How much do you need your half-term break?

We are collaborating with academics at City University London on research looking at the value and importance of a break from work on mental health. This has identified that when we say ‘I need a break’ what we are really expressing is more than simply a turn of phrase but a scientifically proven fact! Our CEO, Julian Stanley, explains! 

Vital importance of school holidays

The first round of the research identified the vital importance of having breaks in the school calendar to allow teachers’ emotional energy resources and psychological health to be restored. Dr. Paul Flaxman and his team asked a group of teachers to complete a brief survey at the end of eight consecutive weeks capturing the period before, during, and after the two week Christmas break in 2013.

The results showed that those who continued to worry and ruminate about work during the Christmas break were less likely to recover fully from the demands of the coming teaching term but that, conversely, teachers who were able to satisfy three ‘basic psychological needs’ - a sense of competence, autonomy, and feeling close and connected to other people - during the Christmas break had much higher levels of psychological health.

Importantly, the beneficial effects of basic psychological need fulfilment were seen not only during the Christmas break itself, but also in the first few weeks of the new term in January.

So, as we rattle through the term towards exams and all the other pressures of this time of the year I want to remind you how important taking a proper break from work is for you, and that as the research has highlighted - a break is quite literally good for you.

Making the most of your break

The research team was able to make a range of helpful recommendations, including recognising the importance of taking time to reflect on even the small actions that help make us feel in control of our lives such as planning our diary to include leisure and exercise, or actions that help to improve our sense of connectedness with family and friends such as socialising and helping others. They also made a point of highlighting the benefits of mindfulness training for helping us to ‘disentangle’ from worry and rumination.

Speaking about the study, Dr. Paul Flaxman, Senior Lecturer in Organisational Psychology at City University London, said: “Our work shows that regular breaks for teachers are incredibly important for their psychological health. Ensuring that teachers have these opportunities to recover from the considerable demands of the job will help to prevent burnout. In my opinion, it is vital that these regular breaks in the school calendar are conserved.”

As the only UK charity providing counselling and support services for individuals and organisations in education, almost half the calls the Education Support Network receives are related to mental health conditions such as stress, anxiety, and depression. Thus, we are only too aware of the stresses and strains of the job.

By working with City University, London, on this ongoing occupational health research, we hope to better understand how teachers can maximise the benefits of non-work time so they can come back refreshed and ready to face life back at school.

Get involved in research

So if you are interested in this work then why not get involved? This month City University London are seeking more UK teachers to contribute to a second round of this research. They would love for as teachers as possible to join in. You can either:

Participants will need to register by mid May and in return will experience a chance to share their own experiences of work and ‘leisure’ time. The research is completely confidential and all participants will receive feedback on the results, along with some practical tips and recommendations for improving their own well-being and personal resilience. Moreover, everyone taking part will be helping to provide data with the potential to help future teachers avoid burnout and stay healthy, despite the considerable demands and pressures of the job. A job well done indeed. 

Meantime, to close I’d like to offer the following advice; do try to make sure you keep your work commitments during this coming May half-term to an absolute minimum and instead make the best of the time to detach from work, decompress, and relax. This could help prepare you for the busy sprint to the end of the school year and your class, your colleagues, and your own sense of wellbeing will thank you for it as you emerge from the break mentally stronger and restored. 

How we can help

  • Help for individuals  
    Sometimes work (or just life) can be tough. A challenging student, an Ofsted inspection, personal financial worries; there are many stresses on those who work in education. That’s why we offer free, confidential help and support, no matter what your problem.
  • Help for organisations 
    Working in education is demanding so we’ve designed a set of services to help you check how your teams are coping, troubleshoot problems and boost everyone’s wellbeing.