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Teacher wellbeing tips for Term 4 and school holidays

Even the most resilient adults at the moment are operating from a lowered window of tolerance and lowered threshold to cope and manage.

This might manifest in anger that quickly arises, extreme emotions washing over you, or the inability to manage things that were previously manageable. We often feel like we have to avoid the distress as opposed to lean into it flexibly and then let it pass, much like the buoy tethered to an anchor.

It’s really important that you’re aware of your lowered tolerance in order to manage it. If you finding yourself being swept away with emotions more than 3-5 times a day then you have a mid-low level of coping; if it happens 5-10 times a day then you have a very low capacity to cope and need to put some strategies in place.

It’s good to use a simple 1–10 scale of stress and distress. If you are feeling you are a 5 to 8 on the distress scale then employ strategies for yourself and have agency in self-care. If you reach 8, 9 or 10 on the distress scale then you absolutely require support from others and maybe professionals.

Practical things you can do for your mental health and wellbeing and to stay in balance include:

  • Improve sleep – this is a cornerstone to all things mental health and wellbeing.
  • Exercise – promotes serotonin, dopamine, and all of the good chemicals in your body to balance mood.
  • Get connected – connect with friends, family and groups who will create a sense of belonging and help with positive mood and motivation. Lean in to these groups if you need to talk.
  • Get back into nature – oxygen and sunlight revitalises people’s ability to think and function, and stabilises mood. It can also be calming.
  • Take a holiday or consecutive days off – people are feeling overwhelmed and fatigued at the end of the year so taking a break or resting is critical.
  • Think about what you're putting in your mouth – food and alcohol can play a big part in mood, function and general sense of wellbeing.
  • Switch off from emails, social media, binge watching – sometimes too much information and stimuli can have a negative effect.
  • Start talking – vulnerability is a strength not a weakness.
  • Reduce stressors – minimise exposure to conflict or environmental stressors (if there is something or someone causing you distress, move away from that stressor to enable you to breathe and rebalance).
  • Seek help and support – don’t wait until you feel really overwhelmed, seek help when you are noticing early signs of stress, fatigue, worry and concern. It can be used as a protective strategy and a way to stay in balance. You can seek help through friends, services, online, or face to face.

Some tips if you are worried about a colleague or someone you know

headspace has developed a simple three-step process to check in on yourself and others. 'NIP – it in the bud.'

NIP = Notice, Inquire, Plan

Notice: What have you noticed about how you are feeling, thinking and acting. You may also notice that you have recently had difficulty sleeping, been choosing less healthy eating or drinking habits, you are easily irritated for no particular reason, or been feeling unusually stressed or worried.

Things you may notice include:

  • a noticeable change in how someone is feeling and thinking
  • feeling things have changed or aren’t quite right
  • changes in the way that someone carries out their day-to-day life
  • not enjoying, or not wanting to be involved in, things that they would normally enjoy
  • changes in appetite or sleeping patterns
  • being easily irritated or having problems with friends and family for no reason
  • a reduced tolerance and coping threshold
  • finding your performance at work is not as good as it used to be
  • increased consumption of alcohol/smoking as a maladaptive coping mechanism
  • feeling sad or ‘down’ or crying for no apparent reason
  • having trouble concentrating or remembering things
  • having negative head noise, ruminating, or distressing thoughts
  • feeling unusually stressed, distressed, anxious or worried.

Inquire: You might ask yourself/or someone else, what do you think is causing these changes? In fact, someone else may notice them in you and raise it. It’s also important to stop and reflect on how long you have been feeling like this: ask yourself, should I talk this through with someone, and can I articulate what exactly it is that I’m experiencing or feeling.

A really great tip is the 'out of 10 scale'. For example, if 10 represents happy, healthy, calm functioning and operating at full resilience, and 1 represents the complete antithesis of these things (breaking point, and the highest distress or the poorest health), then where does your wellbeing rate on that scale right now? Why do you think you are at that rating? How long have you been at that rating? What could improve your rating in the short term/long term?

Plan: Now is a great time to plan to address some of the stressors and imbalances you have. Even though most of us are aware of the many positive things we can do to promote our health and wellbeing – for example, get more sleep, exercise more, set aside time to do things you enjoy, quarantine some quiet time for meditation or relaxation away from emails, social media or binge watching, etc – it is often hard to do these things. Nevertheless, you should build these strategies into your routine.

A plan can also mean sitting with someone you're worried about and offering them support to seek help through professional counselling or a local service.

  • Lifeline on 13 11 14
  • beyondblue on 1300 224 636
  • MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978
  • Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467
  • QLife on 1800 184 527

Kristen Douglas is the head of headspace in Schools, the National Youth Mental Health Foundation. Her focus is the synergy between education and mental health, combining her experience as an educator and principal, with her passion and experience in education and mental health and wellbeing.

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