A teachers' guide to spotting the signs of stress

A teachers' guide to spotting the signs of stress

People who are attracted to teaching jobs are naturally dynamic. They have to manage so many aspects of their pupils' learning, development and lives it is often little wonder they can neglect their own health.

Since 2000, it has been shown by Health and Safety Executive figures that teaching is the most stressful profession in the UK, with almost half of people reporting themselves as ‘highly stressed’. The average profession in the UK sees only 20 per cent of workers classifying themselves as highly stressed.

Last year, statistics released under the Freedom of Information Act revealed the number of teachers taking time away from the classroom due to stress had actually increased by ten per cent over the past four years, with 15 councils across the UK actually recording a 50 per cent increase in the number of stress-related absences.

There is no doubt there are many causes of stress in the UK teaching profession. Firsthand research from TLTP Education has shown growing student indiscipline and increasing instances of abuse are taking their toll, while professional considerations such as Ofsted inspections and league tables in which the results may be taken out of the teacher's hands are also a huge source of anxiety.

With so many possible problems it is vital that teachers are aware of the signs of stress. If they are oblivious, the chances are a person will not be able to manage their stress levels effectively and this leads to a higher likelihood they will need time off work to recover.

What is stress? 

Stress is a natural biological response to events that can either make people feel threatened or upset. When something either physically or emotionally dangerous occurs - even if it is an imagined threat - the body's defences respond in a way that is known as the 'fight-or-flight-or-freeze' reaction - otherwise called the stress response.

It is a method or protection and when all is working well, it allows people to stay focused on the task in hand, meet previously unattainable challenges or in emergency cases can save their lives.

However, the stress response can be put out of kilter. Once it activates too many times or over a prolonged period it, can have detrimental impacts on overall wellbeing and go on to affect all aspects of a person's life, including their ability to perform in the classroom.

What are the symptoms?

The signs of stress vary from individual to individual but look out for cognitive issues such as: loss of memory, inability to concentrate, bad judgment, pessimism and worrying.

Behavioural symptoms include: moodiness, agitation, isolation, depression and feeling overwhelmed, eating too much, increased reliance on vices such as smoking and nervous habits such as nail biting.

Although stress is a mental issue it can have physical signs, these include: aches and pains, both diarrhea and constipation, nausea, rapid heartbeat, constant colds and a loss of sex drive.

How do you cope?

Spotting the signs of stress is the first step to dealing with it. There are many factors that will come into play in the management of stress, some which depend on character traits and some which depend on a working environment.

Support network: This can be within the school, but you can also seek guidance from family and loved ones with no experience of teaching. Support creates an effective buffer which protects against a job's stressors, while people who are left isolated are more exposed to them

Self control: Stress is created when control is lost. A person who has the confidence to know they can manage in these situations is less likely to have stress.

Attitude: Optimism can be a great rebuttal of stress.

Experience and preparation: People who are new to teaching may find it hard to see how it is going to get better. At that point, stress can be overwhelming. People who prepare themselves for hard days and weeks are more able to cope with it when it occurs.