Another month, another study highlighting the epidemic of stress and anxiety sweeping through the teaching profession. Just this last month (Sept) research by the charity Education Support Partnership found that an overwhelming number of teachers in the UK have suffered either physically or mentally because of their jobs.
The study suggested that 75% of teaching staff in schools and colleges experienced symptoms stemming from their work, including depression, anxiety and panic attacks.
The grim findings come after a survey conducted last year by union NASUWT which found that one in 10 teachers questioned had been prescribed anti-depressant drugs to cope with the pressure of their jobs. Of the 5,000 teachers polled in that survey, 22% admitted they had increased their alcohol intake and 21% had consumed more caffeine in response to stress. 7% had used or increased their reliance on prescription drugs. 5% said they had increased their use of tobacco, 14% had undergone counselling and over three quarters (79%) had reported experiencing work-related anxiousness while 86% had suffered sleeplessness. The figures were shocking.
No wonder then that there is a teacher shortage. Schools across the country are struggling to recruit and in Scotland, research shows that four in ten teachers currently in employment are considering leaving the profession.
In other professions, workplace stress is just as acute. In fact, in the UK, over 11 million days are lost at work a year because of stress at work. According to the UK’s Health and Safety Executive there are six main areas that can lead to work-related stress if they are not managed properly. These are demands, control, support, relationships, role and change.
These areas can be identified in a number of ways. For example, employees may say that they are not able to cope with the demands of their jobs or are unable to control the way they do their work. They may say they don’t receive enough information and support or are having trouble with relationships at work, or are being bullied. They may not fully understand their role and responsibilities and they may not be engaged when undergoing change. All these issues will raise an individual’s stress levels. Some people cope, some do not. Stress affects people differently – what stresses one person may not affect another. Factors like skills and experience, age or disability may all affect whether an employee can cope.
Resilience, growth mindset, coping strategies, relationships, development and support are all elements that can help people cope with and tackle workplace stress, which for many is a fact of life. At one point or another, the vast majority of workers will experience stress in their jobs. And while some jobs are more stressful than others (as is the case with teachers), having the skills to identify the issues when they arise and to equip people with strategies to cope with them is an employer’s responsibility. Some may not realise but employers have a legal duty to protect employees from stress at work by doing a risk assessment and acting on it. Failure to do so can cost dear.
And for individuals there are steps that can be taken to help reduce stress and live a happier, healthier life.
Exercise won't make stress disappear, but it will reduce some of the negative emotions that stress leads to. You don’t have to join a gym or be super fit, just walking for 20 minutes each day at a pace high enough to raise the heart beat will help.
There's always a solution to any problem. Try and think beyond your emotions and taking control. Our growth mindset training and FLIP techniques equip people with tools to take control of their lives.
Connect with people
Laughology research shows that one of the keys to living a happier life is positive relationships. A good support network of colleagues, friends and family can ease work troubles and help you see things in a different way.
Have some 'me time'
In the UK, we work the longest hours in Europe, meaning we often don't spend enough time doing things we really enjoy. Having some time to yourself and developing interests outside of work is not selfish. It actually helps you to be more productive.
Setting yourself goals and challenges, whether at work or outside, such as learning a new language or a new sport, helps to build confidence. This will help you deal with stress.
Avoid unhealthy habits
Don't rely on alcohol, smoking and caffeine as your ways of coping. They may seem like quick fixes but over time they will make things worse.
Work smarter, not harder
Working smarter means prioritising your work, concentrating on the tasks that will make a real difference. Learn some time management techniques.
Try to be positive
Look for the positives in life, and things for which you're grateful. Try writing down three things that went well, or for which you're grateful, at the end of every day.
Make time for laughter
Actively seeking out things that make you laugh and positively planning time in the diary for this is important. For example watching a YouTube clip can take just two minutes but the positive effects can last much longer or spending time with friends you know make you laugh. Make a laughter book and in it list all the things that make you laugh-out-loud, giggle or just smile. This can be your go-to guide when you need to feel better. Even thinking about the things that make you laugh will release positive hormones called endorphins as well as serotonin. These chemicals and hormones are responsible for how we feel, so giving them a boost is a good thing.
Well-being and happiness just doesn’t happen. You have to work at them and actively make and take time for behaviours and thinking that enables you to feel better and be well. It’s okay to have down days but it’s about what you CAN DO to help yourself feel better and live a life that helps you be well and happy.