Two self-help tips for getting out of the stress cycle

Schools need to do more to protect staff, but there are things we can do ourselves too, says this teacher

Jo Steer

One teacher, who had to be signed off with stress, explains why he is now a happy, confident teacher again

Teaching is an amazing job, but unfortunately it can also cause stress and anxiety. For many, this can become increasingly debilitating.

If you find you are struggling to cope, it is important to seek help from your GP as soon as possible. They can refer you to the appropriate support. You can also contact charities, such as Mind, who have excellent services that are easy to access.

But schools should not be letting things get to this point. Every school should be creating a workplace that is supportive and reduces the opportunity for stress to sneak in. Unfortunately, accountability pressures and the nature of some schools means this does not happen.

So it is also important to take preventative measures ourselves. These can come in myriad forms, but in this article I want to focus on two techniques, influenced by cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), that I have had success with and that I know others have too.

1. Getting out of the negative cycle

In certain pressurised situations, when our buttons have been pushed one too many times, even the most calm and measured of professionals can feel that they have little control over their own thoughts, feelings or even actions.

Let’s say, for example, that you are the unwilling victim of an irate parent first thing this morning – and it’s completely OK to be bothered by that. But if you’re still "carrying" this misery, along with gut-churning stomach cramps into the late evening, then it’s likely you’re unconsciously adding fuel to the fire.

  • Are you continuously replaying the scene in vivid Technicolor? Try to change up the image by adding a pink wig and banana suit into the mix. Flip the negative emotion into something silly and laughable.

  • Do you loop around negative thoughts, based on how you should have handled things differently, even resorting to insults and name-calling? Consider what you’d say to a friend in this situation and instead, kindly tell it to your inner self.

  • Have you checked-in on your own verbal and body language? If you’re walking around with slumped shoulders and your eyes down, only looking up to tell anyone who’ll hear about this outrageous encounter, you’re actively turning a small albeit unpleasant moment into a day-long mood.

2. Check your facts

For me, one of the most powerful messages a patient gains through cognitive behaviour therapy is that your thoughts are not facts. Just because something pops into your head, doesn’t mean it’s reliable or true or even helpful. So we need to interrogate our thoughts.

Perhaps your mind is repeatedly telling you that you can’t cope with a looming situation – maybe a second encounter with the irate parent – and as such you’re a “pathetic waste of space”.

Not only is this a long way off from being constructive criticism, is it even accurate? Is there any hard evidence that you can’t cope, other than your thoughts and resulting sensations?

Maybe there’s even more evidence to the contrary, to show that you have coped with this and much worse.

With this in mind, it might be wise to come up with a more realistic, less emotive statement, such as: “It’s okay not to look forward to this – no one would. Whatever happens though, I’ll handle it as best as I can.”

There are many more techniques to be learned from CBT and other areas that can help teachers maintain a healthy mind. So often, in the busy rush of the day, we can fail to stop and give ourselves time to process things. Schools should point teachers in the direction of practical strategies like these and teachers should be given opportunity to use them. Too often, we wait too long to take action and the road back can be that much harder.

Jo Steer is a teacher and experienced leader of SEND interventions and wellbeing strategies

If you are struggling with stress or anxiety, the Samaritans offer help 24 hours a day, seven days a week


Register to continue reading for free

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you

Jo Steer

Jo Steer is a former leader now working with schools as a wellbeing consultant

Latest stories