I feel stressed or anxious | Education Support
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Stress and anxiety - teachers and education staff

I feel stressed or anxious

Stress at work is a major issue. It is the single largest reported cause of all work-related illnesses. 526,000 workers suffer from work-related stress, depression or anxiety (new or long-standing) and 12.5 million working days are lost due to work-related stress in 2016/17. Research has demonstrated that persistent stress can cause heart attacks, strokes, kidney disease, rheumatoid arthritis and ageing.

Teachers and education staff endure greater job-related stress than other professionals, according to a report by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER). The report found that one in five felt tense about their job most or all of the time, compared with 13% of those in similar occupations. And in our 2019 Teacher Wellbeing Index, 72% of education staff said they had suffered from stress. 

The pressures on teachers and teaching staff are evident, however there are a number of tools and techniques to help manage and reduce stress (see ABC Model).

Freud talks about the benefits of helping people to feel “ordinary unhappiness” rather than “misery”,  this means that if we did not get a job that we really wanted it would be appropriate (ordinary unhappiness) to feel disappointed.  However, if we went into a terrible long-lasting mood where we felt useless, rejected and unable to get another job (misery) then this is about something else not just the current situation.  If we can understand this we are more likely to be able to better manage our emotional states, so they do not affect us so negatively. Stress is not about ordinary unhappiness it is about misery and so understanding more about our internal dialogue is critical in managing it better (see ABC model).

As illustrated, increased stress results in increased productivity – up to a point, after which things go rapidly downhill. However, that point or peak differs for each of us, so we need to be sensitive to the early warning symptoms and signs that suggest a stress overload is starting to push us over the hump. Such signals also differ for each of us and can be so subtle that they are often ignored until it is too late. Not infrequently, others are aware that we may be headed for trouble before we are.

See below for some of the responses we may show when stressed.  These impact on our performance, productivity and welfare. Stress requires a large amount of mental energy, which can lead to us becoming ratty, depressed, tired, and unable to think clearly.

Physical responses:

  • Heartbeat accelerates
  • Hard to breathe, this can lead to hyperventilating.
  • Sweating
  • Feeling sick
  • Loss of appetite
  • Over eating
  • Headaches
  • Reduced immunity
  • Illnesses
  • Sleep issues

Emotional responses:

  • Go into denial mode
  • Stop thinking rationally or cannot think
  • Exaggerated or catastrophic thinking
  • Poor memory
  • Unhappy, sad, depressive feelings
  • Low self-esteem and confidence
  • Irritable and angry


Understanding what causes stress

Here are some common stress factors:

  • Lack of control or autonomy. Not feeling like we have control over situations or the ability to change them can lead to increased stress.
  • Lack of support. When people feel that there is little support from their manager, colleagues, peers, friends, family or direct reports they can not only experience high levels of stress but will also be more likely for stress to be unmanageable.
  • Change. Intrinsically many people do not like things being changed, e.g. a new head teacher or marking system as they have to adapt their ways of thinking and operating.  It causes uncertainty which can often trigger our fight, flight or freeze responses.
  • Lack of clarity of role. Often people can struggle with ambiguity or lack of clarity over what they are meant to do or expectations (this can differ, and some do relish a white paper in which to work things out).
  • Demands too much for hours of work. People often think that there is a magic formula for working out how to fit in a job that requires more hours than there are.  Once you know what you have to do and have worked out when it can be done, if it does not fit then either you need to re-prioritise or take something away.
  • Relationships. Often arguments, conflicts, lack of harmony, overly competitive or dishonest relationships leave people feeling stressed by the impact of this and on top of this it may be harder to get help if relationships are suffering.

What can you do?