We are in the grip of a teacher stress epidemic. 3,750 teachers were signed off on long-term sick leave last year due to stress. That’s one in every 83 teachers, so chances are, you already know somebody who’s at the tipping point.
In fact, 75% of teachers report high levels of stress, which is a significant margin over other occupations. The outcome is clear: teachers – particularly NQTs – are leaving the profession in droves.
All statistics point to teacher stress being a negative thing, but the fact is, being subjected to some stress can be good for you. It can push you to achieve your goals and get things done. However, nobody should be subjected to non-stop stress. It’s unhealthy, and can cause lasting negative physical effects.
If you’re feeling stressed at work, here’s some techniques and philosophy that you can adopt to help you get through it.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive Muscle Relaxation, or PMR, is a great stress-relieving technique that you can fit into gaps during the teaching day.
First, tense a muscle group in your body; for this example, try it with your shoulders. Be careful to only tense your shoulders (or other muscle group), and do it firmly, but not painfully. Hold the tension for about five seconds.
Next, release the tension, and be mindful of how it feels. This is the crux of the technique; being mindful of how your body feels as it relaxes.
PMR works best when you dedicate 15-minute chunks to it, but you can also fit it in whenever you have a spare couple of minutes. By practising this technique whenever you have spare time, you will find it easier to relax your body on queue and release the tension that builds up over the length of a stressful teaching day.
You can even practise PMR in meetings or while your class is doing bookwork – it’s your secret stress-removal weapon.
Endorphins are one of the chemicals released by your body that make you feel happy and relieve stress. A quick way to trigger the release of endorphins is to exercise; going for a quick jog can cause something known as a runner’s high, which is a fantastic stress reliever.
Laughter also releases endorphins. In fact, even the act of forcing a smile can trick your mind into feeling better and reduce your levels of stress. You can try watching a comedy series or stand-up routines, but the most rewarding laughter comes from social interaction, so try to find time to spend with the people you most enjoy being around.
Which leads to our next point…
Social media usage is contributing to your overall stress levels. Everyone projects an image of the best version of themselves on social media, and, whether you realise it or not, it’s difficult not to compare our own lives to the perfect facade people put up online.
Having said that, social media is also a great way to connect with people; you don’t have to delete your account to reduce your usage! Just be mindful of how much social media content you consume every day, and ask yourself the crucial question: is this making me happy?
How much time do you spend each day being aware of the world around you? Sometimes, we can get so concerned with the things that stress us out, we retreat into ourselves and stop noticing the things that make us happy. The practise of developing your awareness of the present and connecting your mind with your body is known as mindfulness.
A popular and effective mindfulness technique that has cropped up in recent years is adult colouring books. It may seem childish, but you would be surprised how relaxing it can be to take 15 minutes out of your day on a playful activity without any distractions.
Sometimes, you might feel like you don’t even have time to enjoy your lunch, but it can be really beneficial to slow down and be mindful of the food that you’re eating. Remember that life is about the journey, not the destination.
If you start the teaching morning by having a negative experience on the road, this will carry forward into the rest of your day.
Be a defensive driver. You’re not in a rush, and you don’t have to overtake slower drivers. Just enjoy the experience of being out on the road. If you find yourself running short on time in the morning, you might not be leaving yourself enough time to get ready; consider starting your day a few minutes earlier.
It goes without saying, but you need sleep. However, most of us don’t get enough good-quality rest during the week, and it can have a dramatic negative impact on us during the working day.
If our sleep patterns are disturbed, we can struggle to maintain the correct levels of certain hormones, which can lead to reduced immune response, irritability, and – you guessed it – increased levels of stress.
Everyone needs a different amount of sleep each night, and you will know best how much sleep you need. Try to set a specific time to be in bed each night, and stick to it. Don’t bring your electronic devices with you; connecting to social media before trying to sleep can cause brain overactivity, which will keep your awake, and the blue light emitted by digital screens confuses your body’s internal clock.
You will be amazed at how much easier your day can be if you think ahead and plan out some simple elements. Think about the things that you want to spend less time doing each day, and hash out a plan to make this happen.
If you have freezer space, one of the easiest time-savers you can do is batch cooking. When you have the time to cook, make extra and freeze it in individual portions. That way, when you don’t have time (or the inclination) to cook, you can go freezer diving.
You should also review your everyday tasks, such as your marking, and think carefully about whether your processes actually provide value. For example, how many colours of ink do you use while marking? There are no actual Ofsted requirements to mark this way, so it might not contribute to anything but your stress levels.
If you’re being pressured by your colleagues to take on superfluous exercises like this, consider having a serious discussion with them about the value, if any, that this adds to student attainment. Marking overload in particular is a common concern amongst teachers, but it doesn’t have to be this way!
While your colleagues plan for the week ahead, they’ll be using their planner or diary. An effective way to support teachers and reduce job-related stress is to include stress-related pages in their staff planners, along with school-specific pedagogy. Consider a customised staff planner that works around your school day, so everyone can have this information handy. If you want to view examples of what you could include, you can view our online library of page ideas here.
Finally, if things are getting really difficult, don’t feel bad about reaching out and getting professional help. It’s normal for all of us to need help sometimes. You can also speak to Mind, the mental health charity, for information and help on a range of topics.
Do you have any advice or de-stressing techniques that you swear by? We want to hear from you!