There’s no doubt but that teaching is a demanding job. There are days that feel like we are on a hamster wheel with tasks and demands flying in from all sides. A few weeks of days like this can have a very big impact on our mental wellbeing.
According to the mental health support group, AWARE, depression affects about ten percent of us in Ireland. That’s about 450,000 of us. Mental Health Ireland, a national voluntary organisation, say that anxiety is even more common, affecting about one in six of us every year.*
So if you are experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety, then you are not alone.
The biggest mistake we can make is to put ourselves second to others, to work, or to demands. It is not selfish to prioritise your own wellbeing. If you don’t look to preserve your physical and mental health, then how much use can you be to others? So self-care is a gift to yourself and to those you love.
It’s well and good to talk about self-care, but how do we go about actually doing it?
The humanist psychologist, Maslow, provides us with a nice framework about what makes people happy and the things that they do to achieve that aim. In order to achieve our goals and be all that we can be, we need to prioritise some needs first. Below you’ll find some practical ways to promote and support your mental health, starting with the fundamental basics.
Eat well, drink enough healthy fluids and get your sleep. The average adult requires seven to ten hours a night. Try to see these actions as needs rather than wishes. In order to assess how we are feeling in terms of hunger, thirst and fatigue, we should probably stop everything for a few quiet minutes now and again, just to check those feelings.
If you find it difficult to slow down enough to listen to yourself, well, there’s an App for that! Try the free teacher version of Calm at www.calm.com/schools
Safety and Security
Worries about money, relationships, accommodation and transport can really chip away at our happiness. A lack of job security and weak or no contract status can generate a constant hum of low level anxiety in us. This is where asking for help is vital. Practical and free help is available from many sources. Here are a few free and confidential services covering money, relationships, rights and health;
Citizen’s Information Service: www.citizensinformation.ie Helpline: 0761074000 Mon-Fri 9am to 8pm
Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS) Helpline 0761072000 Mon-Fri 9am to 8pm
Employee Assistance Service (EAS) -for teachers and their families – formerly Carecall. Email support: email@example.com. Freephone 1800411057
Friendship and Love
We need people in our lives who strengthen us, support us and even just listen to us. Prioritise those connections above work and other tasks. Loneliness makes prisoners of us and tends to make all other problems bigger. Instead of rejecting offers to connect because you’re ‘too busy’, ask yourself if this task or job is more important than the people who validate you and then decide.
Schedule joyful experiences
We often see joyful experiences as rewards rather than rights. They are put off until we feel that we deserve them. No chocolate and book until the plans are all done? If you schedule a time for the things you enjoy, then stick to it. Housework and other tasks can take second place for a change. We have only a certain amount of time and life given to us. As a teacher, the State ‘owns’ you until the school day is done. After that, you decide your life. Forget activities which are semi-official and actually timewasters. Hours on Pinterest looking at school stuff, hours on Facebook educational groups? Turn off notifications for a few hours and be free!
Cherish the good
When we are under pressure, it can seem as though everything is bleak. It is worthwhile to look at the good things in our lives and be grateful for them. If all you can do is be grateful for Saturday and Sunday, then start there and cherish it!
You are the centre and joy of someone’s life. It could be a friend, a partner, a child, or even a student who looks up to you. Treat yourself that way!
Derena is a special needs parent, middling postgraduate student and in her twelfth year as a Special Education Teacher. Living mostly just this side of disaster, Derena is constantly and cheerfully learning from her mistakes. She is a lucky duck to have a wealth of great colleagues and friends in the absence of actual cash.
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*Statistics cited 05/10/2018 irishexaminer.com accessed 12 January 2020