Stress is a big problem for teachers, with workloads increasing and greater accountability measures, many are struggling to cope. The first thing to know is that you’re not alone. Teaching is a demanding profession and many of your colleagues across the country feel the same way. Letting your stress levels run out of control at work affects all other aspects of your life, including your family, social life and your health. To keep your head above the water in any stressful profession, it’s important to be mindful of your limits and take care of your mental health. Here are five ways to manage stress and avoid teacher burnout.

A to-do list written in a notebook.

1. Watch your workload

Workload is one of the biggest causes of stress among teachers and is often the reason so many are leaving the profession. Let’s face it: a teacher’s work is never done. Especially if you’re the kind of person who obsesses over every unmarked book and unfinished lesson plan. Getting on top of your never-ending work is the first thing you need to consider when trying to reduce stress.

  • Make a to-do list for each day of the week and set your priorities according to what must be done and what can wait. Try to focus on what’s really important and don’t get bogged down by the small stuff.
  • Set realistic goals. There’s only so much you can get done in one day so don’t set goals that you know will be a squeeze to get done.
  • Be mindful of how much work you bring home. Sometimes bringing marking and planning home is unavoidable but it’s best to leave your work at the school gates as much as possible. Family is a priority too and they deserve your time as much as your pupils.
  • Know when to say no. With SLT, colleagues and parents coming to you with different tasks and favours, sometimes you have to know when to say no.
  • Know when to call it a day. Set a time that you aim to finish work each day and stick to it. If it’s not done, it can wait. Sometimes it’s okay not to get everything done, you’re not a superhero and the world won’t end.

Four hands held together.

2. Build your support network

A problem shared is a problem halved so build up a close network of colleagues who you can rely on for help, whether that’s other teachers in your department or other teachers in your age group. When you’re having a bad day, it’s likely they know exactly how you feel and a good moan can be all you need to vent your problems, talk it through and even come up with a solution.

  • Work as a team to solve problems and support each other through difficulties.
  • Use internet forums. Who says your support network can’t be online? There are some fantastic teaching forums out there, where you can post questions, gain support and share advice with people just like you. Why not try our very own RealiseMe forum?
  • Your work social life is important. If your colleagues are also your friends, your work doesn’t always have to feel like work.
  • Know when to shut the door. This may sound counter-intuitive but there’s a difference between a friend who’s there to help and a friend who’s only there to chat and as much as a chat can be important for your sanity, sometimes you just don’t have the time to chat when you have a lot to do.

A note on a windowsill that says "mindfulness"

3. Take care of yourself

With teaching duties, extra-curricular responsibilities and admin tasks, you can quickly run out of steam. If you also have your own family to tend to when you get home, sometimes sleep is the only time you get to yourself. Taking time for yourself is easier said than done when you’re rushed off your feet but it’s the key to teacher burnout prevention.

  • Prepare for your day the night before, if you don’t already, make your lunch and plan your outfit so that you’re not rushing in the morning. If you can, you should arrive at school early so you’re not running around and stressing yourself out before the day has even begun. Oh, and don’t forget breakfast!
  • We all know how important sleep is. You see it in your students- the ones who are so tired that they can’t concentrate on the work- so practice what you preach and get your eight hours. Use a sleep reminder on your phone which alerts you when you need to go to bed.
  • Take time out to do what you love. After so much hard work, you may have forgotten what it is you love so why not rediscover or try something new. Whether it’s joining a sport, doing something creative, or simply a long bubble bath, you deserve it.
  • Eat well. So many teachers are guilty of skipping meals and running off caffeine alone and it’s just not sustainable. We’re always telling the children they need to eat healthy and so do we.

A classroom table with colourful chairs and a pot of paintbrushes in the centre.

4. Take care of your classroom

It’s where you spend most your time so take some pride in it. Your working environment has a big impact on your mood and mentality, as well as your students. Make your classroom a welcoming space that you enjoy being in. It may seem a low priority for some, but it makes a big difference. Here’s some ways you can take care of your classroom:

  • Tidy up. Keeping your workspace ordered is the first step in keeping your thoughts in order. An organised classroom also makes for a more productive workspace for your students.
  • Add some colour- making some colourful displays or inspirational quotes and pictures can cheer up your room and make it a welcoming space.
  • Grab some plants and aromas. A plant can brighten up a space while some even use fragrances and aromas to make themselves feel calm. For example, the smell of lavender is believed to reduce anxiety while lemon scent is believed to improve concentration.

A clock on a white wall.

5. Know your limits

As much as you may have good intentions about what you want to get done by the end of each day, you need to be realistic. You need to know how much is too much and do something about it before things get on top of you.

  • Take a break. You deserve your school holidays so don’t fill it with work. Also, if you need it, then take a mental health day for yourself. Taking term time off is not recommended in teaching but one day off to get your head together is far better for you and your students than a month off due to stress-related illness.
  • Do you need help? In all seriousness, if your stress and anxiety is causing you problems, perhaps you need to seek help, whether from your leadership or from a doctor. It could just change your life.
  • Change your situation. If you feel unsupported by your department or leadership, then perhaps you need to move schools. Alternatively, a more flexible or part-time teaching post could suit you better. Changing your situation could be what you need to thrive as a teacher.
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