Mental health issues continue to rise among teachers in the UK – but you don’t need me to tell you that. A survey conducted in 2021 by Education Support (1) with over 3,000 teaching and education staff found that 77% experienced poor mental health because of their work and 54% considered leaving the sector due to pressure on their mental health.
Among the most common signs of stress at work that teachers reported were anxiety, difficulty concentrating, overeating, mood swings, insomnia, forgetfulness, tearfulness and depression.
To make matters worse, the same teachers who are most in need of support are reluctant to seek it because they fear being judged negatively by others. So how can we become better at managing our stress? The authors of Super-Helper Syndrome give us some ideas below.
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1. Watch out for early signs of negative teachers mental health
Be alert to any changes to how you feel and how you behave. That way you can take action before you reach the list of signs above. It can also help you spot signs in others. Changes to behaviour might include an optimist who becomes sad or starts complaining; an extrovert who withdraws; or someone who normally takes pride in their appearance stops washing their hair.
2. Know your own signs of stress
We each have our own reactions to stress. Knowing yours can help you manage it before it gets worse. Recognise your physical signs: disturbed sleep, muscle tension, headaches. Behavioural signs such as snapping at people, eating or drinking unhealthily. Psychological signs such as ruminating on problems, being overly self-critical, feeing anxious in situations where you’ve previously felt comfortable.
3. Avoid false needs
Notice when you turn to what we call ‘false needs’ – those that might feel good in the moment but have negative longer-term impact. The obvious ones are drinking and other over-indulgences. They can help you unwind temporarily but alcohol is a depressant so is likely to exacerbate feelings of anxiety. Staying up late watching a Netflix series feels fun but can prevent you from getting the 8 hours your body needs to rest and repair. Instead, find the things that truly relax or re-energise you personally, whether that’s physical exercise, meditation, music or other forms of self-care.
It’s a natural reaction to want to fight stress – to feel that you shouldn’t have to experience it at all. And feeling stressed often comes with self-reproaching thoughts like ‘I shouldn’t feel this way…other people can cope…I’m such a bad teacher’. These thoughts reduce your self-esteem and ultimately isolate you from others. And they don’t make the stress go away. But actually, stress is part of the human experience: everyone faces it. Allowing yourself to feel however you feel is more self-compassionate, and can actually reduce the impact of stress, improving teachers mental health in turn.
5. Social support
We’ve all heard about the ‘fight or flight’ reaction to stress – in life-threatening situations our amygdala fires, sending signals to the brain and body to prepare to fight or run away.
But there’s a healthier way to respond: we can learn to ‘tend and befriend’. The research shows that connecting with others, talking about how you feel with someone you trust reduces the impact of stress.
Find someone you trust and ask them to just listen while you offload what’s on your mind. The important thing here is to remember that you are not alone. Tell someone – a colleague, a friend, tell them exactly what you need: no one who cares about you wants to see you suffer.
If you don’t have someone that you can talk to personally, consider talking to someone professionally. Find someone locally within the BACP (British Association of Counselling Professionals), and see if they have time to see you. There is nothing worth investing in more than your own mental health.
Although the above advice can go a long way to helping you at times when you are able to manage your own mental health and wellbeing it is important to acknowledge the times when you can’t cope. If you are struggling please make sure you talk to your GP or a mental health professional.
Jess Baker and Rod Vincent are Chartered Psychologists and the authors of The Super-Helper Syndrome: A Survival Guide for Compassionate People. Flint Books, hardback, £18.99.
We do have a few articles on the site that focus on mental wellbeing in adults, alongside this article on teachers mental health, so do check these out below, alongside our mindfulness section too:
We do also have children’s mental health resources too, so do check these out too:
Do check out some of the other mental health articles from the internet too:
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