Teaching was already a stressful profession, but the huge upheaval of the past few months and the ongoing uncertainty has increased anxiety for most of us, and with that comes habits of mind that can be very damaging.
If we are to reduce our stress we need to identify what some of these "mind traps" might look like, so that we can spot them, then skirt around them or at least pull ourselves out of them.
Here are five to watch out for.
1. All-or-nothing thinking
All-or-nothing thoughts may currently look like this:
“Wahoo! It’s a revolution back to a world of meaning, humanity and life-skills!”
“It’s the apocalypse! Off to the bunker! Why don’t we have a bunker?!”
As well as being completely unrealistic, thinking in extremes like this amplifies the sense that we’re riding an emotional roller-coaster. It makes the lows feel lower and the highs higher.
As a consequence, these thoughts may cause us to generalise and box ourselves into dangerous labels such as capable or incapable, weak or strong, perfect or a failure.
We’d be a lot better off in remembering that we’re not either, or, but rather human (and therefore much more complex and interesting than all of that).
2. Mental filter/confirmation bias
Let’s say you’ve decided that your school/education/Britain/the world has gone to hell, as proven daily by everything you see, hear, read and watch.
As much as there might be evidence to support this, ask whether you’re looking at both sides fairly. Could you be ignoring or discounting anything contradictory?
Watch out for this, especially online. It’s so easy to get stuck in an echo chamber of opinions that only reinforce what you already think and believe. We have to train our minds to see what’s there, rather than what we want or what we think should be there.
3. Emotional reasoning
When we experience powerful emotions in our bodies, our brains sometimes mistake this for the reality of whatever situation we’re in, ie I feel afraid, therefore this isn’t safe.
While it’s important to listen to our instincts, feelings are also sometimes just that – feelings. They don’t have to mean anything.
If this is a common trap for you, try an "exploring difficulty meditation" by searching the term on YouTube. This is something that’s really helped me to sit with uncomfortable feelings and explore them, rather than reacting to them.
4. Jumping to conclusions
Considering the government’s handling (or mishandling) of the pandemic, particularly when it comes to schools, predictions of future chaos are completely understandable.
Just remember that you’re not a mind-reader or a fortune teller and that it serves no one for you to become entrenched and stuck in cynicism and pessimism.
5. Shoulds and musts
“I should be better at home-schooling, Zoom, keeping in touch, Twitter, exercising at home, coping…”
All too often, "should" is used as a rod to beat ourselves with and now, more than ever, we need the opposite approach. We need to be kind, patient and constructive towards ourselves.
Maybe a better use of "should" would be: "I should take things one day at a time; I should let myself feel what I feel; I should do the best I can.”
Want to know more about mental health and Coronavirus? Here is a webinar with Professor Tamsin Ford from the University of Cambridge