It has been a bit of a term, hasn’t it? Not in the usual way, when schools land happily exhausted in a heap at the last day in a cloud of performances and festivities, excitement and anticipation; although schools have done amazingly well at celebrating Christmas in the safest way possible. This term has been marked by disruption, bubble closures, illness, pressure, and incredibly creative responses to the demands made of schools across the country.
Astonishing as the profession’s response to the Covid-19 crisis is – and it truly has been a phenomenal act of resilience in the face of monumental risk and, for some, trauma and loss – the events of this year and the subsequent demands made of schools are bound to have had an impact to a greater or lesser extent. It is extremely rare to go through a prolonged period of negative stress and come out the other side completely unscathed, and we are far from being free of the risks Covid-19.
Sadly, there is plenty of evidence that some teachers of all stages of experience are going through a range of symptoms from anxiety to exhaustion to depression. Headlines report school staff feeling “broken” by the latest round of demands made of them against a backdrop infection risk in their schools, and exhausted by the additional workload involved in keeping your work space as Covid-safe as possible.
Anxiety can be a perfectly normal response to the threats we perceive in our lives, but when it is prolonged, we may end up living in a near-permanent state of “fight or flight” which puts an obvious strain on us, physically and mentally. This kind of “pathological anxiety” is problematic and needs to be addressed, before long-term harm is done.
If this applies to you, these five ideas may help you to carve a path ahead that feels less fraught with stress:
- See your doctor: It is essential to discuss your feelings and experiences with your health care provider (usually your GP) if you are stressed and/or anxious. While you are there, ask for a blood pressure check too, as excessive stress can lead to raised readings and all the associated risks of this. Don’t put this off. You will get reassurance and possibly treatment if that is indicated. Aim to tell your doctor what you consider to be the cause of your stress.
- Be self-observant: Notice the symptoms you may be experiencing. Anxiety is typically associated with generalized restlessness, feeling on edge, difficulty sleeping and concentrating, palpitations, irritability, a sense of dread or worse, muscle aches, loss of appetite, nausea and more. Are you experiencing any troubling symptoms? Aim to keep a symptom diary noting what you are feeling, when you feel them, and the possible causes as this will help your doctor to determine the best course of action, if any.
- Avoid mood hoovers: It is important to protect your mental health at times of great stress and anxiety. We have to do what we need to do to support our wellbeing and sometimes that means staying away where possible from people who drain us. Self-care has to come first!
- Find your outlet: Whatever it is that makes you feel better, do it now. Something that helps you to get lost in the moment; a walk in nature, cooking a fabulous meal, connecting with a friend, listening to music that inspires you – it doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it distracts you and allows you to relax in the moment.
- Take care over food and drink: This doesn’t mean living a puritan life, but it does mean consuming what helps you to feel healthy and energized. At times of great stress and anxiety we may lose our appetites or not have time to create healthy meals. If we resort to quick fixes it is far harder to maintain balance, which is generally the key to enhancing wellbeing.
If you are aware of someone on your team who is struggling, whether in term time or during the holidays, please encourage them to seek help. Practical offers of help are often welcomed, or regularly checking in to see how they are if this would help.
And for any for whom these challenging days seem too much, please, call a helpline, anonymously if that is preferable. The Samaritans (116 123) and Teacher Support Helpline (08000 562 561) are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
We may not be out of the woods yet, and the challenges of 2021 may still look immense, but there is help out there and we will emerge in brighter days eventually, this much we know. My thanks to all school staff and volunteers who have kept education going under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. May the weeks ahead lead us ever closer to healthier and happier times.
About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for Eteach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world.