Staff wellbeing: Managing feelings of anxiety

Written by: Sophie Howells | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

School staff may well be struggling with feelings of anxiety as the pandemic continues and schools remain open. Sophie Howells advises


Most of us are feeling more anxious at present. It is after all a familiar, human response when we feel that we are under threat, worried, tense or afraid about things that may be about to happen or that we think may happen in the future.

It is something we all experience but particularly during times of major upheaval or change.

As we know, anxiety can be experienced in different ways – through our thoughts and our feelings as well as physical sensations. From a knot in the stomach to headaches and problems with switching off and sleep, it can feel hard to control.

However, there are some key ways that we can help manage and lessen some of the common effects, learn to spot the signs and help to stop ourselves becoming overwhelmed before our feelings become unmanageable.

In a short video for Education Support, aimed at those working in schools, educator and mental health advisor Mike Armiger points out that it is really important to remind ourselves when feeling anxious that we are not the only ones to feel this way. We must remember that the emotions we are feeling right now (anger, sadness, fear) are normal responses to an abnormal situation.

For teachers, school leaders and many other school staff, he says, the pressure of what are unique times, of having to focus in an unparalleled way on health and safety, parental concerns, wider concerns for families and family members, is an additional stressor to what is a stressful profession at the best of times.


Talk about your anxiety

We need to try as much as we can to normalise distress. Talk about your anxiety and what is contributing to it with someone you trust. This is important and can really help. Expressing how you feel will mean that you have a choice about what to do with that feeling: supressing it can mean that the problem can overwhelm you.

If you feel more comfortable speaking to someone anonymously, get confidential emotional support from Education Support’s free helpline (08000 562561). The line is open 24/7 and you will speak to a specially trained counsellor. Talking about how you are feeling can help you find ways for yourself to deal with anxiety.

Our specialists are well aware of how difficult it can be to just pick up the phone and say that you need help. It can be especially hard for teachers, school leaders and all those working in schools who are trained to help and support others.


Try to accept uncertainty

When we reduce the need for certainty, it helps to reduce the drive to worry. We are living through uncertain times so all we can do is focus on those things that we can control. A pandemic is not one of them.

Writing down your worries and setting aside a time and place to reflect on them can be useful. Notice what the worries are and how they make you feel. Note any possible solutions that may come to you.


Make self-care a priority

Build in some regular physical exercise to your routine, eat well, get rest and make time to do things that bring you joy. These basics are essential to the quality of our lives and how we can begin to feel more in control and able to cope.

Establishing good mental health habits as part of self-care are important. For example, listen to music, a favourite podcast, take a walk in the countryside, or have a chat with a good friend. Find something mindful that you can concentrate on and that you enjoy – cook, garden, talk to friends and family, write stories, decorate, anything that you gain pleasure and some satisfaction from. This can help you to change gear and put things into perspective.


Cultivating hope

Mike Armiger talks about the importance of cultivating hope. It is important that we all have a bank of special, positive thoughts or memories that we can continually “top-up” or can hang onto when things feel difficult – a special moment, photograph, holiday or event. Even observing something that has made you feel positive can help, be that a hug, a kind gesture, or anything that generates an especially positive feeling.

And breathe. Even a couple of deep breaths when you are feeling particularly anxious during the day can help you to feel more centred, grounded and can relieve tension. We must all remember that this will not last forever and the situation will get easier.


Sophie Howells is from Education Support, a UK charity dedicated to improving the mental health and wellbeing of the education workforce. Read her previous articles for SecEd via https://bit.ly/2S5CZxi


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