Stress is an issue for most of us these days.
This has escalated, particularly for teachers and school staff during the pandemic. It has been an incredibly stressful time in schools. This article though is about a problem which is much wider and more universal than additional stress caused by the global pandemic.
“Invisible stress” is the kind of stress that creeps up on you. The sort that you don’t even realise is there. One day you are happily plodding along, everything seems normal and the next you have reached your breaking point and you can’t stop crying or you’re angry all the time or you realise you haven’t slept in months or you get ill.
Let me tell you a little story about invisible stress…
Once upon a time there was a newly qualified teacher. She had dreamed of being a teacher her whole life. All the young teacher wanted to do was help the children in her inner city school to flourish.
Every day she would bounce into the classroom, give those children her all, and drive home exhausted. It was a really challenging school, there were all sorts of challenges for the young teacher, including an really unsupportive Head. Despite all that she smiled, did everything that was asked of her and the whole world thought she was coping brilliantly with the challenges of the job.
Then BAM! One morning the enthusiastic, young teacher woke up and she burst into tears. Whatever she did, she couldn’t stop crying. A few hours later she was sitting back at home with an anti-depressant in her hand and a sick note from the doctor, wondering if she was going to have to be medicated for the rest of her career. The worst thing was, she hadn’t seen it coming. No clues, no early warning system, nothing! Once she recovered, and came off the antidepressants, she promised herself that she would never let anything or anyone make her feel like that every again!
Fast forward 20 years and that same woman found herself in the middle of a global pandemic. Both her children were in key years at school; her eldest sitting GCSEs and her youngest SATs and finishing primary school. Of course these exams couldn’t take place because of the pandemic and she believed that life was so much calmer and more stress-free because of that.
Ok enough third person. By now you must have realised that the young stressed out teacher was me, and so is the relieved Mum. However, I was wrong!
I have spent the last few months enjoying my time with my family. Thrilled that my daughter, in particular, had had so much stress removed from her due to the exams being cancelled. (My daughter wrote an amazing article with me last year about her struggles with anxiety which you can read here if you haven’t already).
Then a couple of weeks ago I started getting headaches, I never get headaches. So I upped my relaxation and meditation time, but they persisted. I realised I wasn’t sleeping well. Over the following few days the tightening in my shoulders started and that turned into a pain up my neck. Still I walked round finding excuses and possible reasons for all these classic symptoms of stress.
Now I need to give you some background to this situation. I am very good in a crisis. I always jump into action and calm everyone else down then deal with myself later. Over the last few weeks, months, years even, the anxiety levels over exams have been slowly bubbling and rising. So, I have been calming everyone down, giving them tools to cope and, I thought, managing my own levels too. But the last couple of weeks there has been so much uncertainty about these results, the government literally changed how they were being calculated days before the results were announced. This has led to unnecessary anxiety and stress for everyone involved, me included it turns out. Now, those of you who know me know that I am passionate about mental health, but I am even more dedicated to and passionate about my family. This palarva was causing my daughter serious anxiety and my body was reacting to that and getting ready to fight for her (that’s what our stress reaction is, at a biological level).
I didn’t realise how bad it was until it all suddenly lifted yesterday when the results came in and I got to see my daughter’s reaction as she opened her email from school with her results in.
Now I need to make it clear, that this has not been a “wake up in tears, book a doctor’s appointment” level stress. But it has been a timely reminder that despite all my tools and techniques I am still susceptible to stress at times. It reminded me that in all likelihood I would have been in a much worse state had I not used my daily practices and stepped up my self care.
I was also reminded that no-one is immune to invisible stress.
What can you do about invisible stress?
The problem with invisible stress is that you can’t see it until it is too late. You have headaches, migraines even, you over eat or under eat, you’re not sleeping, your shoulders are tight and you are really over emotional… these are all early warning signs.
I know so many teachers who are struggling with invisible stress but they have no idea and since I have just demonstrated that even I can be caught out, the only thing to do is to live every day as though you are trying to ease your stress.
Take lots of deep breaths, regularly. Breathe deeply into your stomach and as slowly as you can comfortably and see the difference it makes. Read more about breathing.
I have said it a million times but meditation doesn’t have to be sitting in the lotus position and chanting. It can be as simple as walking to the shops without looking at your phone and being really aware of every step and how it feels in your body. Read more about Meditation.
I know I go on about this too but sleeping is SO important. It is when we are asleep that our stress levels are processed and lower. Without enough sleep you are starting each day with higher stress levels than you should and you get nearer to tipping point every day. Monitoring your sleep is a great way to detect invisible stress too. Read more about Sleep.
When you’re not eating well your body can’t function as efficiently as it should, you lack energy and don’t feel as positive. Read more about mindful eating and the benefits.
Take care of yourself
Run a bath, hug your children, go for a walk or a run, listen to your favourite music and dance around your kitchen, read a good book, eat food you enjoy, arrange to meet friends for a drink… Whatever it is that makes you really happy, do it! As often as you physically can!
In summary: take care of yourself all the time, whether you feel stressed or not!