Managing workload anxiety

There is certainly no shortage of things to get anxious about within the education sector. Organisational change, impending redundancies, lesson plans, piles of marking, exams looming and performance targets are a constant worry. On top of that, there are administrative tasks and flows of emails clogging your inbox, oh and the actual job of teaching and student behavioural issues to contend with as well!

With the workloads that prevail in your everyday working life, it would take a very strong and resilient person not to, at least for some of the time, feel anxious and stressed around the sheer challenge that is faced working within the sector. Very often it gets to your core, since all of the tasks, meetings and classes that you need to attend pile up on you, and as a result you feel overwhelmed.

Fear not; this factsheet addresses how you should be able to reduce anxiety around your workload; it will enable you to ground yourself amongst the piles of paperwork, so please read on!

Take stock

The first item on your agenda should be to take stock of where your time in the day is going, with calmness and self-assuredness. Start by working out where your time goes in the day and in a week. Try this: Take a blank piece of paper, turn a dinner plate over, and draw a circle. Plot the hours that you are spending in a 24-hour clock. If you are getting the sleep that you need of at least seven hours, that's almost a third of your day already! How do you spend your time for the rest of the day? Map it out. How much time do you spend in lesson planning, answering emails, marking, travelling to and from work, and so forth? Don't forget fitting in time for friends and family. Then ask yourself: "What positive changes can I make to ease my stress?" Whom do you need to communicate with to make the changes in your life that you need to make, so that you can begin to feel in control?

Make lists

The next step in beginning to feel that you are in control includes making lists of what needs to be done, not only in your professional life but also personal goals in your private life. This then allows you to prioritise what is pressing and needs to be done now, versus what can wait. What can you delay without the sky falling on your head? Making lists allows you to tackle the negativity that can develop in the face of a daunting workload. Are there three things that you can do tomorrow that will alleviate your stress if you tackle and overcome them?

Seek help

Not being able to cope with the workload you are faced with means that, if you are not sharing your stresses, you will feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders. A good strategy to employ here is to share your concerns with your line manager. Maybe they can help you prioritise and offer good advice as to how you can make those deadlines that are the most pressing. If you do not feel able to share these pressures with your manager, seek out a colleague whom you respect and trust to discuss your stresses. Just being able to offload may have the effect of relieving the stress. 

Reward yourself

If you have lesson plans or marking to do, plan some time to reward yourself. Maybe take some time out to have a healthy snack or talk to a friend, or spend a bit of time with a loved one, making sure that you are giving them 100% of your attention during that time. You do need to factor stress-relieving activities into your schedule. These allow you to refocus on the next task in hand, rather than working harder and harder with no respite. Work smarter, not harder: Taking time out enables you to achieve this.

Stay healthy

Getting enough sleep (seven hours a night minimum), enough to eat (three healthy meals a day) and 30 minutes' exercise is going to be critical for you to be able to cope with work anxiety and maintain your general sense of well-being. In respect of sleep, set aside time to prepare for bed: Switch the technology off an hour before you go to bed (eat a couple of kiwi fruit at this time too, it really does work!), and try to clear your mind of everyday pressures. When you wake up, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. A breakfast with a high protein content especially can give you the energy that you will need throughout the day. Try to stay away from fast food. Eat to live! Taking a walk counts as exercise, so try to build this into your daily routine as much as you can, or make use of those monthly gym subscriptions!

Find work-life balance

In your planning, you should always allow time in your schedule to relax with family and friends, or take up activities that you enjoy that have nothing to do with teaching. Plan fun things to do or a weekend away. Activities away from your professional pressures are life affirming and allow you to recharge your batteries to be able to better deal with workload anxiety.

Tackle the worry mindfully

If you did take stock of your time allocation, and you realised that you spend much of your time with worry, now is the time to address this. Worry is one of the most time-consuming and yet futile of human activities, and it never solves anything. You cannot do anything about the past (it's behind you), and the future is ahead of you, so instead of worrying about it, why not spend time preparing for it? All you have is the present moment to work with. Make use of that time without pontificating on what "might happen" or what "should have" happened. Try to be more present in the here and now. Have you thought of researching mindfulness? Try typing it into a search engine online, or check the Education Support Partnership website; there are so many free resources available to assist your anxiety levels.

Steer clear of politics

Part of that worry may be that you are allowing yourself to be drawn into the politics in the staff room. Note that the saying "May you live in interesting times" is a double-edged sword, as is internal politics. If you can try to avoid this and concentrate on your own effectiveness and performance, then this is a more effective use of your time. Concentrating on your own performance and making sure that you are doing a good job is the kind of quality needed to keep your manager happy, and it allows you to be a role model to your work colleagues and/or team.

Programmes that can help

There are further programmes that can help, of course, for you to get further assistance. To help ground yourself and relieve the stress of day-to-day life, you could sign up for a free course over the internet. If you prefer to speak to someone, you can of course contact the our 24/7 confidential helpline, where you can receive in-the-moment support if you call any time, 24/7, 365 days a year. You may also be able to access services such as computerised cognitive behavioural therapy or other resources, such as free counselling or coaching services. Relieve some of the stress from your personal life by seeking some practical services to assist you in finding a better structure and improvement to your life. You have to do it, don't you? Doing nothing is not an option!

 

 

Workplace Options (2017, June). Managing workload anxiety. London: Author.

Disclaimer: This document is intended for general information only. It does not provide the reader with specific direction, advice or recommendations. You may wish to contact an appropriate professional for questions concerning your particular situation.