Tips for teachers: How to manage stress

By Sophie Howells

Wednesday 6 November 2019

Sophie Howells

Earlier this year, the Education Support Partnership reported that cases related to workplace stress jumped by nearly 50 percent in one year. In this blog post for National Stress Awareness Week (4-8 November), Media and PR Manager Sophie Howell from the charity shares her top tips to help teachers’ manager their stress.

Good teaching requires the highest levels of physical, social and emotional energy.

For all that our understanding of mental health and emotional development has grown over recent decades, we do not yet widely and openly acknowledge the extent of the emotional work inherent in education.

The interaction in the classroom of a stressed and overwhelmed teacher will be very different to that of a supported teacher with a strong sense of professional autonomy, self-efficacy and balance between personal and professional life.

In short bursts, stress can be a good thing. It can help us to prepare and focus for challenging or urgent situations. However, when the stress response becomes increasingly frequent and prolonged it negatively impacts on attention, memory, and the way that we deal with emotions.

There are a range of decisions taken at a policy level and within the workplace that can impact on teacher stress, however there are a number of steps that teachers can take to help effectively manage their stress better:  

Work out priorities
If you never seem to have enough time in the school day, better time management may help you manage feelings of stress. Research in the field of occupational health shows that the more control that you perceive you have in your work, the more job satisfaction and less stress you are likely to experience.

Identify your stress situations
We all experience stress but when it starts to affect your life, health and wellbeing, it’s time to review your lifestyle. It is estimated that 70 million working days a year are lost to stress-related conditions and there is a clear correlation between hours worked and stress. A recent study by University College London found that teachers in England work 45-49 hours a week on average with a quarter working more than 59. This echoes findings from NFER’s study, which highlighted that teachers work longer hours in a typical working week than similar people in other professional occupations. The study also found that teachers job-related stress is higher than other professionals.

Make a list of what leaves you emotionally drained and one or two ways of reducing stress. Keep a note of what works for you and put it into practice.

Physical activity can have a major influence on our wellbeing and mental health
The World Health Organisation estimates that 1 in 4 adults are inactive across the globe. Yet clinical trials have successfully used exercise to treat anxiety and depression, two possible outcomes of unmanaged stress. Gentle exercise can be just as effective and with planning, physical activity can easily be built into a busy day. Walking or cycling, yoga and meditation can make a real difference. Exercise reduces stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) and stimulates endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators.

Take your time
Planning is key and taking time to review your plans can save time in the long run, therefore reducing stress levels. Whenever you can, ask for more time to make sure you can think something out.  Many studies show that practicing mindfulness, helping to slow activity down, can reduce stress. Working in a frenzy can lead to errors and regrets. In 2010, Hoffman et al conducted a meta-analysis of 39 studies and concluded that mindful-based therapy can be useful in decreasing anxiety and stress levels.

Think positively  
Research shows that those who approach life more positively are more likely to be healthier and less stressed. When faced with a setback, optimists are more likely to focus on the things they can do to resolve the situation. Courses in therapies such as cognitive therapy (CBT) that help us challenge our existing thought patterns and think more positively have never been more popular. Many can be accessed online.

Do you have any other stress management tips or techniques? Tweet us at @NFERClassroom

The Education Support Partnership is the UK's only charity providing mental health & wellbeing support services to all staff working in education. Their free & confidential helpline is available 24/7 365 days of the year: Tel 08000 562 561.