The Hidden Dangers of Teacher Stress (And What You Can Do About It)

According to a recent survey, teachers are at breaking point trying to cope with the relentless pressures and many  plan to leave the profession in record numbers.

82% of teachers describe their workload as 'unmanageable'

The survey, carried out by the Guardian Teacher Network, found many teachers are at crisis point. Almost all – 98% – said they are under increasing pressure and 82% described their workload as “unmanageable”. Around three-quarters say their workload is having a serious impact on their physical & mental health .

So, the chances are high that you're under pressure too. After all, in any one teaching day you not only teach, you also manage behaviour, plan lessons, separate fights, assess learning, counsel students, write reports, mark books, do lunch duty, tidy classrooms, create resources, deal with bureaucracy, do bus duty, create displays, attend meetings, speak with parents... the list is endless.

Stress can have DEVASTATING effects on your health

Each of those demands on your time brings its own high levels of stress which can have DEVASTATING effects on your body and your health. Research suggests that almost ALL illnesses can be attributed to stress in some way because of the harmful effects of raised levels of toxic stress hormones which flood through your body as a result of the stress response or Fight or Flight reflex.

High blood pressure, heart disease, ulcers, strokes, migraines, inflammation, arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, low immunity, skin problems, headaches, back pain, joint problems etc. can all be attributed -either directly or indirectly - to the action of stress hormones like cortisol.

Then there are the knock-on emotional problems which chronic exposure to these hormones and various health complaints often leads to - fear, irritability, anger, frustration, insomnia, forgetfulness etc. All because you are under constant pressure and strain. I like to use the simple analogy of a ‘Stress Bucket’ to explain this…

As you go through your working day in the classroom, each and every time you experience a difficult, worrying or annoying situation – like a noisy class or an unmanageable student - more stress is added to your bucket.

The more stress you have in your bucket, the more the body's Fight or Flight reflex kicks in and the more tense, frustrated and emotional you feel.

Some teachers, (maybe you’re one of them), carry unbelievably large stress buckets around with them all day. Eventually the level of stress gets to the point where even the smallest additional pressure will cause the bucket to SPILL OVER.

This is obviously when arguments and outbursts occur. This is when we start to make mistakes. It’s when we shout more than we teach. Over time, being overloaded with stress like this can lead to serious problems…

…illness, burnout and breakdown.

Believe me I know; I’ve been there. I spent ten years at the chalk face and several years on the senior management team of a special school/behaviour unit in a northern inner city. The students in this setting were EXTREMELY volatile and most of my time was spent in a highly anxious state, feeling that I could completely lose control - or have a heart attack - at any time. 

Being young, I thought I was invincible but the effects of stress on my mood and health soon began to show. At first I just became a LOT more moody and irritable. I snapped at my friends and found myself looking for arguments. Then came the sleep disturbance. I was never a good sleeper but I now found it impossible to switch off and get much-needed rest. Gradually, my weight ballooned, my joints started aching and I had a permanent headache. Many years later, despite having left the profession  to set up a teacher-training business, I completely burned out and developed Chronic Fatigue. I am 100% sure much of the damage to my frazzled adrenal glands and general health was done during my time in tough school settings.

We only start paying real attention when our bodies start to show signs of wear

The problem was that I just didn't consider stress to be such a huge health hazard at the time. I just accepted it and got on with it as best I could. And I think this is the problem for ANYONE in highly stressful positions such as teachers. We carry on day after day thinking that we're invincible. The only time we pay any attention is when our bodies start to complain, when they start showing signs of wear. And by then, we can have already done a lot of damage.

You can protect your health right now, before it's too late

The best way to deal with stress is to protect yourself BEFORE the effects start to show. You do this by learning to relax deeply so as to reduce your current stress levels, while also developing your resilience and abilities to manage your time so as to reduce the effects of further stress. To return to the Stress Bucket analogy - this is like putting a hole in the bottom of the bucket so as to let stress out while putting a 'cover' over the top so as to stop so much stress getting in. This two-progued approach is very effective.

Since being diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue (and developing PTSD as a result of a near-fatal incident) some years ago - and going on to beat both of them - I have been on something of a healing journey. I have tried almost EVERY available therapy and strategy to lower my stress and improve my resilience. And along the way I have found techniques which are tremendously effective. 

I have put one of the simplest in a free e-guide which you can access below. You'll find this simple exercise can help you stay healthy, calm and happy no matter how stressful your classroom or your life is.

​It can help you sleep soundly and relax deeply.

And put you in a state where NOTHING can bother you.

​It can also make you more productive and more focused.

Sound good?

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