Teacher Stress

As part of stress awareness month, we look at the growing concerns of teacher stress. We then focus on understanding stress and suggest some coping strategies.

Teacher stress and findings from recent reports

Before we go any further, we need to understand the potential impact of ongoing stress on teacher mental health.

So, here is a reminder of 10 important findings from recent reports. (Taken from the Office of National Statistics and NASUWT’s wellbeing at work survey):

  1. 3 in 4 suicides among teaching professionals are primary and nursery school- teachers.
  2. The primary school teacher suicide rate is nearly twice higher than the national average.
  3. Suicides are one of the biggest causes of teacher work-related deaths.
  4. 87% say they have lost sleep due to work-related worries.
  5. 85% report feelings of anxiousness.
  6. 84% report low energy levels.
  7. 23% report drinking more alcohol.
  8. 19% said they had taken medication.
  9. 12% report the use of or increased use of antidepressants.
  10. 3% say they have self-harmed because of their work.

Understanding stress

Stress is a reaction to an overwhelming thought which triggers physical changes in your body. Your brain logging your tense thought, prepares you for fight or flight, a survival reaction your body uses to protect it from danger. For example, if facing an aggressive dog and needed runaway, or you needed to carry out a task quickly to finish it.

In the fight/flight reaction, your body releases adrenaline and cortisol, to release glucose in your bloodstream for energy. This activates your muscles, prioritising this over other bodily functions such as digestion. Having successfully run away or fought off danger, your body begins to return to its relaxed state and resume its natural processes. When your perceived stress does not involve direct danger, your fight or flight response is not utilised.  This results in the adrenaline and cortisol continuing to be released.

Effects of cortisol

Sustained increased cortisol affects sleep causing you to have difficulty getting off to sleep and wake early.  You may experience an interchangeable jittery feeling and tiredness. It makes you irritable and irrational as your emotional part of your brain is in a state of negative bias. This colours your daily experience leading to constant misinterpretation of events and people; relationships suffer.

Over the long term, left unaddressed, it can increase your risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes. You can gain weight because cortisol increases your appetite. Cortisol signals to your body to shift metabolism to store fat, as far as the body is concerned it’s all about survival.

Teachers and stress

Teachers are more likely to experience an overwhelming feeling of having too much to do because of increased workloads, which releases the stress reaction. The feeling of having too many demands and lack of control, affecting you emotionally, can make you feel like a failure. It can make you feel angry or oppressed and resentful towards others causing relationship issues, culminating in new problems. In addition, with the increase of pupil mental health problems, you may not have the skills to deal with some of theirs needs and behaviour, also adding to stress.

You are not alone if you are stressed and report figures more than back up the growing concern regarding teacher mental health.

Coping with stress

First of all it’s not your fault if you are stressed, it seems to be an occupational hazard at the moment. However, that does not mean there are things you cannot do to help yourself.

There are many ways to cope with stress, here are few to consider.

Practical strategies to help with teacher stress
  1. Is there something within your control you can change? If you feel overwhelmed, think practically what you could change. It does not necessarily mean changing something in school, it may be paying for a cleaner to do the housework to ease other burdens from you.
  2. What activities are you doing to relax (as opposed to recreation which is different) like breathing exercises, meditation, mindfulness, and relaxation techniques? Many apps, podcasts exist to instruct people, find some that you like and practise daily, it will help.
  3. Are you giving yourself enough general down time to counteract the tension accumulated in your body?  It’s important to have fun so make sure you schedule some time for this into your week.
  4. Remember to plan well for eating during the school day and staying hydrated. Educate yourself on mood boosting foods like bananas that are one of the best foods to eat if you are stressed or depressed.
  5. Exercise has been proven to help with mental health, it releases the hormones that you want to have in your body, the ones that make you feel good. Also, it can take your mind off your worries; distraction is useful. Walking can be combined with mindfulness, especially if you can connect to nature.
  6. Pay attention to sleep, allowing non-screen time (TV or computer) for at least an hour before, try reading or listening to music instead. In addition, check your room temperature/ duvet is right for you, that your room is tidy and well ventilated.
    Refections on your thinking if stressed and talking to others.
  7. Is there someone you can speak to who has the power to change something for you?
  8. Examine your thoughts and beliefs about yourself, if you are constantly telling yourself, you must do things at the expense of your health, stop, and think ‘do I?’ You may be habitually catastrophising due to negative bias as result chemical changes in your brain. It’s an easy habit that creeps up when you are experiencing prolonged stress. Read up on it, write your thoughts down and reflect on their accuracy.
  9. Seek peer support, stress can make you feel alone and inadequate, talking to colleagues can help.
  10. Be aware of your own negative self-talk, self-criticism, and unrealistic expectations, be easy on yourself. Keep a diary.
What you can do and further help

You can use this list to flag up what you may need to pay attention to; you can read more about any of these things. Every public library has wellbeing section and there are many podcasts and apps to help. However, if you are not sleeping most of the time, your appetite is affected or you have problems concentrating, seek help. In the first instance see your GP and tell them how you are feeling; one in four GP appointments are mental health related, you are not alone.

If you have suicidal thoughts, seek help immediately, the Samaritans are there to listen to anyone confidentially. You can visit there website by clicking here where you can email them for an online chat or telephone them on 116 123.  They listen and give you your own space to talk without telling you what to do.

Further articles within our library are:

A  supply teacher guide to managing burnout click here
Surviving Primary school teaching click here
10 teacher wellbeing tip here

Don’t forget all are registered supply candidates can access discounted CPD via CPDonline who offer relevant courses. Mental Health Awareness for Teachers is a useful course that covers a lot of need-to-know tips. To read more click here.