Spotting the signs of stress

Stress is a normal part of everyday life. For most of us feeling tired and exhausted at busy times is only to be expected. But when does this stress become unhealthy? When are strains on our emotional health and wellbeing something to be concerned about and something that needs action?

Education Support Partnership’s free, confidential helpline deals with thousands of calls every year from education professionals and most callers are already in a state of crisis. Our expert counsellors are here to talk to anyone in education with any sort of issue, no matter how big or small. We want more people to know that they can talk to us before they reach a stage of desperation and seek support to find ways to prevent reaching a crisis.  

What can we do to spot warning signs, to reduce the likelihood of crisis? What is the ‘tipping point’?

We asked our clinical team at our free, confidential helpline for their expert advice on triggers that don’t always but can cause deeper problems when our physical and emotional wellbeing is under threat. They identified the following:

  • A major life change
  • Unrealistic expectations of self and others
  • Limited resources and growing demands
  • Unexpected detours and challenges

The perils of ignoring our own wellbeing in teaching cannot be over-stated. The expectation of doing more with less resource (time as well as money) is an increasing factor in the profession as across the public sector and can lead to what is now commonly recognised as ‘compassion fatigue.’

Symptoms are normal displays of stress which result from work which involves any level of care-giving. It has been well-demonstrated to be more common amongst teachers, doctors, nurses, social workers; many of the widely recognised ‘caring’ professions and can result in stagnation as well as chronic, ongoing fatigue and emotional numbing. Warning signs include:  

  • Developing apathy and numbness
  • Emotional outbursts from bottled-up emotions
  • Inability to focus leading to interpersonal relationships and work performances suffering

Whilst the symptoms are often disruptive, depressive and irritating, an awareness of possible problems and their negative effect on you and your life can lead to positive change, personal transformation and a new resiliency. Getting to a point where you have better control over your own life choices take time and hard work. There is no magic involved. There is only a commitment to making your life the best it can be. 

In his book ‘Leading from the edge,’ ex primary head James Hilton speaks of how teaching ‘burnout’ is not simply the result of being overworked and underpaid. It can be the result of prolonged stress, of feeling isolated and unsupported. He talks from personal experience describing how even though he thought everything was going well, his body was showing signs of stress through increasing back pains and migraines. But these kinds of problems can be a physiological response to stress and anxiety and should be taken seriously.  Otherwise, they can quickly build to cause long-term damage to your physical and mental health. Chronic ailments and difficulty sleeping for example can become the norm.

Thinking about this in terms of your own personal circumstances is an opportunity to reflect on where you are at present. Are your current coping strategies working? If they aren’t, what would you like to change? Reflecting in this way helps to give focus on how to move forward through acknowledging where you are currently at and from there building a foundation from which to work and build resilience.

No matter what you’re going through, our free telephone support and counselling and trained experts is here for you day or night, 24/7.

With thanks to Education Support Partnership’s helpline clinical team.