Excessive workload is one of the biggest problems facing teachers today. Many feel they just don’t get enough time in the week to separate themselves from work, to relax and spend time with family.
A recent YouGov poll of teachers found that 83 per cent feel “stressed”, with nearly a third (32 per cent) “very stressed”. What’s more, nearly half of teachers say that their morale has declined in the past year.
The picture is bleak. But it is far from hopeless. These daily, deliberate acts of self-care, aimed at supporting your emotional, mental and physical health, can offer some element of hope and control in a bad situation.
Tips to banish stress
1. Keep a ‘gratitude diary’
Practising daily gratitude is a great way of counteracting the brain’s natural negativity bias. Simply spend a few minutes each day writing down three things that you’re truly thankful for. Learning to focus on what you have, rather than what you don’t, will help you to see the goodness in everyday life.
2. Practise mindfulness
Harness the power of the present moment and use your senses to explore ordinary tasks and situations with curiosity. Getting a shower; driving to work; eating a mid-morning snack – everything feels better when you’re in the moment and not jumping through thoughts in your head. You can read my tips on how to practise mindfulness here.
3. Schedule regular breaks and rewards
When you do have a solid amount of work to do, ensure that you take breaks. If you’re hitting the marking after school, for example, set a timer going so that you’ll have at least five minutes off every hour. If you wouldn’t keep a class working for that length of time without a break, then afford yourself the same grace.
4. Take up a hobby
After a hard day, it’s tempting to find opportunities to "switch off" – usually involving trash TV and a family-sized bag of Doritos. Really though, if we look for opportunities to "switch on" through hobbies and activities that take us into a state of "flow", then we’ll relax whilst we’re also practising, learning and enjoying ourselves. When all you do is work, or think about work, you’re in danger of only identifying as a teacher; pursuing pleasure through hobbies reminds you that you’re much more than your job.
5. Mix up your routine
Inject some mini-adventures into your day by mixing up your routines. Drive another way to work, park in a different space, nip out somewhere for lunch… do whatever it takes to tiptoe out of your comfort zone and feel a little more alive.
6. Talk, listen and laugh
Teaching can be a lonely job, so take the time to speak and listen to your colleagues, repeating the habit around your nearest and dearest. Keep your inner-child alive by finding opportunities each day to be silly, to smile and to laugh.
7. Create a good habit
Think about your triggers – which habits make you feel better, or worse? If there’s one good habit you’d like to take up, get savvy about how you can do this and make a plan. If you’d like to drink water first thing in the morning, leave a glass out next to the sink. If you’d like to up your exercise, why not combine 30 squats each morning with brushing your teeth?
8. Just breathe
On those days when things are going from bad to worse, and you feel like you just can’t cope, breathe in through the nose to the count of four, hold for one, then breathe out to five.
Jo Steer is a teacher and experienced leader of SEND interventions and wellbeing strategies