Mrs Humanities

Because I'm married to the job.


Leave a comment

What to do when you burnout

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?

Stop

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.

Reach out

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.

Inform

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.

Reassess

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.

Plan

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.  

Recovery

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


Final thoughts

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.

Best wishes,

If you enjoy reading my blog, you might be interested in my first book due for release 28th May. Click the image to find out more or to pre-order it. Massive thanks in advance if you do!

making it as a teacher victoria hewett


12 Comments

We need Breakthroughs NOT Breakdowns in Teaching.

The title of this post is inspired by the Education Support Partnership’s Christmas Campaign 2018. Reason being I went through through the latter. I burnt out, broke down and wanted to leave teaching for good. I asked for help, I reached out but it never happened and after two years of the same routine I reached my limit by bursting into tears in front of a class.

During the first 5 years of teaching, I had moments where all I could think about was injuring myself or worse still taking my life so I could end the way I was feeling. This all came back to me yesterday when I saw the following video on the BBC.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-england-hampshire-4673844

I shared the video on twitter with the following comment and spent the rest of the day dealing with an IBS attack. When I eventually viewed my twitter notifications I had over 500 notifications, many of which were associated with this single tweet.

It was late and the thought of replying to all the responses was a little overwhelming, so instead I decided to write this post.

In response to the tweet there were so many replies from people that were made to feel the same way. Teachers that had loved the teaching element but hated everything else; there were examples of bullying from senior leaders and other members of staff; examples of couples leaving the profession so they could actually see one another; teachers stepping down from roles of responsibility because the pressure and expectations got too much; teachers that have left full time positions and moved into part-time or teaching assistant roles and those that have left all together.

Alongside the examples of teachers that have felt the same way or similar, there were examples of those that were told or made to feel that by speaking up about workload or their struggles that they were weak, a let down, incapable, not cut out for teaching etc. etc. This should never ever be the case. The lack of support and deniability of the problem is causing a mental health problem in education.

On the positive side though, there were also those that talked about feeling this way and coming through the other side. Those that said how leaving teaching returned them to full health. Those that said they’d stepped down, cut back or changed positions that now manage. And those that moved schools, are much happier and enjoy teaching again.

I want to highlight that it is possible to be happier in teaching. It is possible to manage your own workload. It is possible to be a highly-effective teacher with mental health challenges. I know because I’m managing it.

Back in April 2016 when I reached rock-bottom I honestly thought that was it. I thought I was done with teaching. I took time off, I thought that was going to be the end of my time in the classroom. But… I spoke to Ed Support. I asked for help from the Doctors. I went on anti-depressants. I finally opened up to family. I finally acknowledged my position, my choices and took action.

I decided that I’d give one more school a try. One more. I was encouraged to write an application for a position at a top school in the area. I had no confidence that I’d be invited for interview, let alone get the job but I did.

I was still off work when I went for interview. I was still signed off sick. I was still struggling each day. But I went and did what I loved, I taught Geography. I really liked the school. I asked about wellbeing. I was happy with the response. But I worried. I worried my time off would look bad. I worried that this school would be the same; high expectations of staff, limited time to meet expectations, regular scrutinises, Mocksteads, regular observations…. etc. etc.

I was offered the job almost immediately after leaving the site. But I needed time to think. They were happy with this. I’d be leaving behind a department I’d built up from nothing (literally), single handed. My physical and mental health had gone into that department, that school, every resource, every lesson. I’d be leaving behind a major part of me. But when I spoke to the current Headteacher to explain my predicament, I knew then I was replaceable, valueless. My decision was made for me. I accepted the job offer and it’s been the best decision.

I still take anti-depressants, I tried coming off of them and even though I’m so much happier, I manage my time effectively and love teaching again I can’t cope with the general anxiety of the role. I went back on them. I also have periods of highs and lows but that doesn’t make me a bad teacher. It doesn’t make me incapable of being the best teacher that I can be for me students. Instead it has made me more aware of myself, my mental health and more so the mental health of my students. I see things I never used to, I’ve learnt how to support young people, colleagues and friends. Mental health is not a problem, a hindrance.

Help is Available

If you’re feeling like the teacher in the BBC video, please know you are not alone. You never are and never will be. There is help and support out there.

Speak to Ed Support.
Speak to colleagues.
Speak to friends and family.
Never let the job take over your life or worse still take your life.
Reach out.

There’s always someone there to listen, to support, to help.

Here are some useful organisations, their websites, twitter accounts and phone numbers

Education Support Partnership @EdSupportUK 08000 562 561
Mind @MindCharity 03001233393
Samaritans @Samaritans 116 123
The CALM zone @theCALMzone 0800 585858

There’s also those that have volunteered to listen via #Talk2MeMH. It’s over on twitter and is pretty simple, if you want someone to talk to search for the hashtag, find somebody that has added it to their profile and contact them. They have volunteered to listen, not as a professional but as a friend.

We need more breakthroughs, not breakdowns.

As a profession we have to reduce the stigma that surrounds teachers mental health, of struggling with workload and the pressures of accountability. We have to listen to those in need.

