Excitement, fear, anxiety, and joy are just a few of the words floating around as students and teachers go back-to-school this fall. While many discussions are centered around how to support the students, it’s important to also focus on the much-needed support of teachers during these times.
With the growing sense of normalcy that follows in-person teaching, comes a looming sense of stress and anxiety. “What if there’s a COVID outbreak in my class? What if school suddenly goes back to online? How are my students going to adjust? How am I going to adjust?” We understand and we’re right here with you to go through the different strategies and resources that will help you along the way.
General Anxiety vs “Teacher Anxiety”
While the world has come face-to-face with new or familiar general anxiety during the pandemic, teachers are faced with the unique circumstance of back-to-school “teacher anxiety”. We’d like to acknowledge these points of stress and uncertainty to remind the teachers of our community that their mental health and wellbeing is a priority and that they have a community of support systems.
To clarify, when we say “teacher anxiety” we’re not just referring to general anxiety. The main difference between the two is that “teacher anxiety” is specific to concerns about the events that may unfold in a teaching context. Whereas general anxiety isn’t necessarily specific to a context and tends to occur without a direct reason. Of course the two are not mutually exclusive, but there is something very unique about the worry that occurs while teaching during the ever-changing circumstances of this pandemic.
Anxiety overall can look like and feel like:
- Inability to relax
- Feeling like time is speeding up and slowing down
- Trouble concentrating
- Chest pains
- Feeling or being sick
We’re not experts but we do want to do our best to offer our support where we can. So let’s get into some different ways teachers can get support, while also leaning on others.
Personal Mental Health & Wellbeing
Let’s start with a few different personal coping mechanisms. Here are 5 different ways to practice self-care and wellness during this school year:
- Know the facts. Letting your mind wander into the abyss of “what if’s” can feel very overwhelming. Laying out the facts by writing them down or saying them out loud to a friend can be a grounding exercise for the mind.
- Stay in communication. Talking to friends, family, and coworkers can help ease the mental load of anxiety. It can also be useful to gain new insight, information, and reassurance. Staying in open communication with your support networks can also help eliminate feelings of isolation.
- Make time for yourself. Self-care is more than just bubble baths and retail therapy. It’s also about getting an adequate amount of sleep, practicing mindfulness, having a balance between resting and moving, and engaging in something fulfilling. But ultimately, it’s whatever works best for you, as long as it’s focused on taking care of yourself mentally and physically.
- Set boundaries. Of course it’s easier said than done but maintaining that work-life balance can give your body and mind the time it needs to wind down and de-stress after a day of teaching. Setting boundaries mentally can also help this process. With a bit of work and lots of mindfulness, we can begin to manage our anxious thoughts instead of letting our anxious thoughts manage us.
- Take a Gradual Approach. We know it’s not as easy as it seems. If it were, none of us would struggle with anxiety or any other mental health issues. Taking a gradual approach to self-care and wellness can help slowly make adjustments where needed. This also gives you time to figure out changes that work and ones that don’t.
If you find yourself still needing a bit of extra support, it’s always a good idea to reach out to a health-care professional and get their opinion. Taking care of our mental health is just as important as taking care of our physical health.
Getting Support from Others
Just as we lean on ourselves, we can also lean on outside resources, including other people! Our Ready for Life platform comes from leading mental health experts for educators just like yourself who are seeking out resources to take on their own mental health and wellness, as well as that of today’s youth.
The platform includes guides to topics such as:
- Understanding the general symptoms of mental illness
- Defining Mental Health
- Learning what contributes to mental health
- The difference between mental health and mental illness
- The ABCs of Mental Health
- Why Student Well-Being
As well as tools including:
- Building your own personal resilience strategy
- Determining your mental “fitness”
- Calculating your stress index
- A work / life balance quiz
- Calculating your mental health meter
- How to create and sustain mentally healthy classrooms
Additional resources, available to support you include:
- Wellness Together Canada (A free, private, confidential platform with crisis support and a wide variety of learning tools, including one specific to anxiety and coping with COVID-19)
- Ontario Teacher’s Federation (Includes a hub of resources for teacher wellbeing including topics for managing stress, mental health, and a work-life balance)
- Reaching out to your personal support system is also a great resource! To help them better understand how to support you, check out this resource for friends and spouses supporting teachers, on behalf of the American Psychological Association.
You’ve Got This
We hope that this guide provides some new and useful resources to help support you, our educators, through these extremely stressful times. You are not alone and your mental health and wellness matters. This blog is here for you to come back to whenever you need it. And if you’re not an educator, send this to them to let them know you’re here for them. We’re in this together to thrive as a community!
Teachers Life Long Term Disability Members and their families also have access to another great free mental health resource. FeelingBetterNow® includes a user-friendly mental health assessment, personalized action plan for you and your healthcare provider based on medical guidelines and immediate access to curated mental health support resources.