5 simple steps to handle teacher anxiety

Anxiety is a common issue for teachers – here Jamie Thom, who suffered burnout, offers the benefit of his experience

Mental health: Anxiety is an increasingly common problem for teachers, writes Jamie Thom

Early morning awakenings?

Heart pounding as you obsess about the day ahead?

Frantic running around and a growing feeling of panic as the day progresses?


Quick read: Wellbeing: how to avoid teacher burnout

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Most teachers are familiar with a bit of anxiety. For some, however, it can become debilitating, leaving them unable to function professionally.  

I naively thought that taking on lots of responsibility early in my career would dissolve the nagging anxiety that I felt was just part of being a teacher. 

Teacher wellbeing: tackling anxiety

But, of course, it made things a great deal worse. A significant burnout meant that things had to change. Quickly.

To say I am a walking vision of serenity now would be untrue. But the following five steps have helped me to work with a more anxious temperament, rather than against it. 

Acceptance

We will always experience a degree of anxiety in our working lives; this can be healthy and drive us to be better at what we do. Rather than fighting against feelings of stress and anxiety, it can be more helpful to take a detached approach. 

Noting when we feel anxious during the day can help us to reflect on the root causes, then make proactive steps to plan to address those feelings.

Sleep hygiene

This job saps energy, calling on us to perform sometimes for more than six hours a day. Feelings of anxiety can seem supercharged when we have not allowed ourselves enough time to rest. 

Cutting down on caffeine, stopping all work and electronic devices at least an hour before bed and sticking to a sleeping pattern have worked wonders for me.

Compassion

It’s no surprise that there are so many perfectionists in teaching. It is, after all, a profession that will attract idealists and those who are determined to do all they can to help young people succeed. We do need to be aware of the dangers of a perfectionist self-narrative, however, and recognise that it is fuel for anxious thoughts. 

Instead of always beating ourselves up about our work, viewing ourselves with the same care, kindness and empathy that we have for our students is vital for our own mental health.

Prioritising what gives us joy and meaning, alongside our work, will make us calmer and better in our classrooms: family, friends and hobbies are essential in allowing us to step outside of anxiety.

Stoicism and strategy

Stoical philosophy encourages us to consider what we have control over, and to focus our attention on that. We can’t control many of the causes of anxiety in the workplace, but we can control how we respond to them. 

Thinking strategically can help us to feel in control. Knowing what we are working towards, and where anxiety trigger points in the coming weeks could be can help us approach them from a stronger position. 

Positivity 

At times we need to force ourselves to pause and recognise the positives. That can be a simple as writing down three things that have stood out in the day: a wonderful piece of work; a delightful interaction with a young person; a moment in a lesson in which everything clicked.

Building this as a habit will mean that anxious thoughts begin to be dampened by a more positive perspective. 

Jamie Thom is a teacher of English in Scotland, who until recently worked in schools in England. His book, A Quiet Education, will be published later this year. He tweets @teachgratitude1 

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