Once I started talking to other teachers about my own anxiety, I was surprised to find out how many of my colleagues also struggle with it. Some teachers have a diagnosed anxiety disorder which they’ve been dealing with for a long time, whereas others feel an increase in their anxiety levels during particular situations and/or periods of time. The last two school years, in particular, in the midst of the pandemic, have been highly difficult for all teachers.
So I thought I would offer some tips for dealing with anxiety, some of which I have been taught and others I have researched:
1.) Exercise regularly. I think people really underestimate the positive effects of exercise, especially when it comes to our mental health. ANY TYPE OF EXERCISE that you enjoy is beneficial for combating anxiety.
Benefits of Exercise: It increases the level of mood-boosting neurotransmitters, activates the area of the brain responsible for higher level thinking and focus, helps to distract you from your worries, and decreases muscle tension and cramping (two of the physical symptoms of anxiety). Reference: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/can-exercise-help-treat-anxiety-2019102418096
2.) See a therapist. While everyone isn’t a talker, this tip can benefit some people who are open to discussing their feelings with a professional. I’ve been told that sometimes people give up too quickly on therapy because they might not have found a good match with the initial therapist. Sometimes, you may have to see a few different therapists before finding the right fit. Right now, during to the pandemic, you can “see a therapist” through video conferencing or have telephone conversations.
3.) Learn about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Many therapists use the principles of CBT to help their clients slowly learn to change their thinking patterns. If you are not open to seeing a therapist, counselor, or psychologist, perhaps you would be interested in engaging in some self help. There are lots of products that you can purchase online to learn about CBT. Examples: https://www.amazon.com/Best-Sellers-Books-Cognitive-Behavioral-Therapy/zgbs/books/10166942011 Also, a nurse practitioner told me about this self help resource (Moodgym) for depression and anxiety: https://moodgym.com.au/
You have to try your best to catch those irrational, obsessive, worrisome, and/or negative thoughts, stop and reflect on why you are feeling that way, and re-frame your thoughts. This is, of course, easier said than done. It will take a lot of practice. I am working on changing the way I think. 🙂
4.) Engage in mindfulness exercises/meditation. (This is definitely beneficial to do in the evening before bed.) HeadSpace was recommended to me by my therapist. It is available on Netflix and as an app. It is helpful to engage in mediation in the evening when we need to calm ourselves down to prepare for sleep. Link: https://www.headspace.com/
5.) Talk to your colleagues about how you are feeling and listen to them share their own feelings. I found this helpful; it is comforting to know that other people are facing similar feelings and challenges. You and your colleagues can talk each other through situations and let each other know when you just want to vent or when you desire advice. Teaching can be a really lonely profession; that is how I view it anyway, and any bit of time you can find to communicate with your colleagues can really improve morale and help you to feel connected. Reference: https://www.wgu.edu/heyteach/article/6-strategies-relieve-teacher-anxiety1809.html
6.) Take time to do the things you enjoy! We need to take care of ourselves to be able to take care of others. If you don’t make time for fun and relaxation, your mood will definitely suffer. Taking breaks and finding hobbies to engage in are crucial, especially for those who have a mental illness.
7.) Plan your lessons ahead of time and arrive at work early. Feeling prepared will help increase your confidence and lower your level of anxiety. I’ve never been able to leave my lesson planning and marking for a Sunday night. I always felt better during a weekend if I pushed myself to complete my planning for the Monday on a Friday after school, or on a Saturday morning. Let’s be real; you don’t always have the energy to lesson plan and mark on a Friday evening.
8.) Try to set aside particular evenings throughout the week to get chunks of marking and preparation completed. No teacher wants to have a pile of work to do on the weekend! Try your best to manage your time more effectively so that you fall into a routine of completing more prep work on the weekday evenings. I know that this is easier for some people to accomplish over others, depending on your lifestyle and family situation.
9.) Take some medication if you need it. Speak to your family doctor about what kind of mediation may be right for you. If all of the strategies that you are using are not cutting it, you may also benefit from and need medication.
10.) Lastly, there are lots of small things we can do to decrease anxiety levels while at work. Take a look at this article, in which Todd Finley shares “9 Tips for Overcoming Classroom Stage Fright” (https://www.edutopia.org/blog/overcoming-classroom-stage-fright-todd-finley).
Benefits of Exercise Shown Below:
Please feel free to share your own tips in the comments. 🙂 Thank you.