We know it’s crucial that first responders meet their own mental health needs before they help others.
We could argue that teachers play a similar role when faced with the needs and struggles of young people each day. This has certainly been the case with the increased levels of responsibility they have experienced during the ongoing pandemic.
Teachers have worked tirelessly to keep their students (and themselves) educated, safe and in line with regulations, as well as coping with the harsh emotional difficulties of life in a pandemic.
But how do you know when you’re hitting your limit?
You may be suffering from compassion fatigue, a process that can feel similar to burnout but comes from the impact of helping others – often through stress or trauma. This can take a heavy toll, both physically and psychologically.
Teacher wellbeing: Tips for preventing compassion fatigue
Here are five ways you can prevent or deal with compassion fatigue if it hits you:
1. Acknowledge it
The first step is to acknowledge that the stress of what you're experiencing, seeing and feeling every day is very much real. We have been living in a pandemic situation for more than a year and have been faced with regular trauma on top of what is already a stressful career.
Having the self-awareness to recognise this can be powerful, so you can take steps to manage it before it gets out of hand.
2. Practice emotional self-care
Create clear boundaries and be aware of what you are able to handle on any given day. The Trouble Tree is a fantastic analogy for keeping your work stresses out of your home by suggesting you leave them at the door to protect your work-life balance.
If a week has been particularly tough emotionally, make a plan to switch off. Turning off your phone or switching off email notifications, for example, can offer welcome relief. Or sometimes talking can be the best medicine to help you piece together all of the emotions you have been faced with.
Whatever your self-care approach, the classic aeroplane oxygen mask analogy tells us to put our own safety first, so leave the guilt behind and look after yourself.
3. Be mindful of your physical health
It is increasingly clear that emotional health is intrinsically linked to our physical health. Finding the time to exercise (even in short bursts), eat well and rest is essential. Being aware of your physical feelings can often bring to light how you may be feeling under the surface.
Finally, if you are ill, take time off to recover properly. There are no rewards for working through sickness and the knock-on effect of doing this over time can play havoc on your overall health.
4. Seek support within your school community
Speak to your line manager if you need support with the needs of particular students or members of staff if you are a line manager. Reach out to colleagues over a cup of tea. The more you internalise, the more you are carrying.
5. Seek external support
Education Support is a fantastic resource available to teachers, offering advice on all kinds of mental health issues and a helpline to call if you need it. Sometimes reaching out and seeking professional support is the lifeline you might need. Don’t suffer in silence.
Melissa Hall is an English curriculum leader and specialist leader in education