. What you eat can also make some anxiety symptoms worse. Avoid caffeine and processed foods, drink plenty of water and limit your alcohol.
Find a school that suits you
Schools and local areas can vary enormously so it pays to research before you apply for the job. Some teachers prefer a small village school in the country while others thrive in an inner city school. Your environment can affect your mental health so choose wisely. Don’t feel like you are stuck in a school which isn’t right for you — if you need to move location to feel better, do so. Those working full-time might also consider looking for a part-time position to help gain a better work/life balance. If you are working for a teaching agency, make sure that you communicate this to your consultant and they will be able to find you the perfect job and school in your ideal location.
Ways a school can prevent teacher anxiety
You need to be open with your colleagues if you are suffering from anxiety as the likelihood is that you won’t be alone in your experience! They can offer you support if they know about it. Anxiety can be hidden well by laughter and a smart appearance so communication is vital.
Schools need to be supportive of teachers suffering with anxiety. This will help to prevent a high teacher turnover rate, sick days and low student morale and grades due to unhappy staff members. If you are looking for ways to make your school more supportive, consider these ideas:
- Recognise what teachers are doing well throughout the year — they need positive feedback and encouragement from staff members.
- Teach stress management and coping mechanisms.
- Watch out for signs of low self-esteem amongst your colleagues.
- Offer mentorships for newly qualified teachers.
- Promote mental health in your school with social-emotional learning (SEL). programmes for students that will also be beneficial for teachers.
- Make sure all staff members have time during the day to take a break.
- Make the most of your well-deserved break during the school holidays.
- Focus on learning rather than league table pressure.
- Make sure work responsibilities are evenly spread across staff.
Anxiety at school
Anxiety can occur for different reasons, whether it’s because you are nervous about your first day or dreading that one particular class, however, its important to know how to settle your nerves and reduce that anxiety.
Supply teacher anxiety
Working as a supply teacher can be daunting as you’re coming in as cover and are likely to be met with conflicts throughout the time you’re in the classroom. A teacher may not leave you a plan, or the students may be adamant that they have already learnt this content. An easy way to resolve this is to come prepared if possible or use online lesson plans if you’re not provided one. Incorporating fun lesson ideas into the working day can ensure that students stay on topic, are entertained and don’t misbehave, doing a quiz, watching an educational video or doing a practical activity are all ways to keep the class in check.
Upon beginning your day, try to find out how the school behaviour system works so you can make sure the students stay behaved and don’t act up just because there is a ‘supply teacher’.
If you are struggling and work for an agency, call them. Every employer should offer support and guidance whenever needed, and working in supply should be no different. At Engage our consultants will support you over the phone and help to resolve any situations that you have faced. Make sure to let us know that you’ve enjoyed your day as we love to hear your feedback to benefit you!
When you work as a supply teacher, you are able to pick and choose when you work, so never feel obliged to take a day somewhere that you’re not comfortable with. We will always have your best interests in mind and offer support where needed. If you are searching for a new supply teaching role, register your interest with us today!
New teacher anxiety
Upon starting as a new teacher there will be many mixed emotions going through your head as you feel the excitement of beginning a new chapter whilst being anxious about what lies ahead. A key thing to know is that experience is the best way to learn and no formal training can replace field experience, so getting those first few months under your belt will be invaluable and will help to frame your journey. Once you have some experience you will feel more relaxed and anxiety should start to feel less apparent.
Try to stay organised as organisation links to effectiveness, progression and succeeding, it also helps you be prepared for lessons in advance which will relieve stress and you won’t be rushing. Build professional working relationships with both your colleagues and students, building healthy relationships with students can take a lot of hard work and effort, but it’s more than worth it as you will notice their success due to your guidance. Forming relationships with other teachers and schooling staff can help you feel more settled and provide you with needed support, guidance and feedback as they may have more experience than you. Talking to people who have worked in this field for a long period of time can help put your mind at ease as they will share advice on their experiences.
Frustration is natural in your first year as teaching can feel like a demanding job when you begin, remind yourself it will improve and only become more natural over time. As time passes, you will grow more comfortable, confident, and prepared and will flourish in your role!
Helpful links and anxiety resources for teachers
We hope that our resources have helped educate you and helped you feel more at ease in the classroom, for more information and support please check out these links below:
Education Support — https://www.educationsupport.org.uk/helping-you/telephone-support-counselling/
Anxiety UK — https://www.anxietyuk.org.uk/
Mind — https://www.mind.org.uk/
Rethink Mental Illness — https://www.rethink.org/
NHS, Every Mind Matters — https://www.nhs.uk/oneyou/every-mind-matters/anxiety/?WT.tsrc=Search &WT.mc_id=Anxiety&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIuKXk_qvN5wIVWODtCh32AQqiEAAYASAAEgLmdvD_BwE
Mentally healthy schools — https://anxietyintheclassroom.org/
Careers with Engage
If you would like a new role on a permanent, long-term, or short-term basis, full or part-time, our expert team will be able to find the perfect role for you in an environment suited to your aspirations at one of our wonderful partner schools.
Support Education is the UK’s only charity which provides mental health and wellbeing support services to teachers. As an Engage teacher, you will have exclusive access to the Support Education Employee Assistance Programme, providing you with support 24/7, 365 days a year.
Register with an agency that fits the bill
Join the education agency with a support-based approach to recruitment. When you register with Engage, tBook a time