Wellbeing: are you feeding your anxiety monster?

In times of stress, we can all turn to unhealthy things to get us through - but they can exacerbate the issue, explains wellbeing expert Jo Steer

teacher wellbeing anxiety

We haven’t been back at school long, but the summer break may already be starting to feel like a distant dream.

Aside from the odd Inset day, there’s no real warm-up post-holidays.

In fact, it’s a bit like being a passenger in my car: we go right from first to fifth gear. And, as I’m reliably informed, that does not feel good.


Quick read: Teachers, don't be afraid to seek help for anxiety

Quick listen: The truth about mental health in schools

Want to know more? How to stop new teachers quitting


That’s particularly true if you’re one of the growing number of educators who are experiencing mental health issues. The return to work can mean the reappearance of symptoms of anxiety and depression that waned over summer.

The biggest problem often isn’t the situation itself, but the fact that we feel powerless to change it. If we can’t change the things affecting us – if we feel stuck and helpless – then a lot of us will end up chasing numbness instead.

It may be with food. Or drink. Or shopping. And lots of things that we’re too afraid to write down in a teacher wellbeing survey.

The irony is that, although we may find that hit of relief and distraction that we’re looking for, substances like sugar, booze and caffeine actually feed anxiety and depression in the long term. 

The situation remains the same, but we end up feeling worse off.

So what can we do instead?

Pay attention

Start to really notice how you feel after you’ve consumed something. Everyone is different. My other half could drink espresso all day without so much as a jitter, whereas I’m googling symptoms of adult ADHD and bipolar disorder past one cup. Learn what works for your body and mind, and what doesn’t. If it doesn’t work, strive to reduce it.   

Pause

Think before you act. Do you really want that prosecco? Or has it become your habit to block out a bad day with booze? Are you looking forward to the actual taste of it, or focusing on how it’ll make you feel?

Is your discomfort eased simply by having the glass in hand, before you’ve even had a taste? Answering these questions might not always stop you from reaching for a bottle, but it’s at least an honest start.

Consume carefully 

Taste what you consume. If you are prone to emotional eating or drinking, slowing down and forcing yourself to consciously enjoy each mouthful can offer some insight into how much you really wanted it in the first place.

You may well find that, when eaten mindfully, the doughnut of reality isn’t a patch on the one you’d imagined.

Make yourself move 

Try out healthy alternatives. I know that hitting the gym is never going to be as appealing as takeaway pizza, but those endorphins will make you feel a whole lot better than you do right now, and will actually enhance your ability to cope with stress. 

Plus, it doesn’t have to be miserable if you choose something that’s suited to you. If you’re competitive, how about a weekly game of badminton? If you love being outdoors, recruit some buddies and get out jogging. If you’re willing to laugh at yourself, try zumba. Getting out of the door is always the hardest bit, but it’ll get easier over time and you’ll feel all the better for it. 

Jo Steer is a teacher and experienced leader of SEND interventions

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