According to the 2018 Education Support Partnership Teacher Wellbeing Index, 67% of education professionals describe themselves as stressed.
Let me start out by saying, although this article is written in a light way, I do understand the impact prolonged stress can have, and I can speak from personal experience on the significant impact acute stress has had on my own mental health.
This article is designed to provide a range of practical solutions that could support people with managing stress.
First things first
I believe your starting point is to acknowledge that you are experiencing a prolonged stressful situation. Stress affects us all differently but there are common signs you could look out for, www.mentalhealth.org.uk provides an indicative list which may be of use.
Make a list of events that leave you emotionally drained – This can be diverse and non–related situations, which could build up over time. It could be “that” class or pupil; “that” colleague, “that” commute, your workload, “that” marking and lesson planning outside of work time, it could be financial, related to your home life and relationships…The list can go on.
Use this list to keep a diary of when you experience your symptoms in these situations. You should be mindful not to dwell on these situations, otherwise the situation could become a self–fulfilling prophecy… “I feel stressed sometimes before I walk into the staff room because of XYZ...” may become “I am walking into the staff
room, so I will be stressed.”
Use your diary to indicate the situations and try one of the techniques here to help you, which I’ve separated into three different elements:
1. Mindset 2. It’s good to talk 3. Taking action
Be mindful- Mindfulness is a mind–body approach to life that helps us relate differently to experiences. It involves paying attention to our thoughts and feelings in a way that increases our ability to manage stressful situations and make wise choices. Research suggests it can reduce the effects of stress, anxiety and related problems such as insomnia, poor concentration and low moods. The Be Mindful website (bemindful.co.uk) features an online course in mindfulness, plus details of local courses in your area. Try to practice mindfulness regularly. Mindfulness meditation can be practiced anywhere at any time.
Move on, don’t dwell on past negative thoughts- Feelings of guilt, remorse and regret cannot change the past, and they make the present difficult by sapping your energy. Make a conscious effort to do something to change your mood (e.g. employ mindfulness techniques or do something active that you enjoy), when you feel yourself drifting into negative or stressed thoughts.
Think positively- Smile whenever possible – it’s an inexpensive and effective way of improving how you feel. Try and find something positive to say about a situation, particularly if you’re going to find fault. You can visualise situations you have handled well and hold those memories in your mind when going into stressful situations.
Attitude- A quote from preacher Charles Swindoll resonates with me “The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, tome, is more important than facts. It is more important than success, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company…a church…a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past…we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude…I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so, it is with you, we are in charge of our attitudes.”
It’s good to talk…
Share- Find a confidant who you can trust to talk to, but not to fuel your negative or stressed thoughts. It’s important to be able to share this in an open and constructive way and have someone to listen to you – even if they do not offer any solutions or help.
Don’t bottle up anger and frustrations-Express and discuss your feelings. If it’s impossible to talk it out, plan for some physical activity at the end of the working day to relieve tensions.
Seek help and support when you need it- Remember that it’s okay to ask for professional help. If you feel that you’re struggling to manage on your own, then you can reach out. The first person to approach is your family doctor. He or she should be able to give advice about treatment and may refer you to another local professional. There are also voluntary organisations which can help you to tackle the causes of stress and advise you about ways to get better.
Learn to say no- No is seen as such a negative word but it is all about perception. Saying no can be seen as selfish, but often saying yes is actually the worse option. Saying yes and then not being able to give the best version of you, giving low–quality time or effort is much more upsetting than saying no. Saying yes all the time can leave you feeling tired, stressed and overstretched which often causes you to become run down, leading you to be more susceptible to illness. Your immune system is your main defence system, and when you’re stressed this negatively impacts how well you can fight off bacteria, germs and viruses. This could in turn impact your prior commitments, leading to you having to say no to much more important things.
Review your lifestyle-
• Could you be taking on too much in or out of work?
• Are there things you are doing which could be handed over to someone else?
• Can you do things in a more leisurely way?
To act on the answers to these questions, you may need to prioritise things you’re trying to achieve and re–organise your life.
Set time aside each day for you and for exercise- Gentle repetitive exercise such as walking, swimming or cycling are good for relieving stress. Meditation, yoga, pilates and dance are also excellent. The trick is to find what suits you best. Take up a new activity unrelated to your current occupation; one that gives you a sense of achievement and satisfaction. Establish new friends in your newly found interest.
Take your time- Frenzied activities lead to errors, regrets and stress. At work if rushed, ask people to wait until you’ve finished working or thinking something out. Plan ahead to arrive at appointments early, composed and having made allowances for unexpected hold–ups. Practice approaching situations ‘mindfully’.
Eat healthily-This does sound obvious, however, eating healthily can reduce the risks of diet–related diseases. There is a growing amount of evidence showing how food affects our mood and how eating healthily can improve this.
Be aware of smoking and drinking alcohol- Try not to or reduce the amount you smoke and drink alcohol. It’s so easy to get home from a long stressful day and reach into the fridge. Even though they may seem to reduce tension initially, this is misleading as they often make problems worse.
Take time out- Take time to relax for you. Do things that give you respite from your stressful situations and help you recentre. Strike the balance between responsibility to others and responsibility to yourself, this can really reduce stress levels.
Some useful resources
Mind; www.mind.org.uk provides information on a range of mental health topics to support people in their own area.
Rethink Advice and Information Service; www.rethink.org provide specific solution-based guidance. Call 0300 5000927
Samaritans; www.samaritans.org.uk offer emotional support 24 hours a day - in full confidence. Call 116 123
Stress Management Society; stress.org.uk provides information about stress and tips on how to cope.
Education Support Partnership; www.educationsupportpartnership.org.uk The UK's only charity providing mental health and wellbeing support services to all education staff and organisations.
Mental Health Foundation; www.mentalhealth.org.uk; learn about the basics of mental health, treatment options, disorders, symptoms, myths and facts, and how to get help.
StepChange; www.stepchange.org.uk; provides help and information for people dealing with a range of debt problems. Freephone (including from mobiles) 0800 138 1111
Mindtools; www.mindtools.co.uk provides information on a wide range of topics which include stress management and assertiveness.
Be Mindful; bemindful.co.uk provides information about mindfulness and stress reductions. Guidance on how to learn mindfulness.
Anxiety UK; www.anxietyuk.org.uk runs a helpline staffed by volunteers with personal experience of anxiety from 9:30-5:30, Monday to Friday. Call 08444 775 774.