We all know what it feels like to be stressed. Our everyday lives, both personally and professionally are filled with varying degrees of stress. In certain ways, it can be beneficial. It can drive us to reach new goals and push ourselves to grow. However, high levels of stress over a long period of time can seriously impact your physical and mental health.
In the forthcoming guide for new teachers NQT: The Beginning Teacher's Guide to Outstanding Practice, Alison McManus considers the various dimensions of stress for a teaching professional:
At its most basic, ‘stress’ is defined as a feeling of the inability to meet expectations in the time allotted, but for teachers the demands of the workload represent only one part of the picture. There is an element of performance to teaching which is often experienced; somewhat akin to stage fright, and a feeling of unease or anxiety can suddenly overcome even the most seasoned of teachers. Panic may be all the more acute during observed lessons where the stakes are even higher. Newly qualified or trainee staff may feel especially vulnerable to criticism and may place undue pressure on themselves to meet unachievable standards of perfection.
Furthermore, there is an emotional burden to teaching, particularly in more challenging contexts. Children are more vulnerable, need more attention and are less emotionally restrained than adults, even at the best of times. It can be difficult to switch off the care or concern one feels for one’s pupils, magnified during periods of difficulty for the child – for example, after a bereavement or during a family breakdown. In addition to comforting students, teachers are regularly called on to provide support to their colleagues, which can also be emotionally draining. Conflict, whether it is encountered on the playground or in the staffroom, is yet another source of tension. Finally, the unexpected and unpredictable nature of each day being different from the one before can give rise to feelings of ‘firefighting’ or doing battle. Thus, teaching is uncertain, emotional and attentionally demanding work (Roeser et al., 2012, p168). Ignoring these aspects of teaching, like ignoring the physical symptoms of stress, can lead to a more pronounced and serious burn-out, a significant and overwhelming sense of inadequacy, depression, exhaustion and lack of care for one’s work.
While stress can’t be avoided, it can be managed. Understanding the various types and sources of stress (whether they be short or long term, external or internal) is key to stress management. So why not start getting to know your stress triggers a little bit more? You could keep a journal or take a moment at the end of every day to reflect back on moments you felt stress or overwhelmed. This stress test created by the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy could be helpful too.
To get you started on thinking about your own stress triggers, we thought we’d ask the SAGE Education team to share some of theirs…
"An overwhelming to-do list and not knowing where to start." - Lucy
"Talking to someone who I know isn’t really listening to me." - George
"Not having direction or a clear path to move things forward." - Lorna
"Pressure I put on myself to be the best version of myself." - Chantal
"When things don’t go according to plan." - Robert
"Having to say 'no' and dealing with conflicts." - Dilly
"When my unread emails are more than a single screen long." - Jude
"Overcrowded public transport."- James
"Being in noisy places!" - Amy
So, what stresses you out? Think about it. We all have different triggers and by acknowledging what they are you will have taken an important first step towards managing your stress.