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How Can You Protect Yourself From Burnout?

Approximate reading time: 6 minutes.

According to the latest NASWUT wellbeing survey, teacher anxiety is at an all-time high. Life as an educator continues to stabilise following the pandemic, and many school staff are adjusting to fresh challenges. Sometimes, teacher anxiety or other stressors lead to burnout — a condition where physical and emotional exhaustion becomes too much to manage. Burnout can be difficult to spot, and others may notice its signs before you do.

Whether you feel like you're on the precipice of burnout, or if stress and anxiety in teachers is a topic that matters to you, it's helpful to learn how to manage the condition.

What is burnout?

a woman covering her face in front of a laptop.

Everyone experiences stress. To an extent, low-level stress can prompt you to avoid harmful situations. However, when that stress is persistent and unmanageable, it can cause burnout. Burnout is essentially physical and emotional exhaustion. It's chronic stress that arises when your workload feels unmanageable.

As your body continuously floods with the stress hormone cortisol, everyday functions such as sleep and relaxation start to feel challenging. In one study, employees who displayed signs of burnout had higher than safe cortisol levels.

Are education staff at risk of burnout?

On the face of things, it may appear as though teachers have favourable hours and long holidays. In reality, your out-of-office workload and meeting the social demands of teaching place you at high risk of burnout. 

When surveyed, a startling number of teachers show signs of chronic stress:

  • 91.5% believe workplace stress affects their health
  • 87.6% feel anxious due to work
  • 82% experience poor sleep due to work

What are the signs of burnout?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), burnout has three key characteristics:

  • Exhaustion and energy depletion
  • Feeling negative or cynical about your job
  • Less professional efficacy

Other signs of burnout may include:

  • Feeling helpless and trapped
  • Feeling detached from work and life
  • A sense of overwhelm
  • Increased procrastination
  • Persistent self-doubt

7 tips to avoid burnout

The key to reducing teacher anxiety and preventing burnout is to remove yourself from the stressor. However, that's easier said than done in educational settings. Your next port of call is to try other burnout-reducing techniques.

1. Acknowledge what's happening

Avoiding burnout isn't easy when you're not fully in tune with what's happening. While you may know you're feeling exhausted, you might not know why. Being able to identify specific changes or elements of your role makes it easier for you to tackle them.

Some people find that journaling helps. Writing down what's happening when you're stressed and your specific feelings can help you discover patterns. If writing isn't your thing, you can try the following alternatives:

  • If you spend a lot of time worrying, create a worry period for each day. During worry periods, you can reflect on your worries. While this may seem counterintuitive, getting your worries out of the way can give you more mental breathing space later.
  • Touch base with a friend or colleague so you can gain their perspective. They may be able to help you find solutions that you struggle to see.

Finding your own way of gaining clarity around your worries makes it easier for you to acknowledge what's happening. 

2. Maintaining your life outside of work

Although education is a big part of your life, it isn't the only factor. Maintaining an active social life, spending time with your family, and focusing on your hobbies are central to avoiding burnout. 

Take some time to consider what gives you the biggest release from stress. Focusing on activities that are fun helps you detach from work-related matters. Remain cautious of only socialising with colleagues and constantly discussing the school environment. While it helps to share your feelings, it's essential to prioritise a complete shift in focus from your workplace. 

3. Give yourself time to focus on your mental health

When your weekends and holidays come around, consider dedicating a day to focus purely on your mental health. Although stepping away from work-related projects doesn't make problems disappear, it gives you the chance to recharge. Being able to rejuvenate yourself allows you to tackle tasks more effectively when you need to focus on work again. 

When taking a mental health day, make sure you absolve yourself of any work-related commitments. Your time away from school doesn't need to be productive in any way. If you need to treat it as an opportunity to relax and do nothing, then do so. 

4. Learn to say 'no'

When someone asks you to complete a task that impacts the rest of your work, saying "no" benefits both you and your students, This can be central to maintaining excellent mental health in school.

When more tasks are heading in your direction, consider whether you can delegate them. It's easy to fall into the trap of believing that every bit of organisation and supervision must fall within your remit. Feeling that way can become a blind spot that prevents you from finding opportunities to unwind. Periodically, try reviewing whether everything on your to-do list is strictly something you must do. For example, is there a teaching assistant who can help with more activities?

5. Assess Your Current Wellbeing

Achieving great wellbeing isn't just something you need to do outside of work. Assess whether you're making the most of every opportunity to achieve better wellbeing in school, too.

When it comes to taking breaks, make sure you're able to take some time for yourself away from work chatter or commitments. Make sure you stay well hydrated throughout the day and plan your meals so that they provide you with nutrients and energy. Keep your desk and office space as free from clutter as possible to create a positive environment to work in.

6. Separate work and home

Taking work home is an almost inevitable part of your role. Planning lessons and marking are just two of the activities required outside of typical school hours.

While you can't always avoid taking your work home with you, you can create some separation. Dedicate a specific space to completing your work and try to ensure it's away from the areas where you relax and feel separate from school staff anxiety. If the only space available is your living room, for example, create an office corner and avoid completing tasks on the sofa. Once you decide you're done with work for the night, step away from that space and silence your phone until the next working day begins.

7. Establish a support network

You can create both formal and informal support networks to help you manage stress. Talking to your colleagues is an effective way to offload some of your worries. Other educational staff could help identify solutions to your workload that you might be missing. 

Speaking with your head of department or another superior may also prove useful. They usually have excellent insight into any strategic planning that's taking place, so they may offer solutions for reducing your workload. At the very least, ensuring they're aware of how you feel makes it easier for them to provide support.

  Managing education staff anxiety and stress doesn't need to feel impossible. When you use the right tools, you can prevent burnout or tackle it head-on. 

Our free Wellbeing Toolkit provides the foundations for managing anxiety in teachers. Sign up here to explore the solutions Welbee offers to promote better mental health in schools for staff.

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