When are you most stressed? Is it September when the new school year begins?
Perhaps it is January, when the post-Christmas bills arrive and when we face so-called Blue Monday – the Monday of the last full week in January which is claimed to be the most depressing day of the year (although research has shown that it is not the day itself that is responsible, but the shorter days and lack of sunlight).
A report in the Huffington Post last year cited, perhaps surprisingly, December as the month “when the biggest increase in work-related stress is reported”.
Other reports suggest August, May and February as contenders for the most stressed title.
Given that stress is a response to pressure and different people experience different pressures at different times, then surely some discrepancy is to be expected between different workers and professions.
What if we consider just teachers? When are they most stressed? According to data from Teacher Support Network over the last year, the highest number of new cases – the number of teachers contacting our support line regarding a single issue – was in November 2012, with 811 cases opened. March this year came close with 808 new cases, while “only” 576 cases were opened in December.
A closer look also shows that November 2012 had the highest number of cases relating to absence from work (127) and stress (58), while high numbers of teachers presenting with work-related stress, anxiety and depression were also recorded.
November is also traditionally the month that we receive the most applications for grants. In our survey last November, 80 per cent of the teachers said they were finding it harder to manage their finances when compared with the previous November, while 65 per cent said that money worries had affected their health at some point in the last couple of years.
Yet why does November seem to be so stressful for teachers? There are a number of theories. The impact of shorter days and reduced sunlight hours are not just restricted to January. Similarly, seven per cent of the population are believed to suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, which may attribute for some of the rise in cases in November.
Most likely, the increase is due to a combination of additional pressures on teachers at this time of year. Workload often increases with existing schedules supplemented by school plays, carol concerts or exams to prepare students for.
There are likely to be parents’ evenings, open evenings and reports to write, while pressure from family and friends can grow as they expect more and more time for the preparation and attendance of social occasions in the run up to Christmas. Add to this increasing financial pressures as December nears and the shorter days, and is it any wonder that teachers are stressed?
So what can teachers do to reduce the impact of stress this November? Here are three quick tips.
Plan. Be aware that this month could be difficult and plan for it. Ask yourself what behaviours you can change to reduce the potential impact? Could you start writing reports or start Christmas shopping earlier? Can you schedule times to meet with family and friends now? Make sure you also put some down time into your plan. Be realistic!
Set yourself goals to stick to your plan. Make sure to write your goals in a positive way. Goals become easier to accomplish when you focus on the benefit and not the problem.
For example: “I will finish no later than 6pm on weekdays, so that I can exercise and eat properly”, “I will make sure I get eight hours’ sleep during reports time”, or “I will make sure I eat a proper breakfast when rehearsing the nativity play, so that I remain focused”.
Exercise, eat well and stay hydrated. While you may want to reach for the comfort foods, caffeine or alcohol, these might give you a quick high, but will lead to a depressing low.
Julian Stanley is chief executive of the Teacher Support Network. Visit www.teachersupport.info or call 08000 562 561 (England), 08000 855088 (Wales).