This Stress Awareness Month, we’ve put some tips together to help you avoid and manage stress in your career. Read on for helpful tips that you can start using right now to make you a happier teacher.
The Teacher Wellbeing Index, put together by our mental health and wellbeing partners at the Education Support Partnership, reports that 67% of teaching professionals describe themselves as “stressed”. We all know teaching can be stressful at times, from managing a challenging pupil to managing a heavy workload, but when this stress becomes “the norm”, or affects your health and wellbeing, you need to take action right away.
Recognising stress is the first step in tackling stress. We are taught to recognise stress in our pupils, but find it much harder to recognise stress in ourselves. People react to stress in different ways, which can make it difficult to spot. Some of the symptoms that can be caused by stress are:
Ideally, stress will be managed before you begin to exhibit any of the above symptoms. There are some steps and mental exercises you can take in order to halt stress as it arises, or to alleviate stress once you experience it.
The following 6 steps are all things you can do for yourself, right away, to help manage your stress levels.
It can be difficult as a teacher, especially at the beginning of your career, to learn to say no to extra responsibilities that you don’t have time for.
For ambitious teachers, taking on extra jobs – for example supervising school trips, helping with extracurricular activities, teachers’ meetings and other non-instructional work – is a great way to show that you want to progress at your school. However, managing this extra work around your priorities is important, and you should learn to say no to tasks which will compromise your professional or personal wellbeing. If you are stretched to your limits and your new responsibilities don’t come with extra non-contact time, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to perform these new tasks without detriment to your job or personal life.
We fear that by saying no we will hinder our future work prospects or come across as rude, but if you learn to say no confidently and honestly, you may well find that you are instead respected for managing and prioritising your workload.
When you have too much to do, and no time to do it in, it’s all too easy to reach for the coffee pot. We all use caffeine to get through gruelling days, but too much coffee (or other caffeinated drinks) too often can make you feel worse in the long-run. Caffeine is a stimulant, and after the alert period you experience from drinking coffee, you will experience an energy crash, making you irritable and stressed. Caffeine can also prevent you from getting a full, uninterrupted night’s sleep. Needing coffee to get through the day is a sure sign that you need to restructure your professional day-to-day life.
Speaking of sleep, getting the right amount is usually the first thing to suffer when we’re stressed and have too much to do. When we don’t get enough sleep, our body produces the stress hormone cortisol, making us – you guessed it – stressed! Try to ensure you wind down each night before bed, perhaps using a relaxation or breathing technique, and aim for seven to nine hours every night for maximum pep the next day.
Sometimes, managing stress is a matter of addressing your personal outlook on both internal and external factors causing you stress. Practising gratitude is proven to improve both your psychological and physical health. If a gratitude practice exercise sounds too flowery for you, why not try simply writing down 3 things you think you did well at the end of each work day (or right now!) for a bit of self-gratitude that doubles as professional development. Generally, just trying to be a “glass half-full” person can give you a new and refreshing outlook to beat down stress.
If you’re still struggling to go easy on yourself when it comes to your overwhelming work pressures, and expecting too much of yourself, you can practice an easy exercise. Simply imagine that your problems belong to a friend, instead of yourself – what advice would you give to that friend? Give the same advice to yourself, and follow it. We often find it easy to be hard on ourselves when we would be far more understanding of a friend’s work-related problems. This exercise can give you a new external perspective on your stress.
There’s loads of helpful articles and apps available to help you manage and alleviate some of the symptoms of stress. The Professional Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education recently created this infographic on ways to build mindfulness for teachers after they conducted a study, which found that nearly 70 percent of teachers report ‘not feeling engaged in their work’, and nearly half report experiencing job-related stress daily.
If you’d like to join our pool of happy teachers, you can register with Engage Education, or just get in touch for a chat. One of our consultants will be happy to talk to you about your needs and give you more information on what it’s like to be an Engage teacher.