By: Christina Morris
Can you imagine having to teach a class of active students while feeling nervous, restless, or tense? No, I am not talking about your first day of school or your first year as a teacher. I am talking about how a teacher who suffers from anxiety may be feeling every single day that he or she has to go to school. We do not hear a lot of talk about the ‘a’ word in the education sector, especially in the international education sector. Many teachers suffer from anxiety, and they do so in silence, hoping and praying that no one ever finds out their little secret. In fact, some teachers have become so adept at masking their anxiety that they might not even feel comfortable reading this article.
This article aims to start a conversation on the subject. It is hoped that more articles of this nature will be published and pretty soon, talking about dealing with anxiety as a teacher will become normal. In this article, we will examine the signs of anxiety and will also look at ways to better cope with anxiety as a teacher.
According to the Mayoclinic.org, the signs of anxiety are wide and varied. They can range from trembling, feeling week or tired to sweating. Anxiety can also manifest through an increased heart rate, breathing rapidly, having a sense of impending danger, panic and or doom. One of the major signs of anxiety is having trouble concentrating or constantly thinking about anything other than the present, always feeling worried. It is worth noting that anxiety is a condition which can affect anyone; be it the physically fit, mentally smart, or any other exceptional categorisation that you can think of. The fact is that we all feel anxious at different points in our lives. In fact, a little anxiety now and again is normal. However, when these feelings persist over a long period of time, or when they interfere with your ability to conduct your daily activities, then there is cause for concern.
Many of the symptoms described above can also manifest themselves physiologically. Therefore, it is not uncommon for people suffering from anxiety to also have trouble sleeping and gastrointestinal problems, among other physical ailments. It is only after a thorough medical examination, which rules out other physical ailments, that anxiety is diagnosed.
Anxiety and the Teaching Profession
Teaching is a mentally and physically demanding profession, and often the very nature of the job can often lead to teachers developing anxiety. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a lot of attention to teacher wellbeing, but the issue of teachers dealing with anxiety predates the pandemic. Teachers are often very conscientious people by nature, and they normally feel the need to go above and beyond to help others, especially their students, this means that they tend to put unrealistic pressure on themselves. This undue amount of pressure can often lead to anxiety.
The pressures and expectations of; school owners, parents, leadership teams and students are great within international schools. We often hear about the tax-free salaries, the sunshine, the lifestyle, but we rarely hear about the teachers who go to school and go home to a lonely apartment, far away from family and friends, filled with anxiety. It is time to create a space where these teachers can feel comfortable enough to voice what they are going through.
I believe that the schools that will be successful in the future, are the ones that will recognise the need to take teacher mental wellbeing seriously. They will be the ones that will focus on learning rather than inspection results. They will be the ones that take reducing teacher workload seriously and help teachers with stress management. They will be the schools that properly embed social-emotional learning ( SEL) in all aspects of the school for both teachers and students.
Managing Anxiety as a Teacher
- Talk about it!
Do not suffer in silence. It might be hard to talk to people at your school about what you are going through, as it may not be well received, but find a friend outside of your workplace to talk to. Mental health care is not as developed in the Middle East as it might be in Europe or other western countries, but things are changing, so seek medical help. Start with your doctor first, and he or she can refer you on, for more specialised help. The good thing is that most teachers have private medical insurance, so there is little or no wait time to get treatment.
- Prioritise your mental health
Only you know your boundaries, so set them and be strict about not allowing anything or anyone to overstep your boundaries. Know when to say no. If you cannot take on another task or project, decline and stick to your resolve. This might not be so easy when the demands are coming from management but letting them know what you are working on currently and that you really do not have the time or space for more should help. Pretending that you can do it all is detrimental to your mental health.
- Stay active
Exercise or participate in activities that you enjoy and that make you feel good about yourself. If you are in the Middle East, especially the United Arab Emirates, there is a great group of educators on Twitter who are serious about their physical and mental health. They often post about the types of exercises they are doing and invite others to join them. Look them up and join in. Simply go on Twitter and let others know that you are looking for friends to be active with, using the hashtag #collabuae and you will certainly find like-minded educators to work out and be active with, even if it is virtually.
Move schools or country
This is often hard to admit, but sometimes your place of work is the major cause of your anxiety. You might have reached out for help or to voice your concern and was met with disdain or worse yet, scorn. The environment is toxic, and management etc. might have unrealistic expectations. Prioritise your mental health and leave. You may find that changing your place of work puts an end to your anxiety. Leaving the country and returning home or going to another country might be just what you need. We do not always fit in everywhere, recognising this and making a move to somewhere else, could be just what the doctor ordered.
If you are affected by anything discussed in this article, do yourself a favour this year, seek the help you need.
I would like to ask you one last favour; please share this article as far and wide as you can, it is only by sharing that we begin to blow the lid off the stigma surrounding anxiety.