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Have you ever found yourself in a situation where your to-do list seems endless and keeps you awake at night?
If you responded yes, you may have concluded, ‘I feel stressed’. But have you thought about what stress is, how it affects us and what we can do about it?
We may find ourselves using the term ‘I feel stressed’ quite often; let’s start by looking at the myth: stress is not necessarily a ‘bad thing’. If we reflect on our cavemen ancestors, for example, they used their stress response to alert them to potential danger, such as a sabre-toothed tiger. There would have been a boost of energy that enabled the cavemen to focus their attention when faced with a sabre-toothed tiger or similar, so that they could quickly respond to the situation.
Stress is primarily a physical response; this is what we usually notice first, a racing heart, sweaty hands. This happens when our body thinks it is under attack and switches to ‘fight or flight’ mode, releasing a complex mix of hormones and chemicals such as cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine. The release of these hormones and chemicals prepares the body for physical action and can often affect digestion and a real correlation has been noted between the gut and the brain.
In the modern world the ‘fight or flight’ response can still help us avoid potential dangers, however the challenge is when our body goes into a state of stress in inappropriate situations, this can lead to an inability to ‘think straight’. Spending too much time in a state of stress is of great hindrance to both our work and home lives and can impact our quality of life in a negative way.
We will all have our own unique stress signature. It’s important to recognise the signs of stress early, in order to take action to prevent any stress becoming unmanageable. You may notice changes; these may be a combination of emotional, physical or behavioural symptoms. It’s important to remember that we all have ‘bad days’ from time to time, but it’s when these negative changes reappear over long periods of time, that we need to take action.
Cognitive - poor judgement, inability to concentrate, indecision, self-doubt, trouble focussing on task
Emotional – moodiness, irritability, panic, cynicism, anxiety, feeling overwhelmed, frustration
Physical –rapid heartbeat, aches and pains, frequent colds, skin complaints, indigestion, high blood pressure
Behavioural –isolating yourself from others, sleeping too little or too much, demotivated, loss of appetite
Prolonged stress undoubtedly makes people ill and is known to contribute to many health issues including heart disease, high blood pressure and IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and certainly affects the immune system.
Here are some helpful antidotes for stress
Work stress is one of the greatest contributors to teacher burnout, challenges with managing time and coping with workload adds pressure on already overstretched teachers. Excessive workload is a problem in teaching. This can’t be ignored. I’m talking with many teachers who are currently experiencing debilitating symptoms of stress. You may be juggling planning lessons, preparing classrooms and assessment data, among other tasks. Here are some tips to help you manage your workload and prevent burnout.
Break tasks down into smaller, manageable chunks – organise the list under these categories:
Highlight the most important three tasks, once completed move onto the next three.
Sometimes the simple act of speaking to someone can be all that’s needed to help relieve the symptoms of stress. By speaking with someone you trust about your concerns and feelings, you will explore ideas that can be put into place to reduce your stress. You may want to consider alternative ways to look after yourself and start to build into your own self-care plan.
My most important message is for you to follow Donald Winnicott’s mantra ‘Good Enough’. Teachers are notoriously prone to perfectionism and often suffer from Imposter Syndrome - the internal experience of believing that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be. However, from everything I have researched and experienced, I find it to have no purpose of value. It’s time to quieten down the inner critic, you are doing an incredible job!
Kelly Hannaghan on Twitter @mindworkmatters