We have to speak up, accept the problem and work together to improve the experience of many teachers, school leaders and support staff whether new or experienced.

We need to change the system to ensure that teachers and school leaders are able to deliverer high-quality education within the parameters of the working day, without the excessive workload and impact on home life. We need change.

Where do we start?

We start in our own schools. Work together to create a better environment. Workload a problem? What are the solutions? Don’t just moan, be proactive. Offer alternatives. There’s no point saying you want change without a potential solution. What is the problem? How could it be changed or solved?

If leaders don’t listen, leave. Apply for jobs in other schools. There ARE better schools out there with leaders that listen. Go find them.

Campaign. Support action. Unite.

Here’s a recent resource, 20 ways to improve teacher wellbeing, that I produced for TeachIt.

Right I’m going to end this episode of being a keyboard warrior and actually go and do something proactive.


8 Comments

The What if… of mental health.

It is the week before we go back to school. 5 weeks have passed. I’ve relaxed, rested and written the majority of a book.

I’ve also been off of anti-depressents now for 3 full weeks. By the end of July I’d made it down to 1 a week. End of June 2 a week. End of May 3 a week. You get the idea I’m sure. There were a few hiccups when I’d forgotten a dose and had a few side effects but on the whole it was a relatively okay process.

Anyway, the longer between doses the more my thoughts have invaded the space in my mind that has been clear for the last two years. My thoughts have turned back to sudden thoughts of possible dangers, thoughts of worst case scenarios and just general worries.

Now I’ve always suffered from some sort of anxiety or stress, uni was a particularly prominent time for instance but it wasn’t until I started taking anti-depressents that I realised just how much I worried about things.

When I started taking medication, I experienced for the first time in as long as I can remember what it felt like to just have a clear mind. To not be continuously worrying about this or that. To have a thought come into my mind and have the ability to decide whether to continue with it or shut it down. I felt like I’d become more productive and alot happier.

As I started to come off of the medication, I maintained the ability to abolish those thoughts that plagued me; to switch them off. But as the time has progressed and the level of medication in my system declined I’ve found my thoughts returning to old patterns. The school holidays have certainly not helped; no routine, time to think.

As we’ve gotten closer to the beginning of September the more I’ve started to worry about going back. Worrying about the anxiety returning. Worrying about managing my workload. Worrying that I won’t be the best teacher I can be for my students. Worrying about worrying.

It’s gotten so bad I’ve had to detach myself from all things education for a few days, including Twitter.

I’m not the only one to be experiencing such fears I’m sure but I feel like I made such headway in the last two years, I’ve implemented strategies that have reduced my workload. I’ve developed a system for working that works for me. I’ve learnt to put myself before my work and to look after my wellbeing so I can be on top form for my students.

Yet still the fear is there. What if I can’t cope. What if I fall back into old routines. What if I stop saying no. What if… I burnout and breakdown again?


1 Comment

Breakdown, reach out, recover.

In April 2016, on return to work after the Easter break I had a breakdown. Anxiety hit as I walked into my classroom the morning after the Easter break. Anxiety that was so crippling I immediately left my classroom with no words to convey how I felt.

A member of staff caught me in the corridor, asked if I was okay and that was it.  Tears ran down my face, snot poured from my nose, words failed to leave my mouth.

I sat in the meeting rooms for what felt like hours. The deputy head came to see me to ask what was wrong. I couldn’t explain it other than the fact I couldn’t be there. The job had worn me down, the emotional toll had broken me. I cried. I cried some more.

Eventually I was sent home. My partner would drop me off at work so I had to make my own way home. I don’t remember though how I got home. It’s all a blur now. Did I get a lift? Did I get the bus? Did my sister in law pick me up? I don’t know.

I don’t remember much of that day to be honest.  I don’t remember much of that week actually.

I remember trying to go to work the next day but couldn’t bring myself to do it. I’d never felt this way about a job before.

I’d worked hard all my life, at one point I was working two part time jobs and a full time one and still wasn’t as stressed out by employment.

I didn’t go back for some 3 weeks. I stayed curled up in bed or watched Netflix. I visited the doctor eventually. But only after I’d spoken to the education support partnership. I knew I needed to talk to someone. Someone that could advise. Someone I didn’t know.

The counsellor I spoke to was patient, supportive and helped me to come around to the idea I needed time off and needed to see a professional.

The next day I went to the doctors.  I returned the following week to be signed off. I got help. I got medication. The first medication didn’t help. But my medication was changed and I got better.

It’s almost a year since I started taking anti-depressants. A year on something I said I would never take. But it’s helped me to reclaim my life, reclaim my love for teaching and reclaim my happiness.

I moved schools, I feel confident in the support network there. I feel confident in the focus on staff and student wellbeing. I feel confident that if it’s raised with SLT it’s not going to just be swept under the carpet.

Like a number of teachers I know, I’m not the only one to have gone through this. I’m not the only one that’s broken down. I’m not the only one to be taking medication.

I want you all to know that, no matter what you have to look after you. There are so many organisations out there, but in particular I’d like to recommend the Education Support Partnership. Reach out, talk and get help.

Feel free to get in contact in you need to.

Best wishes

Me.