Mgr. Alexander Loziak, Institute of Social Sciences CSPS SAS, firstname.lastname@example.org
Pandemic of corona virus affected all of us. There is lot of attention for the consequences for physical health and economics, but the consequences for mental health are underestimated. The teachers in Slovakia were in difficult situation, where they faced abrupt closing of the schools and transition to the online learning. The research in last few years, for example international research TALIS confirmed that teachers were experiencing higher work stress even before pandemic (OECD, TALIS, 2018).
The results from our data collection from October 2020, where we had 489 respondents (teachers) of elementary school indicate the stress level went even higher. Comparing to the results of TALIS from 2018, higher number of teachers reports higher level of stress at workplace and more significant consequences for physical and mental health.
Stress at the workplace is associated with lower level of life satisfaction, optimism or positive relationships with others (Poormahmood a kol., 2017). Don´t let to persuade ourselves that work, responsibilities and satisfaction of others are more important than our mental wellbeing. Mental health requires regular care and we offer you 8 strategies for it. Please note, it is possible to use these strategies for other occupations too.
- Monitor your stress level
First step is to identify what are the causes of stress. Ask yourself: When is my level of stress highest? Notice your physical reactions (heartbeat, headaches) and your emotional reactions too (anger, anxiety or frustration). Consider, if the stress is caused by your work or by other factors in your life. If it´s caused by your work, then identify the situations which are more difficult. Results of our research confirm, that administrative work and keeping up with changing requirements could be very stressful for the teachers. Once you identified, what is causing the stress, you can move to the plan of coping.
- Allocate the time for dealing with causes of stress
Next step is choosing the precisely scheduled time, when you will solve identified stress situations. If you have a trouble with technical support of education, some part of the day devote learning about using necessary programs. Scheduled time offer you the sense of control, which lower the stress perception. If you can´t actively improve the source of your stress and you can´t control it, it´s important to use other strategies from our list.
3. Focus on things you can control (and accept the things you can´t)
Generating the list of problems, which you can and you can´t control can bring you the reconciliation and sense of peace. Not all aspects of our life are under our control. Accepting what we can´t change helps to relieve the energy, which we can use in more meaningful way. Buddhist teacher Timber Hawkeye said: “You can´t calm the storm… so don´t try it. You can calm yourself. The storm will pass anyway…”
4. Set realistic goals
As a teacher you have to handle lots of tasks. Long list of tasks can generate the worries, if you can do it on time. If these worries come up often and you feel, that despite of full effort the tasks are not done well enough, maybe you have to reassess your goals. Set realistic goals with realistic due deadlines. Don´t worry, if you need to change your goals due to unpredictable event.
- Interrupt the negativity
Negative emotions stem from negative thoughts. The most successful therapeutical approach, which was created so far (cognitive-behavioural therapy), treats our emotions by changing our thought patterns. Negative, destructive thought patterns replaces with positive, constructive thoughts. There is a famous quote from Ghandi: “I don´t let anybody walk through my mind with dirty feet.”
Unfortunately, it´s often us, who has “dirty feet” and negative thoughts. In this case it´s useful to follow your own mind. When we notice, that we focus too long on something, what doesn´t bring us any benefits, the easiest way is to refocus our attention on something else. For example, open the book or do something, what will change your present thoughts and interrupt the negativity.
6. Perceive the stress from another angel
If you believe, that stress is damaging, you are right. If you believe, that stress is supporting, you are right too. This is how we can summarise the research of Alie Crum, which is focusing on “setting the mind towards the stress”. It´s really interesting, what everything can be affected by our beliefs. If we perceive the stress as our friend, our body releases in stressful situation good hormones and helps us to deal with everything.
Our research with sample of Slovak teachers of elementary schools confirms, that there is a link between perception of stress and how this stressful situation is experienced. You can try to apply this approach too and perceive stress as a reaction of the body helping to deal with most difficult challenges.
- Schedule time for the activities, which support mental health
Sometimes it´s enough to schedule to the daily routine appropriate activities. For example walk in the nature significantly helps to maintain mental wellbeing (Kondo a kol. 2018). Another useful activity is writing a journal, where we express our gratitude. The research shows, that daily journaling can improve our life satisfaction by 10%, what is comparable with doubling of salary (Emmons, McCullough, 2003). The combination of daily walk and “journal of gratitude”, if we repeat it every day and in a long run, can significantly boost our mental health.
- Ask a colleague for an advice
Your colleagues can go or could go through similar difficulties and they can offer you an valuable advice. The exchange of ideas between colleagues is a great way, how to build the relationships and healthy, safe work environment. Maybe you will be surprised, but the opinion of more experienced or younger colleagues can change the perspective.
Emmons, R., & McCullough, M. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2).
Kondo, M., Jacoby, S., & South, E. (2018). Does spending time outdoors reduce stress? A review of real-time stress response to outdoor environments. Health & Place, 51, 136-150.
Poormahmood, A., Moayedi, F.; Alizadeh, K. Haji (2017). Relationships between psychological well-being, happiness and perceived occupational stress among primary school teachers. Archives of Hellenic Medicine, 34 (4), 504-510.