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The Importance of Being Well – 11 Ways for Teachers to Avoid Stress and Maintain Mental Health

Take care of yourself this school year with some helpful hints on wellbeing and mental health

Anoara Mughal
by Anoara Mughal
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With the ever-increasing cutbacks in education, workload issues and teachers leaving in their droves, wellbeing must be pushed to the forefront of all educators’ minds. The nature of a teacher is to give and to have high expectations of themselves. It is all too easy to ignore the signals from our bodies and minds and to normalise warning signs and continue giving.

Although, such qualities must be preserved, all too often, the expectations of society and schools on teachers can become overwhelming with burn-out featuring highly, as a consequence. Sometimes, in the process of gaining promotion and increasing our workloads, we can forget to look after ourselves. Work-life balance must become a priority.

So how can we achieve this balance? With the summer holidays in full swing now, there’s no better time to start thinking about some of those new academic- year wellbeing resolutions to put into place in September.

Here are some wellbeing strategies I have tried, which have really enabled me to achieve a better work-life balance. Remember that you don’t have to carry them all out at once.

1 | Prioritise – Use time wisely

Create a work timetable and set time limits. Make a conscious effort not to work for more than a few hours per night. As difficult as it is, be ruthless with yourself and stop working when you intended to. Sometimes we do need to work for longer. On weeks like that readjust your timetable.

Always follow your school policy on marking but here is a tip: give more feedback during the lesson, rather than afterwards. Pupils make more progress that way as they can immediately act upon feedback. You can then mark in depth quickly afterwards if needed.  Take the time to appreciate the beauty that surrounds you.

One of my favourite poems is called ‘Leisure‘ by William Henry Davies which is a great reminder about taking the time to ‘stop and stare’.

2 | Continue with lifelong learning

a) Take the leap and attend conferences to boost self-belief and confidence.

b) Reading widely (including blogs and journals) broadens your horizons. Learning and achieving makes you feel better.

c) Being on Twitter can help too. With Twitter there are so many kind people who will share ideas and provide emotional support. Follow positive people.

d) If you haven’t already done so, follow groups such as HealthyToolkit, where you can get helpful tips and advice, and check out #SayYes2Wellbeing.

3 | Take up a new hobby

I help out on my friend’s allotment from time to time and absolutely love it. A hobby for the new academic year is going to be taking up karate!

4 | Meditate – it is for everyone!

A teacher’s brain processes millions of bits of information every day, as we juggle the demands of each day. As a result some teachers may find it difficult to switch their brains off.

When we are thinking, our brains are in beta wave status. In this state we are processing, reasoning, thinking and concentrating. If we remain in this state of consciousness for excessive periods of time, it can produce, tension, stress, agitation and restlessness. Meditation can help to alleviate these effects and stabilise breathing, creating a peaceful mood. There are many websites out there offering free tips.

5 | Be active

This does not necessarily mean going to the gym. Taking a walk, jogging, playing football or cricket in the park is all classified as being active.

6 | Eat a more balanced diet

Make sure that your diet consists of all the food groups. If you have a bad day, balance it out with a good day. 

7 | Connect with friends and family

We can all too easy to put our families and friends second to teaching. Give your full attention when with friends and family. Listen to them, look at them and make happy memories of them. 

8 | Learn to say no sometimes

It is acceptable to say no to extra work sometimes. If feeling overwhelmed ask for help. Asking for help does not show weakness but demonstrates an acknowledgement and recognition of strength. We are all human.

9 | Music

It is no secret that music can improve our state of body and mind and help to make us feel better. The power of music therapy can be used to reduce pain, reduce the number of cardiac emergencies and improve the quality of sleep (Music Psychology website, Music and Wellbeing, Dr Victoria Williamson). Listen to music/songs which motivate, energise and relax you.

10 | Be mindful

Be aware of your own thoughts, feelings and body. Stop and listen to what your mind and body is telling you. It can help you positively change your feelings about life and how you tackle challenges.

11 | Being kind

Kindness is like a security blanket. Not only do pupils thrive when enveloped by kindness but so do adults. It does not have to cost. Simply smiling at someone or complimenting them brightens up their day and helps them to be able to cope with their own challenges. Kindness is thought to promote resilience too.

So what are you going to do to improve your wellbeing today?

Anoara Mughal is an assistant headteacher and a former literacy lead and KS2 writing moderator. She is also a founding member and advocate for The Chartered College of Teaching, and London Regional Lead for #WomenEd as well as an integral member of Healthy Toolkit (promoting wellbeing in schools). You can find her on Twitter at @anoara_a and @BooksGlorious.

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