It goes without saying that teaching is a truly rewarding career, but that doesn't mean that it's a stress-free job. In recent years, especially since the pandemic, we are starting to understand more about why looking after our mental health as teachers is SO important. Remember you can't pour from an empty cup.
This weeks blog post comes courtesy of Jessica Joan. Jess is both a Primary School Teacher and Wellbeing Coach for Teachers, who has opened up her life online to talk about her struggles, how she has learnt to manage stress and now helps others to do the same...
My Journey with Teaching and Stress
I’ve been teaching for a decade now. I love teaching. Watching children grow as individuals, seeing those lightbulb moments and smiling at their quirks – every day is different!
However, there’s a side to teaching that I don’t love. And actually it made me fall out of love with teaching for a while. The pressures of making progress, never-ending workload, ridiculous tick-box exercises, the long hours, etc.
I’ve worked in three completely different schools during my career and in each school I experienced chronic stress and burnout. I didn’t see it at the time though.
And each time I’d go to my doctor who would sign me off work for a couple of weeks with stress and send me on my way with anti-depressants. In the short-term, it helped. I slept and ate properly, the pills helped me to get up in the morning and after a few weeks of rest, I’d be back to ‘the grind’ again.
In 2018, all those years of chronic stress and burnout lead to me experience a break down. It was a Sunday night and the thought of going into school the next day was too unbearable. I was hysterical. Curled in a ball on the floor of my living room, crying uncontrollably, shaking all over, shouting and screaming “No!”, “I can’t!”.
The usual protocol happened – doctors, signed off, anti-depressants.
But this time, I realised that I needed to make changes in my life to avoid experiencing this again.
I’d worked in three completely different schools and yet I felt the same in each one. I was suddenly aware that I was doing this to myself and I needed to change that!
The road to recovering from burnout was long and I learned a lot about myself on the way. I implemented and practised different changes in my life, particularly mindfulness combined with natural healing of essential oils. Together, these helped to re-establish that love for teaching again as I now had the tools and the techniques to manage the every day stresses of being a passionate teacher.
This experience of healing and recovering from breakdown and burnout inspired me to help others who have, or are, experiencing something similar. I’ve seen so many talented teachers leave the profession due to stress and witnessed my amazing teacher friends be signed off and put on anti-depressants because they cannot physically cope anymore.
Unfortunately, I can’t see things getting any better in Education any time soon. You can’t wait for someone to come and save you – you have to save yourself! And it begins by making small changes in your life…
Here are my top 3 Happy Teacher Hacks to reduce stress, overwhelm and exhaustion.
- Your to-do list will always be never-ending! FACT!
There will be things on there that don’t get done and you have to be ok with that. Prioritise the things on your to-do list that need to be done that day/week and be ok with leaving some of them until another time.
- Set aside at least 15 minutes of time for yourself each day.
It can be in one block or spread out in little intervals across your day. But this is your time to do something for you; whether it’s to read, catch up with a friend, go for a walk, etc. You have 1440 minutes in a day, you can dedicate 15 for yourself!
- Focus on your breath when you realise things are getting a bit too much!
A great technique you can use is called the box breathing technique. Imagine a square… inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, and repeat as many times as you need for you to feel calmer. I often do this at school and at home when I can feel myself getting overwhelmed.
When I look back on my career, I’m extremely grateful for what happened (yes, even the breakdown!) because it’s lead me to where I am now – a teacher wellbeing coach supporting exhausted and stressed teachers to create a happier work/life balance so that they can shine once again!