Whilst most of us may acknowledge the importance of protecting our mental health and well-being, what does this actually look like?
As the only UK charity dedicated to improving the mental health and well-being of the entire education workforce, we know that teachers and others working in education often put themselves last.
Yet our emotional health is paramount to our performance and our ability to manage stress, anxiety or feeling overwhelmed.
This is particularly important in a workforce that is disproportionately reporting high levels of stress.
Every year our specialist counsellors deal with over 14,000 cases from people across the profession. Those who have been working in education for under five years are most likely to get in touch. Our annual Teacher well-being Index revealed that this group are 38% more likely to experience a mental health problem compared to colleagues with over six years’ experience.
In a pressured and relationship-driven environment, emotional strain is taking its toll as the younger teachers among you are also the most likely to leave the profession.
Our counsellors hear from teachers and support staff calling before the start of a class, whilst experiencing a panic attack. Others phone in to report a physical illness, due to distress. When people call our helpline, it’s almost like a last chance. They’re feeling absolutely desperate and things have typically been building up for quite some time.
We need to change our relationship with health across the sector, learn to spot the warning signs for ourselves and seek help before we reach a crisis point.
The interaction in a classroom of an unsupported teacher who does not feel relaxed or has low energy will be very different to that of a supported teacher with a strong sense of professional autonomy and positive well-being, with appropriate, accessible support in place for everyone.
So what can you do to care for yourself?
- Relationships – As in our personal lives, it is important to build a positive network in the workplace. Adriane Bethune, primary teacher and founder of teachappy.co.uk advises keeping interactions as positive, clear and direct as you can whether talking to colleagues, students, pupils or parents. Positivity goes a long way to move any issues forward, and can sometimes bring fresh energy to a negative situation.
- Managing demands – In an education workplace demands are widely acknowledged to be high. For many of us, there just aren’t enough hours in the day. Learning to choose the things that you cannot complete can be a helpful antidote to the feeling of constant demand. As a particularly vulnerable group, we want to see better support for trainees and NQTs to develop their own judgement and resilience.
- Emotional intelligence – Developing a deeper level of self-awareness can help you to better navigate stressful situations. Take time to think about yourself and ask for feedback from people you trust: When am I at my best? When do I get stressed or anxious? Are there any common factors or patterns? What energises me? What calms me? When I’m exhausted, what do I find restorative?
- Practicing self-care – What activities are restorative for you? You aren’t being irresponsible by prioritising your own well-being: you are making an investment in your ability to be a relaxed, happy, present teacher tomorrow. This isn’t a ‘nice-to-have’, it’s an essential part of being an effective professional.
Education Support's free and confidential helpline is available 24/7 to everyone working in education in Wales.