Under pressure

15th January 2010 at 00:00
When it all gets too much, don't panic - you're not the only NQT feeling this way. Julian Stanley has some tips to get you through what can be a tricky time

Being an NQT brings with it all sorts of hopes and fears. You're flying solo for the first time, you've a whole heap of lesson planning to do, you're worried about lesson observations and you're excited about making a difference to your students' lives but now repayments for your student loan have just started being taken from your hard-earned salary.

The most important thing is to not panic. You're not the only one in this situation. Talk to your colleagues, your mentor, other NQTs on the TES Connect forums, or maybe get an outside perspective. There are two main areas you can do something about - your work-life balance and feeling stressed.

Work-life balance

It's important to maintain a good work-life balance throughout your career so getting it right from the start can be invaluable.

Your first hurdle may be feeling pressured to work during your holidays, evenings or weekends. You may, of course, be happy to do this as you are keen to make a good impression and learn as much as possible. However, try to remember that your holiday free time is a chance to relax, indulge in your hobbies and catch up with friends and family.

If you are asked to do work over the holidays or outside of work, remember you are entitled to say no. Try to be assertive, even if it is a task you would really like to do. Think about the effect it will have on your existing commitments and personal life.

If you do find yourself working through the holidays or outside of school during the week, you may quickly become tired and stressed, which will end up having a negative impact on your personal well-being.

Dealing with stress

At the beginning of your career you may not think dealing with stress will be a problem, and while most people respond positively to some pressure, problems arise when you start to have concerns about coping.

When addressing stress there are two elements you should consider: reducing the pressures on you and learning to manage them better. Unfortunately there is no simple way to beat stress, but here are some tips to help you regain control of your life.

Recognise the problem The most important step is to recognise the problem exists and take a step back from your life to think about how you're feeling.

Identify and deal with the causes Sometimes you will know intuitively what is making you stressed; other times it may seem like everything is going wrong but you are unable to identify the cause. Remember, stress is rarely caused by an event in itself, but more often by doubts about your ability to cope with that event. You need to be very honest with yourself and face up to issues that could cause some distress.

Teacher Support Network has launched an online stress test at www.teacher support.info, which can be useful when trying to identify the cause of your stress.

Take more control of your lifestyle By making a change to your life and adjust the way you think about your situation. Different things work for different people, but the important thing is to take action of some kind and find out what works best.

Symptoms of stress

Once you have identified you are stressed you may believe you can simply work through it and recover when life calms down. In reality, stress will undermine your ability to get things done and can affect your physical and mental health. There are three groups of symptoms:

Physical symptoms

- Sleep is disturbed and less restful.

- General aches and pains last longer and can develop into tense muscles and a general lethargy.

- Headaches and migraines become more frequent.

- You can become more susceptible to colds and flu.

Mental and emotional symptoms

- You may find yourself often irritable and withdrawn.

- You could experience anxiety and depression, which are both conditions commonly associated with stress.

- You may find it harder to maintain your concentration, and become increasingly forgetful.

Behavioural symptoms

- Frequently changing eating habits.

- You can become less reliable, less punctual, more often absent from work or more accident prone.

- Personal relations can become strained, often for no apparent reason.

- Increased consumption of stimulants such as alcohol and nicotine.

In isolation, these symptoms may be relatively minor, but if you are experiencing a number of them, now may be a good time to attempt to identify the cause. This could be simply taking some time out with friends or making sure you spend the weekend relaxing rather than working. However, if your symptoms become more serious it may be a good idea to visit your GP.

Julian Stanley is chief executive of the Teacher Support Network


For advice on work-life balance, being assertive and relaxation techniques, check out a wide range of factsheets in the online InfoCentre at www.teachersupport.info.

The Teacher Support Network is also available if you feeling stressed about things in your personal life. This may be relationships with your friends or family or concerns about how you are coping financially during this difficult time. In addition to the emotional help and support its coaches and counsellors can provide, it also has trained advisers who can give you advice on budgeting and making the most of your money.

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