Managing anxiety: teachers and education staff | Education Support
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Managing anxiety for teacher and education staff

Managing anxiety: teachers and education staff

Many teachers and education staff are feeling anxious about the new normal of socially distanced education. In this short film, Mike Armiger, Independent Education and Mental Health Advisor, provides some really simple and practical ways to help manage anxiety in this context.

Here is quick summary of Mike's strategies for you to print out and reference.

Teachers and education staff are not the only people finding it difficult right now. Sometimes we feel like it is just us, or we're made to feel that way by systems and environments, but often by our own thoughts.

But you are not alone, there are many people who are really finding it difficult right now and who are struggling with the amount of guidance, the ever-changing capacity and roles that we have to take, the tab that we have to pick up from other services, hygiene, worrying about family members, worrying about trust in systems.

So it's entirely understandable to feel anxious right now. What we're feeling is a very understandable reaction to very abnormal circumstances. Anxiety often can be logical but very often it can be illogical as well so sometimes it feels like there's no reason for the way that we're feeling. Sometimes we can just feel anxious about being anxious and that's very often what people report feeling.

We think what we can do with our thoughts like reframing which will be very useful for many people. But a lot of anxiety shows up in a very physiological sense, so much of our strategies need to be targeted at the body as well as our minds. So we need to think about what we can do on a physiological level.

What to do when anxiety feels overwhelming

If you’re feeling overwhelmed physically and maybe on the verge of a panic attack, you can do the following.

1. Ground yourself physically

This could be in a chair, on the floor or up against a wall. Often people report feeling fluctuations in temperature when these things happen, so a wall can often not just be there for grounding but can also be there to support that feeling of temperature fluctuation.

2. Breathe

Breathe in as slowly, deeply and gently as you can, through your nose. breathe out slowly, deeply and gently through your mouth. some people find it helpful to count steadily from one to five on each in-breath and each out-breath. close your eyes and focus on your breathing.

3. Think about your senses

Take notice of the things that you can see, things that you can hear, things that you can smell and things that you can feel. This can be very useful to try and re-orientate ourselves and bring us into the present moment.

Some people also use things like essential oils which they can put in a small bottle and they can use throughout the school day as it is  quite strong and quite shocking to our sensory system so it can bring us back to the present. So there might be some different smells or some different things that you might find comforting or that will help re-orientate you.

4. Be with someone

Make sure that where you can, you're not experiencing these feeling of panic alone as they can be quite stressful and very difficult

How to pre-empt feelings of anxiety

1. Hydration

Think about actually how often you're hydrating. So if your mouth is dry, make sure you have hydration available and try to regularly hydrate yourself. 

2. Physical regulation

Having something physically available can help to regulate. Maybe you can squeeze something or do something associated with grip. Maybe it's having something to fiddle with whilst talking, whilst working in a classroom, whilst supporting your students or whatever role we are working in.

3. Breathing

We all know the importance of breathing. But what can happen when you're in a high state of alert is you do not take deep breaths. When you're constantly trying to navigate through the day physiologically, your breath can shorten. So just try and focus on a couple of long breaths sometimes throughout the day.

4. Reduce the impact of the news

Many resources might have talked about the impact of the news and social media and encourage us to reduce the amount of time we spend on these. However, many people use social media as ways to feel connected, especially if you live alone, and it can be a really useful tool to help us understand and navigate the world currently. So a blanket recommendation on reducing exposure is not always a good idea. Sometimes it might be about muting certain words e.g virus, Covid, if you're on social media so we can still interact but without encountering things that are making us stressed or anxious at the moment

5. Cultivating hope

At the moment it feels like the challenges are endless, and we don't know when this period of time is going to end, and in the meantime we're having to work twice as hard and with no possible end date in sight. So it's very understandable that actually some of the feelings that we're feeling at the moment are a bit more gloomy than maybe they might be normally.

So let's think about how we cultivate hope. So there are a number of things that we can maybe do.

  • Think of hopeful times
    This could be through photographs, reminiscing with other people, thinking about those times themselves, collecting those memories maybe in a jar. I've got a memory jar downstairs. I just pop things in. It might range from just kind things people have said to me, people I've had a conversation with randomly or events, holidays I’ve enjoyed.
  • Think of times when we've overcome difficulties
    Think about people who have survived different difficult circumstances and who bring messages of hope. Think about and talk to number of people who have real experiences of hardship and can provide us reminders of times where we've overcome, either as a nation collectively or individually, challenging times.
  • The lens of hope
    We often see the world through two lenses. One lens is the lens of empathy and being able to see and recognize and validate the difficult experiences that people have.. And it's important for us to see that. But the problem is that sometimes that lens seems overwhelming. So the other lens that's important to put in is the lens of hope. And hope can be found in lots of different places. It can be seeing a parent and a child interact, it can be seeing spouses hold hands, it can be in somebody being kind to somebody else for no reason whatsoever. So it's important that we remind ourselves every now and again to make sure that both of those lenses are in.

6. Time and space for reflection

I've been trying to carve out for people in education organisations that I work with, spaces for reflection so that staff can feel heard and validated, and times where they feel that there are they are not isolated or alone and they can share how their experiences with others.

So whether this peer support is just having times for conversations, or whether it's a more formal structure, that might be something maybe that you can take to your setting and maybe your provision and talk to them about how that could happen.

If you prefer not to do that in work and you'd prefer to have your time for reflection, maybe it's a podcast, or  some music to block out the rest of the world for a while. Maybe it's just two minutes to sit and have a cup of tea.Whatever it is, any opportunity that we have, give yourself time or space to just stop and to just take stock.

Some might find it difficult to do that and to experience that time by ourselves. But reflection can take place in many forms. It doesn't necessarily need to be in stopping things, it might be in writing for example.

Further support

There is a wonderful NHS resource called www.wellbeingandcoping.net

Please know that Education Support provide you with a free helpline for confidential and emotional support that you can call as and when you feel you need to. Please don't wait until things are really difficult for you or you're in crisis to ring that number. Of course you can ring then but it's very important that maybe we support you at an earlier stage if you're struggling.

Some of the best times that I've experienced over the last couple of months have been when people have been very human about the things that they're experiencing and said I'm finding this hard. And actually I've been saying to them very often yeah me too, and yeah I understand that.

So I hope that whether it's through Education Support, whether it is through your colleagues, whether it's through friends or family members, that you have that validation and that you have that support. I wish you all the very best. Please take good care and know that there are many many people who care.

How we can help 

Teachers and education staff, in schools, colleges and universities, who are feeling stressed or anxious during these uncertain times can get confidential emotional support from our free and confidential helpline: 08000 562561.

What can you do?

If you’re in a position to help others in these extraordinary times, please consider making a donation so that we can continue to answer the increasing number of desperate calls and grants applications we are receiving. Thank you so much.