A teacher has to juggle between grading papers, meetings, classroom management, lesson planning, and simultaneously tackle their personal lives. Sounds relatable? Rest assured…you are not alone.
Teachers around the world face a similar situation and experience burnout. The key reason for this burnout is “improper time management”. As a teacher, time management becomes extremely difficult. There is so much pressure to plan and impart knowledge that we often lose ourselves in the process. This negatively affects our mental health and results in suffering.
Symptoms and Signs of Burnout
In the opinion of Dr Priyanka Dang, DHA licensed Clinical Psychologist with over 8 years of experience,
"The way we think is going to impact what we feel, and how we feel is going to impact the way we behave, and behaviour is something which is visible to everyone.”
When we experience burnout, we give away certain signs and symptoms that point toward our mental stress such as
Lack of sleep
Eating too much
Eating too little
Having chest pain
Having problems with gut
Needless to say, it's mostly the physical symptoms that we don’t realise are associated with our mental well being. All we know is that— something is wrong with our body, but we don't know what it is. Some of us are able to identify if we are depressed or anxious but cannot figure out how the body is reacting to this stress.
Whenever we feel stressed, our body produces cortisol also known as “the stress hormone”. The trouble is that too much cortisol can cause “cortisol toxicity” and that is exactly when we experience the above signs and symptoms.
Ways to cope with Stress and Anxiety
With years of research and practice, here is a mental health toolkit prepared by expert Dr Priyanka Dang. This toolkit comprises research-based tools that work wonders in cases of anxiety, depression and stress management irrespective of age and gender. This toolkit proves useful for dealing with stress, which many of us face on a daily basis. So let’s get started.
1. Self-soothing of the Senses
Self-soothing refers to self-regulating behaviour that any individual carries out to cope with their emotional turmoil. By self-soothing, we use our five senses to engage in an activity that helps us to relax in a way that's pleasing to us.
As seen above, we can go for a walk, listen to some good music or simply take a massage. Taking a day off, having our favourite meal, or binge-watching a show every now and then can help us de-stress and soothe our senses
As explained by Dr Priyanka,
“The self-soothing of senses is Important as your body is able to sense this. Your brain knows how it feels. If you have to bring down the cortisol levels you need to be doing certain things with the body first. The body comes first. That's why we use our five senses to deal with it.”
2. Challenging Thoughts
All of us have negative thoughts like
What if this presentation doesn't go well?
What if I'm not able to submit the marks and the grades on time?
What is that headmaster going to say?
What is my coordinator going to say?
What's going on at my house?
These thoughts can culminate in our minds and we end up feeling stressed.
Under this exercise, we challenge our thoughts and seek facts that support our thoughts.
For e.g. What if my coordinator feels that I don't work hard? Challenge yourself and ask if that’s how the coordinator usually feels? Am I lazy? Don't I show results? Is my class behaving in a certain way?
Ask yourself what facts support these thoughts and what existing evidence contradicts them. Is it going to matter to me tomorrow, a week from now, or a month from now?
As our expert says,
“When we are in the moment, it can seem extremely demanding— demanding to the extent of feeling overwhelmed, feeling as if you're going to break down but this exercise helps you know what you are ready to accept about this event of course. Acceptance is a key strategy here.”
3. Use Distractions (A.C.C.E.P.T.S)
Imagine you're at school and a child X has been hit by child Y and the parents of child X come and complain. You get extremely overwhelmed by this situation as you're put in a spot.
What are you gonna do in such an overbearing situation especially when people are pointing a finger at your class and your management?
During such times, it becomes extremely important for us to manage our emotions and focus on emotional regulation.
This is how Dr Priyanka explains emotional regulation,
“Distressing emotions can seem impossible to overcome but you have to understand that this is how the brain deals with emotions. They fade out over a period of time unless and until you want to hold on to it really tightly”
To deal with such situations, we use a mnemonic called (A.C.C.E.P.T.S)
A stands for Activity: Do something that requires your thought and concentration. For e.g. Read a book.
C stands for Contribution: Contribute to others. For e.g. Volunteering, Donating to a cause.
C stands for Comparison: Compare your situation to something more stressful or painful.
E stands for Emotions: Do activities that evoke opposite emotions. For e.g., if you're sad, you watch a happy movie. If you're anxious, you practice deep breathing.
P stands for Pushing Away: Postpone the situation for some time or block painful thoughts using imagery.
T stands for Thoughts: Use mental strategies or activities to shift your focus to something neutral. For e.g. Think about the tiles on the floor or the kind of bricks on the wall.
S stands for Sensation: Use your senses to distract yourself from your emotions. For e.g. Take a hot bath or have something really spicy
4. Focus on Interpersonal Communication
Sometimes we all feel that—- “we are so clear with our communication but still people don’t get us”. But that's not true. There might be something about our communication that is threatening or our body language might be inappropriate. You may widen your eyes, start crying, or slouch while you speak. It could be anything. A number of things can break down interpersonal communication.
To have better interpersonal communication, practise this mnemonic called D.E.A.R.M.A.N
D stands for Describe: State clearly what you want now.
E stands for Expression: Express your emotions freely.
A stands for Assertiveness: Clearly state what needs to be done and be assertive while giving instructions.
R stands for Reinforce: Reward the other person if they respond well. Maybe try smiling or saying a thank you.
M stands for Mindfulness: Be mindful of the goal of your communication and do not get distracted.
A stands for Appear Confident: Use your body language to appear confident.
N stands for Negotiate: Be clear on what you are willing to negotiate or compromise.
5. Set Clear Boundaries
The last thing as a part of this toolkit and the most important is boundaries. Be clear about what is acceptable to you in school and what is not acceptable. Be well aware of the boundaries you set for yourself in terms of behaviour, treatment, compromises, etc.
The answer to all your conflicts lies in boundary settings as they outline what behaviours you will accept and you will not accept.
Read this beautiful script given below by our expert on days you feel stressed:
I owe you an apology because I made you think that I have no boundaries; I have led you to believe that I don't need rest. What I have done is that I have overused my yes. I am not used to saying no and you are not used to hearing no from me. But what I know about you is that you would want me to be happy. I own up to the responsibility for making you believe that I could do it all. So in this version of 2.0 of me, I need to set healthier boundaries.
These tools, when used together, can have a very profound impact on how we deal with stress. Regular usage of these tools will transform us into stress management experts.
The content for this blog has been sourced from a masterclass on ‘How can Teachers Take Care of Their Mental Health?’ by Dr Priyanka Dang and Brian Coulter which was held on 17th November 2021. Watch the complete masterclass for free here.
Simran is a writer here at Suraasa and has formerly worked as a Teacher. She is passionate about learning and making a difference through her words.