10 Tips For Looking After Your Mental Health

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Helen Woodley

Helen Woodley is a primary trained SENDCo currently working in a large KS1-4 Pupil Referral Unit in the North East of England. She spent 3 years studying Theology in Durham; Helen has worked in a wide variety of special school settings, including all age schools....
Read more about Helen Woodley

How can we ensure we are looking after ourselves?

The nights are getting darker and it seems that we never get a chance to see daylight or even take a step outside, unless we happen to have a yard duty to do. Spring seems a lifetime away and, as we see in nature, the tendency to recoil into ourselves and hibernate away from the world is strong. This is often a time of year many find hard especially when the winter festivals are around the corner; festivals which many find a struggle to deal with for a variety of reasons.

Dark Times

It can affect any of us at any point in our career. We are working in a time where we are expected to do more, to take on more and to support the learners with their own mental health more. Yet, as the famous quote by Juvenal says (don’t shoot me: I did Latin A-level): Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? or Who guards the guards? Whilst there is a plethora of support out there for how we can help out learners, there is simply not enough advice and support for teachers.

10 Self Care Tips

I recommend the following websites which teachers may find useful when coping with their own mental health needs:

  1. Education Support Partnership – free helpline, stories of support, and advice for schools
  2. National Elf Service – research, evidence based practice, and information on a range of mental health issues
  3. School Well – website dedicated to school staff well-being

Here are some very general tips on how you can make a start to look after yourself and your mental health.

1. Prioritise your work

When we feel overwhelmed, it is easy to lose sight of what tasks are important as we perceive that they are all as pressing as each other.

Taking time out to reflect and using a visual tool such as an Eisenhower Matrix (also called a Time Management Matrix or Eisenhower’s Principle) to work out exactly what is crucial and what can be left on the back burner.

2. Plan a weekly routine (and stick to it!)

Sometimes you need to walk away from work and put time into yourself and family. You are 100% entitled to do this and should never feel guilt about making time for yourself.

Plan a week that gives you more of a balance but build into it activities and tasks that matter to your personal life be that a gym session or your turn to cook the kids their favourite tea. This can stop the feeling that work has become all encompassing.

3. Talking

This can be to a friend, spiritual leader, or professional therapist. Whichever is right for you, talk about the issues which are concerning you.

If you choose to see a professional then talking therapies can take many forms. It may take a while to find the right one for you, but the benefits are widely acknowledged.

4. Plan ahead

Having things to look forward to on your calendar can give you a focus for the future. Make sure they are spaced out through the year and don’t just occur around school holidays.

5. Use your line manager

Not an easy one for some as we don’t all work in supportive schools. But, if you can, let them know how you are feeling.

If needed they can make an application to Occupational Health if your mental health needs are related to your work. They can also look out for your welfare on a daily basis.

6. Journal

This is not to be confused with blogging as a journal is only for an audience of one: you. There are a range of mindfulness or well-being journals on the market or you can use a notebook and pen that you feel comfortable with.

You don’t have to write every day but use it to get some of your concerns out and to see if you can notice any trends and themes in your writing. Maybe you can identify areas your were not previously aware of or be better informed to know what you wish to talk about with a friend/professional.

7. Broaden your perspectives

When we are struggling with out own needs it is easy to become introspective.

Getting involved in charity work, engaging in educational research, or researching a dream holiday destination can help you to see beyond your immediate situation and give you a different view on the world.

8. Take time off social media

I am a huge advocate of social media support for teachers, but there does come a time when it can be detrimental to your mental health. Getting involved in long debates, reading critical comments about something you have said, or simply watching people succeed when you feel stuck all add to our mood and ability to cope.

Take some time off and then set yourself an agreement for how you will participate when you return.

Will you unfriend/unfollow some negative people? Not get involved in some of the more negative debates? Look for new people to follow who are relevant to your personal passions and hobbies?

9. Follow the usual advice

We hear it all the time right? Exercise more, eat healthily, sleep longer. We get sick of hearing it because it is said all the time; we become blind to the truth it contains.

Accept that such advice is beneficial even if it feels like you are agreeing with your nagging parent to humour them. Most of the time my parents were right.

10. You are not alone

You may not know any other teachers who are crying at their desks, anxious driving to work, or feeling like they are failures. But they are out there and we can find some solidarity in knowing that.

You may find them on social media or through regional networks and events. However you find them, connect, share and support. They, more than anyone, know the path you are walking and we all need a companion along the way.

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