At the start of this year’s Mental Health Awareness week, I wrote this post but I must admit I was weary of publishing it. I worried it might come across as being condescending since there’s plenty of information available on managing and recovering from burnout from professional organisations. But after mentioning it on twitter, the positive response encouraged me to put it out there because if it helps just one person, that makes it beneficial.
However, before I get started I do just want to say that I’ve written this as a result of my experience of burnout resulting from workplace stress, these steps are my perspective of what helps.
I’m not writing this with the expectation that many will reach burnout, but with the notion that some will. Teachers, school leaders and support staff shouldn’t be experiencing burnout as a result of work place stress (nor those in other professions) however it happens. Even when preventative measures are taken, sometimes our work and mind drive us to breaking point and we can’t keep going the way that we are.
So, what should you do when you reach that point? When you feel like you can no longer go on with the job you once loved? You’ve hit a brick wall and can’t keep going. Where do you go from there?
Firstly, you need to stop. You need to step away from the situation that has led you to this point and reduce the stress. This may involve speaking to your employer and temporarily reducing your timetable or responsibility, it may require a day or two off of work or it maybe that you need to speak to your GP and take a prolonged period of sick leave.
It can be hard to take that break whether it be for the rest of the week, the month or term but it’s a valuable process that will allow you to find your way again.
Having been through burnout and knowing others that have experienced it too, I know it’s not easy to deal with on your own. There are so many questions and thoughts that go through your head – How will you overcome it? Are you making the right decisions? Do people know how your feeling? What will people think if you take time off?
There is plenty of support available, whether it be from loved ones or professionals. It can be hard to speak to those your love when you are struggling with your mental health and that’s okay. Reach out the others instead, organisations such as Mind, Ed Support or local counselling services can provide professional support or you can attempt to find others who will listen in an informal way.
For example there are people on twitter willing to chat and listen, not as a mental health professional but as a friend, with many of those listen having gone through their own experiences. You can find them by searching for the hashtag #Talk2meMH.
The main thing to remember is that there are plenty of support services out there, whether you’re at crisis point or just need some one to talk to, make sure you reach out and get help as and when required.
This stage may come at different points for each individual, but I highly recommend informing your employer of your struggles. That way then they can take the necessary, reasonable measures to support you.
They may refer you to Occupational Health. Having experienced it myself, I can say it was far less scary than I imagined it would be. They simply ask you questions about your current situation, what it is that is affecting your ability to work, what you think might help etc. and then they write a report which is sent to your employer to help them to support you in the workplace.
Additionally by informing your employer, it also means that if you experience a mental health condition that does or is likely to last 12 months or more and you can demonstrate that your mental health is a disability you could be covered under the Equality Act 2010 against discrimination at work. More information can be found here.
Invest in you
Whilst you take a break no matter how long or short it maybe, take time to focus on you.
I recommend writing a list of the things that bring you happiness or calm. If you can, try to tick a few off each day. I could have easily stayed in bed when I took time off, whilst for the first few days I had no energy, binged on Netflix and ate whatever junk I had in the cupboards. I knew I had to make an effort to not dwell on things, even though it was so easy to do so. In realising that I made a concerted effort to go for a speed walk every day, I’d plug in my music, turn it up and walk as hastily as possibly. Not only did it get my heart pumping, it would leave me feel exhausted helping me to sleep.
Take time to do what you enjoy and don’t feel guilty about it (or at least try not too). Invest in your body and mind, because by doing so you’ll enable the recovery process.
Whilst you take a step away or back from the situation, take time to reflect and reassess. Consider your situation, what do you enjoy about it? what do you find most stressful? Is it the job, TLR or the school?
You could merely take time to think and reflect or go a step further and jot down your thoughts and reflections. Do whatever works for you.
For me, my reassessment of the situation came from talking to the Education Support Partnerships helpline. During the first call the counsellor asked me to tell them about my current position, before encouraging me to consider what the issue was and what the solution could be. They helped me to assess the situation and make the decision to see my GP. From there I was able to reassess and consider what I wanted the result to be. Which leads me nicely on to the next stage.
Once you have reassessed, plan the next steps. What do you want the outcome to be? How will you achieve it? Whether it be a better work-life balance, reduced responsibility or a complete career change, have in mind what you want and consider the steps to get there.
It maybe difficult to determine and finding the confidence to then take that first step isn’t exactly easy but having that plan and aim insight does help.
For example, I debated with myself and my family a lot about whether I’d just hand my notice in and leave teaching or give one more school a try. After reassessment I decided I loved teaching and that it might not be the profession itself that was the problem. So after much encouragement I took the first step on my plan, which was apply for jobs at other schools. When I found a position I feared it maybe more of the same, but during the interview process my fears we eased and I’m still there now.
The final stage is recovery of course.
I will be honest and say that recovering from burnout is a journey, and it can be a long one. It takes time for your body and mind to recover from the physical and emotional exhaustion. There may be relapses where stress, anxiety or other mental challenges arise and get too much but you won’t ever be completely alone. You can and will overcome it.
It might require major changes in your life, but it is possible to recoup and recover. If you want evidence, take a read of this piece I did for Ed Support – https://www.educationsupportpartnership.org.uk/blogs/5-breakthroughs-made-me-better-teacher
Burnout is a natural response to repeated and continued stress, our tolerance levels vary and what stresses some of us, won’t stress others. It important to remember we are all different and manage stress in different ways. If you know someone that is experiencing or close to experiencing burnout, reach out to them, listen to them and support them as best you can. Reassure them that things can and do get better, it just takes time, help and a bit of patience.
I hope those of you that might find this relevant find it useful. Feel free to get in contact if you want to chat before reaching out to loved ones or professionals.
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