Feel like you constantly have 14 tabs open in your head at any one moment yet the to-do list never seems to get any smaller? Then you, my friend, are probably a teacher.
“I’ll just do one more thing and then I’ll switch off”. Do you lay in bed overthinking whether you were good enough today? Do you wonder if you have forgotten something you need for tomorrow?
It is the life of a teacher … but it does not have to be that way.
The stress of the pandemic has left many teachers finding it difficult to switch off and on. This is a fast track to burnout.
We work in an ever changing environment. The recent global pandemic seems never-ending. Worrying about the children’s wellbeing (and your own safety) has overloaded the stressors on an already stressful job.
Lack of certainty is a breeding ground for high anxiety. So what is actually going on in the body that makes it so hard to switch off?
In an everyday situation when a stimuli is perceived by an individual as an acute stressor it can trigger SAM (symptomatic-adrenal medullary axis). When SAM is triggered our behavioural response is fight, flight or freeze. Our body begins to stimulate the production of catecholamines. These include epinephrine (adrenalin) and norepinephrine which are automatically released in the body. They increase our heart and breathing rate and reroute blood flow to feed the brain and muscles. It makes you alert!
In chronic stress the HPA (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis) is triggered. This axis still releases catecholamines to keep you alert but also releases cortisol which is known as the ‘stress hormone’. Over four weeks of high stress is termed ‘chronic’ stress and can, if continued, eventually deplete the body into burnout.
A 2014 study* took a group of formally diagnosed burnt out individuals and a control group and asked them to look at photos of both neutral and negative images. They were asked to either up regulate, down regulate or maintain their emotions and they continued to see the image for 5 seconds after. At random times a loud noise would be made to startle the participants to test their reflex response to the stressful stimuli.
The study showed that the burnt out group had key differences in the amygdala, a brain structure that is used for fear and aggression, to the control group. The burnt out group showed not only an enlarged amygdala but also showed a stronger link between the amygdala and brain areas related to emotional distress. They also showed weaker connections between activity in the amygdala and the mesial prefrontal cortex, a structure that controls executive functions such as focus.
No wonder it is so hard to switch off during a global pandemic!
When we have an increased breathing rate we are releasing carbon dioxide from the blood faster. According to NIH National Library of Medicine low levels of carbon dioxide in the blood increase feelings of anxiety and fear which triggers SAM and HPA locking us in a perpetual cycle which could eventually lead to burnout.
The vagus nerve is a part of the gut-brain axis (GBA) and communicates with SAM and HPA. When you breathe in your heart rate increases ready to send oxygenated blood around the body. When you breathe out your heart rate decreases. The vagal nerve is active when you breathe out and suppressed when you breath in. It has been researched that people with higher vagal tone recover from stress faster.*
TOP TIP: If you feel your heart rate increase. Stop. Breathe. And remember to reduce making big decisions when feeling stressed and overwhelmed. It is always okay to give yourself permission to take a breath first.
The definition of anxiety according to Oxford Languages is ‘a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome.’
To reduce anxiety we must create routines which support the body.
I have a simple rule in my life. If I have a lot of changes at work then life is consistent. If life is changing then work is consistent. I also listen to my body to know when my ‘life plate’ is full.
For me this epiphany stemmed from the Inverted ‘U’ Hypothesis theory from Yerkes and Dodson in 1908 about optimal performance. If we do not have enough eustress (positive stress) in our lives we can experience boredom and little interests us. If we have to much distress (negative stress) in our lives we can experience anxiety and exhaustion.
TOP TIP: Create a routine to your life by setting your boundaries and accept changes by making agreements at a pace that works for you. One step at a time.
We cover how to make agreements in the free 5 day discover life outside work challenge for teachers which you can register for here: http://bit.ly/TeacherWorkLifeBalanceChallenge
How we perceive the stimuli around us important. Not every stimuli becomes a stressor but every stressor was once a stimuli. This is why after getting my body from burnout to balance, I created a coping strategy to help others set their boundaries and stick to them. The goal is to enjoy a work life balance – guilt free!
Putting myself first was once a huge challenge for me too but with this method I have been able to take care of myself by sticking to my boundaries and still get everything done.
On the 5 day discover life outside work challenge for teachers through daily mini me-time assignments that take less than 15 minutes I show you how you too can feel calmer and enjoy a work life balance without the guilt. One step at a time.
To reserve your free space register here
*Golkar, A., Johansson, E., Kasahara, M., Osika, W., Perski, A., & Savic, I. (2014). The influence of work-related chronic stress on the regulation of emotion and on functional connectivity in the brain. PLOS ONE 9: e104550.doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0104550
**Scott, B. and Weems, C., 2014. Resting vagal tone and vagal response to stress: Associations with anxiety, aggression, and perceived anxiety control among youths. Psychophysiology, 51(8), pp.718-727.
Teachers Work Life Balance Coach
To receive regular updates, hints and tips you can follow us @YourStyle_Fit and/or like us on Facebook www.facebook.com/yourstylefitnessuk Instagram: @teachersworklifebalancecoach
Contact us today
to learn more or with any questions.