In normal years, teachers often take on and hold the stress and emotions of their students. Some teachers think of themselves as second parents to these children, spending hours each day of the week with them. Believe it or not, most teachers don’t stop at caring about their students’ academic achievements. They are oftentimes the first line of support for students experiencing any social emotional struggles or concerns.
Working in a school based mental health center for years, I witnessed first-hand that it was often, if not always, the teachers who noticed when something was “off” with a student, and came to the wellness center to address this and try to get their student the support that they needed. This is no easy task, putting the emotional wellbeing of each of your students on your plate, in addition to your actual job description of giving them a quality education. I have heard of many teachers who spend their nights worried about students who shared their not so great home situation, or the student who told them about their eating disorder. We don’t often look at teachers as this first line of support to our children and adolescents, but it’s time that we start.
We don’t often look at teachers as the first line of support to our children and adolescents, but it’s time that we start.
This year, it’s no secret that the presence of stress and negative emotions students will be bringing in will be elevated. Many students are dealing with the burden of grief and loss for the very first time. They’ve been exposed to trauma in many forms caused by the media and recent social-political movements, as well as lingering effects of isolation. When teachers care for their students, they may begin to experience vicarious trauma – indirect trauma that stems from engagement in others traumatic stories and experiences.
Aside from the feelings of their students, teachers are likely coming in with some of their own concerns as well. Whether it was the loss of a loved one, financial struggles, or the stress and self-doubt of having to adjust to this brand new virtual/hybrid learning, this year will likely not be an easy one for our educators.
Whether it was the loss of a loved one, financial struggles, or the stress and self-doubt of having to adjust to this brand new virtual/hybrid learning, this year will likely not be an easy one for teachers.
Signs that it is time to seek help
The biggest indicator for a teacher that it might be time to seek support is burnout. Burn out refers to a state of exhaustion – on psychological, emotional, and physical levels. We begin to experience this when we feel continuously overwhelmed and stressed by life and work.
We become especially susceptible to burnout when we take our work home with us.
We become especially susceptible to burnout when we take our work home with us. If we’re finding that we are spending hours each night thinking about our students; how can we be better virtual educators, how is that one student that we’re worried about holding up – it begins to consume our lives.
There are signs that can give us clues that we may benefit from an additional form of support.
You can notice if you’re in danger of experiencing burnout if you’re feeling a few of the physical or psychological symptoms listed below:
Psychological Symptoms of Burnout
- Feeling more irritable
- Loss of motivation for work
- Having trouble feeling compassion
- Reduced performance at work
- Difficulty concentrating
- Excessive stress
- Sadness or Anger
- Difficulty Sleeping or sleeping too much
- Feeling ineffective at work
Physical Symptoms of Burnout
- Feeling tired more easily
- High blood pressure
- Stomach aches or other gastrointestinal symptoms
- Increased susceptibility to illness
- Loss of appetite
Pay attention to any of your symptoms. Are you in danger of experiencing burnout?
The benefits of therapy for teachers
Teachers, like most people, would benefit from therapy as a place to debrief, learn coping skills, and process everything they take in daily. We often hear teachers describe the shocking lack of support they receive just to do their jobs on a basic level. What’s worse is that even schools that are equipped with mental health centers for the students often don’t serve the teacher population the same way.
Think about the care you give to each and every one of your students, and afford yourself that same compassion.
When you’re on an airplane and they tell you to always put on your mask before helping others, this is for a reason. If our mask isn’t on first, we may be unable and inept to help anyone else. This is a metaphor that can be used for our mental health and self-care as well. If we aren’t taking care of ourselves, how can we possibly be there and take care of others. As a teacher, you are responsible for so many on a daily basis. It is especially important to put your mask on first! You will be the best teacher you can be if you take care of yourself first. Think about the care you give to each and every one of your students, and afford yourself that same compassion.
Therapy has many benefits for people of all ages and careers. For our teachers out there, therapy can help you:
- Learn how to effectively set boundaries with colleagues, students, and parents without feeling guilty
- Learn effective communication skills to advocate for yourself in your career and life
- Explore and determine the safety measures that feel right for you
- Receive support for all feelings that come up during your day to day living
- Process the many experiences that come your way each work day
- Better manage stress and anxiety so that you feel more in control inside and outside of the classroom
- Learn how to leave the stresses of the work day at work, instead of “bringing them home” with you
Explore and determine the safety measures that feel right for you. Learn how to leave the stresses of the work day at work, instead of “bringing them home” with you.
Teachers are under an enormous amount of pressure, even during the best of times. Due to the stress of being back at school during an ongoing pandemic, teachers may feel like they’re being thrown into the deep end without a life preserver.
Now more than ever it’s vital for teachers to reach out and receive care and support. These are just a few of the many benefits you can take from seeking support with a therapist. If you are, or know, a teacher who may be struggling this school year please encourage them to reach out for support.
Your Turn: How do you combat signs of burnout? What do these signs look like for you? I’d love to hear your tips in the comments below.