Is it normal to feel this stressed?

There’s no denying the pressures on staff within the classroom have increased over recent years, sadly resulting in a record number of teachers deciding to leave the profession. Recognising how increased job pressures can contribute to stress and anxiety is key in deciding what you need to do to look after yourself.

Why you are more stressed

It can be easy to blame yourself if you feel that you are not coping as well with work related stress as you used to, however there can be all sorts of reasons for this, such as;

  1. More being expected from you as resources reduce
  2. Continual changes
  3. Increasing/ more demanding outcome measures/targets
  4. Increased stress outside of work having an impact

Is my stress normal?

I thought it would be interesting to look at some typical signs of stress, and when it starts to become unhealthy stress, rather than manageable levels you would expect to see within a challenging profession such as teaching. Sometimes these symptoms can creep up slowly meaning that people do not notice something is awry until it all feels too overwhelming, and functioning is then impacted.

Some stress and anxiety within a job is normal, and typical non-problematic symptoms may include;
  • Occasional sleep disturbance from an issue arising that requires some thinking through
  • Occasional physical symptoms such as a hammering heart, when doing something that takes you out of your normal comfort zone, eg when making a presentation
  • Temporary feelings of frustration or anxiety, that do not last long as situations get resolved
Stress symptoms that can indicate something more serious include;
  • Sleeping problems that don’t go away
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Raised anxiety levels
  • Physical symptoms such as palpitations/upset stomach/lightheadedness
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • The job goes from feeling exciting and pleasurable to feeling worrying and threatening
  • Feeling of dread before work
  • Low Mood
  • Memory impacted
  • Withdrawing from social contact
  • Excessive tiredness
  • Lack of enjoyment from the usual things that bring you pleasure
  • Inability to switch off from the job
  • Increased anger levels
  • Increased alcohol intake
  • Excessive anxiety on Sunday evenings

If you recognise some of the symptoms from the list above, it’s a good idea to take some time out to think about self care and coping strategies to enable you to thrive in your work environment, rather than struggle through. 

Here are some examples of what to do should you feel that your stress levels are beginning to impact your general wellbeing:

Learn to say no!

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, there will be a good reason for this, and it is important that you do not brush it off as your inability to cope; after all, if you have been in the job for some time, it’s unlikely that you have suddenly lost the ability to do your job. Our brain is a problem solver, and so if the volume of the work you do has increased, or become more difficult, the brain will struggle to switch off as it tries to work out how to get everything done; 

hence loss of sleep, inability to switch off, concentrate etc. If this is the case, take a step back and decide what you think can feasibly be done within the time you have, and what is going to be a struggle, and speak to your line manager to see what can be reallocated. If the response you receive isn’t favourable, it might be time to be honest about the impact you feel work overload is having on you.

Quite often the most conscientious employees are the people who find it hard to say no when asked to do something by a colleague; whilst it is a lovely trait to want to help colleagues out, if you are struggling for time yourself, being able to tell a colleague very nicely but firmly you would love to be able to help, but you are under pressure to get your own work done at the moment is perfectly reasonable.

Look after your mind

A daily meditation (Headspace is an great free app that offers ten free meditations, many other anxiety apps are available) to ground you away from unhelpful negative thoughts.

Breathing exercises – similar concept to meditation; focussing on your breath at work even for a minute or two can help if you can feel anxious thoughts building up, and nobody would know you were doing it.

Note down your thoughts and feelings and notice of there is a pattern or certain triggers. There are various stress/anxiety apps available that enable you track your mood. Journalling can also be a helpful way of understanding what is underneath some of the symptoms you are experiencing. Try not to brush certain thoughts or feelings away as insignificant.

Get some work/life balance

Ensure you always have something in the diary to look forward to, pleasurable activities are highly nurturing, and increase our tolerance levels for the more stressful aspects of life.

Try to make sure you are getting away from the desk at lunchtime and taking breaks when you can in the day.

Leave work on time – if this feels impossible it might be time to discuss your workload with your Manager.

Use your support network

People can feel shame when they are struggling, and feel uncomfortable about opening up to friends and family; if the situation was reversed and you found out a good friend had been struggling but felt too embarrassed to talk, and so continued to struggle on their own, how would you feel? People generally want to be there for you, and can make a massive difference, especially as most people will have been through something similar, and 

will help to normalise your responses. Connecting authentically with people who love us is a massive stress reliever.

Keep to a good sleeping routine

It sounds obvious, but if you’re not getting enough sleep, everything feels worse, and thoughts can get negatively distorted. Dull though it is to say, stimulants such coffee/sugary drinks may help you get through the day, but best avoided after 2pm. There’s lots of information out there regarding sleep hygiene that would be worth looking at if your sleep is disrupted.  

Get moving!

Regular exercise – good for releasing that adrenalin, and stimulating different parts of the brain.

Getting outside when you can, whether it’s going for a walk/gardening/cycling etc. – research shows that being surrounded by nature reduces our stress levels

Seek professional help

Getting a neutral perspective, together with effective strategies for moving forward, from a qualified counsellor or psychologist, can be incredibly helpful.

Feeling stressed, emotional, anxious or vulnerable is not a weakness – it is a normal response to what you are going through and is part of being human!
You just need to honestly acknowledge what is happening, so you can find the right strategies, to and then ideally build them in to your life, permanently, thereby ensuring good self care!

Laura Griffiths

Counsellor

Laura holds a Masters Degree in Counselling, and offers a wealth of experience of counselling both staff and private clients, and believes passionately in the positive difference that counselling can make to people’s lives, both personally and professionally.

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