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Stress: You’re Not Alone And It Doesn’t Mean You’re Weak

“I’ve got so much work to do!”

If you are a teacher, you’ve probably heard yourself say it. If you know a teacher, you’ve more than likely heard it too. Those with no understanding of the profession may raise an eyebrow in surprise; the age-old assumption that teachers work short days and have long luxurious holidays persists even with overwhelming evidence that proves otherwise.

In a recent study by the government, it was found that teachers are working an average of 11 hours a day, totalling more than 54 hours per week. The same survey found that secondary school leaders were working a staggering 62 hours per week, totalling more than 12 hours a day. The study was a result of the Workplace Challenge launched in 2014, and is expected to be carried out every two years. The idea of the initiative is to address the causes of an ever-increasing workload in the education sector that is leading to teachers feeling under immense pressure to spread themselves thinly to get things done.

With longer working hours contributing to stress and stress-related illness, there’s a more pressing need than ever to understand the workload that teachers manage, and fully accept the short and longer-term health implications.

It’s all very well making reference to the physical effects of stress, but what are they? Let’s have a closer look.

Not Just A ‘Bubbling Tummy’
The digestive system is one of the most prolifically affected parts of your body when stress comes into play. If you do an online search for digestive system and stress, it doesn’t take long to come across a link for the gut-brain connection. It’s even referred to as the ‘second brain’ by some sources. With this close link, it’s hard to group digestive symptoms into a concise reference, but those who are prone to digestive issues will know the complaints well. Intense nausea is notoriously linked with anxiety and stress, and it can be debilitating. Other digestive symptoms include constipation, diarrhoea, heartburn, and indigestion.

More Than The Flu
If you’ve ever had flu, you’ll know how difficult it can be to get back to a normal routine when you have residual aches and pains. Continually ignoring the signs of stress can result in flu-like symptoms too, with muscle tension mimicking the gnawing aches that are more usually associated with seasonal viruses. It’s also common for stress to cause chest pains (thanks to the fight or flight response and more muscle tension), and, of course, it’s vital to get any chest pain investigated by a medical professional, adding to the feelings of anxiety.

Another typically ‘fluey’ ailment that frequently rears its head in the case of stress is dizziness and associated fainting. Typically caused by shortage of oxygen, light-headedness can happen when stress is acute and particularly if you’re prone to faster breathing in stressful situations. The long-term impact? Headaches and yet more stress as you seek to actively avoid situations that may trigger dizzy spells.

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Sleeplessness And Beyond
Like to make sure you’re getting a full eight hours a night? If you’re stressed, it becomes far less likely that you’ll enjoy restful sleep, with insomnia and other sleep disturbances more often than not a nightly occurrence.

If you’re finding yourself faced with consistent and sustained stress, you’re likely to experience myriad other physical effects that can include skin irritation, blurred vision, high blood pressure, and teeth grinding. It all sounds very unpleasant, doesn’t it? And that’s before we even glance at the psychological symptoms that come with stress: depression, loneliness, irritability, and tearfulness have all been linked to cases of stress.

Not everyone will experience stress in the same way; some may only have a handful of symptoms, while others cycle through the entire spectrum of problems, making it a notoriously difficult condition to identify and treat, particularly when there are still so many questions around how schools in particular can help teachers by addressing the problem. This is where support and awareness comes in. In a Guardian article, Marc Smith writes the following:

If workload is the main reason for our levels of stress and anxiety then our efforts are best directed towards finding ways of taking control of it and making it more manageable. Getting involved with the growing number of teachers using Twitter for support and advice is also a simple and free way of discovering that you’re not alone.

You’re Not Alone, And You’re Not Weak
With that in mind, we’d urge anyone experiencing symptoms of stress to speak out it’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help. Maybe you’ve noticed a friend or colleague with some of the symptoms we’ve described; ask them if they’re ok. We’re on Twitter and we like to make new friends. Say hello to us!

Finally, please take a moment to share our infographic in the hope it can help someone who may be suffering in silence with crippling symptoms in prompting them to seek help.