Imagine yourself during a typical, hectic day at work. You find yourself skilfully multi-tasking without a second thought about how your body, or even your mind, is responding. There may be times when you are conflicted – the jobs need to be completed but you feel exhausted. When faced with this situation, how do you usually respond? Do you push on through the pile of work which threatens to overwhelm you, despite conveniently ignoring a nagging headache? Or, do you choose to work late into the night, despite having told yourself (even promising yourself), you would finish earlier so you can catch up on the previous few nights’ sleep you’d missed out on?
More often than not we compromise our health and ignore the early warning signs. Feelings of anxiety, frustration, isolation and resentment begin to bubble up to the surface, sometimes without us even realising it. Before we notice it, we are reacting impatiently towards our loved ones and left consumed with guilt for compromising our time. If we don’t protect our mental health, the side effects could accumulate and affect our physical health. According to the Time to Change organisation as many as one in four people suffer from mental health issues. By focusing on maintaining a healthy, positive mind, allowing ourselves time to switch off from the pressures we face, we could reduce the risk of work-related stress and anxiety.
Many positive changes have taken place to improve the quality of education but for some it comes at a personal cost. Occasionally we hear of teachers who have broken down in tears. They find the pace of change too rapid; it can create a lack of stability and make deadlines seem unreasonable, if not impossible, when the pressure is mounting. It is key, in situations like these, to support our workforce so they don’t end up reaching crisis point. What meaningful strategies could be put in place to prevent this from happening? One way is by making time to discuss ways work can be reduced – this can have the additional benefit of increasing productivity. Many of us have learnt to share when we feel concerned. This makes it easier for us to forget about those who continue on in silence; they are often the people who are conscientious, who regularly produce outstanding work, yet are suffering, too frightened of the consequences. Remember, not everyone has the strength to speak out.
When we don’t share our fears, struggles or difficulties, the consequences can be long-lasting. Some valuable, well-loved teachers have experienced becoming withdrawn, resulting in them having a breakdown. Paying closer attention to their needs could have prevented them from needing long periods off work to recover. Instead, they could have spent their time continuing to make a positive difference to the students they taught. Returning to work was equally difficult for them. They felt uncertain and struggled to communicate. Their confidence had been shaken. It took them time to recover, recuperate and reconnect.
Protecting our mental health is often overlooked. It is swept under the carpet not just by others, but by ourselves, as we ignore warning signs. While it is true many teachers within the profession are thriving and feel well-supported in their career progression, let’s not be blind to those who are slowly sinking, becoming immobilised, as they get stuck in the mud.
Although not every circumstance leads to a breakdown, depression or chronic-fatigue, we are damaging our health bit-by-bit each time we ignore our body’s warning mechanisms.
The next time you experience minor but tell-tale signs, such as an inability to concentrate, an increased sense of irritation or regular forgetfulness, find ways to allow your body to relax. It is often the smallest, simplest changes that can have the most profound effects on your wellbeing. Developing healthy habits in your day-to-day life will enable you improve your sense of mindfulness. Don’t be afraid to speak up, reach out and connect with the wider support surrounding you.