The Stress Series: Stress Four –

Mental, Psychic or Emotional Stress

This is probably the kind of stress that most of us are familiar with.  That feeling of being overwhelmed emotionally by events that are going on around us, whether they are beyond our control or coming at us too fast or having too much to do in not enough time are all fairly common situations faced by educators who work in schools in this day and age.

The neuropsychology of mental or psychic stress is fairly complex but I will aim to simplify it here.  As I already described we do need a certain amount of stress to keep us alive and some stress is actually good for us.  Having stress levels that are neither too low or high is best described as a ‘window of tolerance’ and keeping our stress levels within this range is optimal.  However, experiencing excessive levels of stress can spike us up into overwhelm or dip us down into shutdown as our systems struggle to manage with the demands of our environment.

In the work that I do with school based staff and with extensive experience working with young people and schools I am really aware that educational facilities are busy busy places where at times staff can experience a sense of their being too much to do and that they may often feel that the demands of working in these contexts are extremely stressful.  In fact when I survey staff at the training sessions that I do in this area, the standard response I get to the question “who finds working in education extremely stressful” is consistently at least 75% of a group confirming that this is their lived experience.

What Can I Do to Improve my Mental/Emotional Stress:

There are two main categories of strategies that people can employ to manage the mental/emotional stress they feel at work.  Palliative action strategies look at making the situation seem better (and include things like diet, exercise and sleep).  If these strategies are removed though, the problem still exists (in the same way that a person who is receiving palliative care will be more comfortable whilst receiving the care but will not be cured of the condition or illness).  Direct action strategies on the other hand are strategies that the person may implement specifically to ease the burden of a situation, like talking it through or avoiding particualr situations (such as confrontations).  Direct action strategies look to alter the persons level of involvement but increase their ownership and responses to the situation and it is through this process that the emotion can be processed and healing can occur.

There’s an old saying “A problem shared is a problem halved.” What this means is that talking about an issue is a form of catharsis, a release so to speak.  And this is where counselling comes into the picture.  I believe that the 75% of teachers who find their job highly stressful would benefit from confidential debriefing situations where they could offload about areas that were causing them concern at work.  Involvement in such opportunities could help them come to understand how they were feeling and what this meant for them and perhaps leave with a plan about how to reduce the impact of the stressors in future.

Next week, after I get the results from Sundays #teacherwellbeingchat I will collate responses I get to the question “What do you do to manage your stress” into palliative and direct action strategies so you can see the difference in the two there.  I look forward to seeing what strategies people share and I’m hoping there will be a lot of healthy and productive coping strategies shared by the group on the night.

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