Teachers are among the most dedicated professionals I have ever had the pleasure of working with but is this dedication doing more damage than just making you feel tired?
At this time of year the internet is full of memes and posts with the hashtag: #teachertired.
There is no doubt that this time of year is when teachers really feel the strain. Testing season is ending for most age ranges, reports are looming, in the northern hemisphere we are just starting the last push until the summer break and our reserves have been empty for a while.
We have to somehow find the enthusiasm required to prepare for sports day, end of term assembly, a production, summer fair, disco, family picnic… the list seems never ending. They all sound like such fun activities to the parents, surely this is the easy end to the year you have been needing?
Yes, they are fun.
The also require massive amounts of planning, organisation and energy, just at the point when energy is something as scarce and precious as glue sticks in June.
It’s ok though isn’t it? We can just keep burning the candle at both ends for a few more weeks and then catch up a little bit in that long summer break. (Before you all start emailing me, don’t worry, I am fully aware that the long summer holiday is a myth!).
Unfortunately it doesn’t work like that.
It would be nice if it did.
The problem is, and I’m not saying this to scare or alarm you but to protect you, when you are over tired you actually begin to do physical harm to your body.
I’m not talking about bags under your eyes and aching muscles (although they are designed to be the external warning systems). When you don’t get enough rest your body can’t process all the chemicals and hormones it produces throughout the day. Every time you get a little bit anxious or stressed you release chemicals into our blood stream which can then be processed and removed while you sleep. If you don’t get enough sleep they remain in your body and can build up to dangerous levels.
This is when we have to be really careful.
From a mental health perspective this is dangerous because you get to breaking point and that is when you cry or shout for no reason (or a very little, insignificant reason), but from a physical wellbeing point of view these chemicals collect around your major organs, particularly your heart and begin to do physical damage. It is no coincidence that people are more likely to have heart attacks, strokes etc when they are stressed, over worked and exhausted.
Don’t get me wrong, I know you are a superhero. You do incredible things every day with very few resources and often even less support and encouragement.
Your will may be strong but your body is still human.
I know, it’s a shock, but it’s true.
What can you do?
I know you are all screaming; “Well I can’t just not do it can I? It’s my job!”
I know, I really do. Your dedication to your job and your children is amazing and I have nothing but respect for you but what can we do to make sure that you don’t burn out before the school year is out.
With so many teachers leaving the profession and citing exhaustion and stress among the primary reasons for their decision we have to do something.
Well, there are a few things you can do.
- Prioritise: It is so easy to think that we have to tick every single box and do everything. I bet if you make a “to do list” and look through it honestly you will discover that there are some things that could wait, or that maybe don’t need to be done to quite the standard you would like to do them to. We are notoriously perfectionists in our work but sometimes done is better than perfect.
- Ask for help: If there are things other people can do and you are lucky enough to have that support then make sure you ask. It might be asking your partner to make dinner or asking your parents to have the children for the weekend. Whatever it is, if it is going to give you a few minutes to get something finished so you can rest earlier it is worth swallowing your pride and asking for help. They will be more than happy to help, believe me.
- Prioritise yourself: It is very easy to think that everything and everyone is more important that you. You want to be everything to everyone and forget the most important person – YOU! If your child or your partner was working the hours you are would you sit back and watch or would you insist that they took a break? Give yourself the same respect that you would a loved one.
- Give yourself permission: Permission to stop. To take a bath. Go for a run. See that film at the cinema. You will be amazed how reviving and energising it is to give yourself that time to switch off. You will return to work feeling more enthusiastic and focused.
- Exercise: One of the other ways our body processes this build up of chemicals is when you exercise (which is why people use gyms as stress relief). It is easy when you are busy to sit and focus on getting work done but taking time to exercise will help you to relax, sleep better and process your stress.
- Massage: Massage helps your body to process the chemicals which build up and are incredibly relaxing too. Pamper yourself, you can absolutely justify it for your mental and physical wellbeing.
- Eat well: When we are tired and stressed it is easy to reach for the snacks and junk food. Eating properly is so important for your physical and mental wellbeing. Try to pre-prepare meals in the freezer for busy times so that you aren’t tempted to reach for convenience foods.
- Alcohol and caffeine: It is easy to think that you can keep going if you just up your coffee intake. Caffeine actually adds to your anxiety levels though and can make your restless. At the other end of the scale many teachers reach for a glass of wine or a gin to help them unwind. Unfortunately alcohol also raises your anxiety levels and is counter productive.
- Sleep: Working later and later into the night or getting up earlier and earlier might feel like the best option for catching up on all the work you have to get done but as I have already mentioned sleep is even more important than usual when you are busy and stressed because this is the time that your body can process all the stress. Of course it is often harder to sleep too so make sure you have some good sleep strategies ready to help you if your struggle to sleep. (check out this old blog if you need help sleeping)
You are far too important to risk burning out. The very reason you are working so hard is also the reason you need to put yourself first. If you don’t care for yourself and you do yourself a mischief who will teach your class as brilliantly as you do? Who will care for your family as lovingly as you do? Wouldn’t all the people you love rather you take a break and not do everything quite so brilliantly as usual?
Take care of yourself. No-one else can make you a priority, only you can make that decision. Unfortunately if you don’t take the time to focus on your wellness your body will make you take time out by giving you illness.
What promise can you make to yourself today to help you cope with the last few weeks of school?
Why not declare it publicly in the Facebook group or send me an email and let me know what changes you are going to make?