Coping with Teacher Burnout.

Updated: Sep 5

What Is Teacher Burnout?

Psychology Today describes burnout as "a state of chronic stress that leads to physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism, detachment, and feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment." Can you relate to any of that?

a list of stressors for teachers
How many of these did you deal with today?

Chronic stress can lead to more serious issues which affect your physical and mental health mental health, so burn out is a serious issue.

Many teachers suffer from physical and mental exhaustion because of unrealistic workload expectations and the pressure to get their students to ‘perform’ and all the other stressors you can see in this image. All of the 'normal' stressors are made even worse by the crazy situations many of us are in during this pandemic.

How to recognize burnout.

True burnout is much more than simply feeling tired or overwhelmed, and can lead to serious physical and mental health issues. That's why it's so vital to be vigilant about the warning signs.

Early signs of burnout include:

  • · insomnia or poor sleep,

  • waking up feeling tired,

  • · nightmares,

  • · low energy,

  • · lack of interest in social interaction,

  • · feeling overwhelmed,

  • · muscle tension and headaches,

  • · forgetfulness/impaired concentration and attention.

If not addressed burnout can lead to severe mental health issues including depression and anxiety, withdrawal, constant fatigue, mood changes, low self-esteem, as well as physical health issues.

Develop Resilience.

Resilience is a person’s capacity to respond to pressure and the demands of daily life. At work, resilient people are better able to deal with the demands placed upon them. In short, our resiliency affects our ability to ‘bounce back’. Resilience is not an inbuilt characteristic but a skill or set of behaviours we can learn to use in difficult times.

We can’t control what is ‘thrown at us but we can control how we respond to it. You might have heard the quote “We can’t direct the wind, but we can adjust our sails.”

There are many ways we can adjust the sails to protect us for what is going on around us.

Just to be clear here, it doesn’t mean that what is being ‘thrown’ at us is any way acceptable – creating unrealistic expectations, adopting bullying tactics and generally making life unbearable for teachers should not be the norm. I am also not saying that teachers who are struggling in these scenarios are deficient in anyway.

What I AM saying is there are some strategies we can use to help us develop resilience to these ongoing challenges which can help us to cope while we are finding a way out.

1. Practice mindfulness

Learning to meditate or practicing mindfulness has been scientifically proven to reduce stress and improve an overall sense of wellbeing.

Mindfulness can help us become aware of our internal dialogue and what we are telling ourselves about the situation. Once we have that awareness, we can change our thoughts to something more positive.

This quote says it all:

Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.” Lao Tzu (a famous Chinese Philosopher).

2. Set Boundaries and make time for your own self-care.

Teachers by nature are people pleasers they get into the job because they want to help, they care about the feelings and results of others to the extent that their own needs are neglected.

Unfortunately, this is exploited by the education ‘system’ which will take everything it can from you. Learn to say NO to 5-minute lunch breaks, no toilet breaks, evenings and weekends spent marking.

I don’t need to remind you (but I will) of the Airline announcement to “put your own oxygen mask on first”. You are no good to others if you are not in a good mental and physical place.

Keeping everyone else happy while ignoring your own needs leads to depression and lack of direction.

Schedule in some self-care that works for you –anything that makes you feel good about yourself. Everyone is different.

For some, it could be something physical such as going for a run or to the gym. If you are always surrounded by people you may need some quiet ‘me time’ to relax and reflect. Meeting a friend for a coffee and a chat, reading a book, going for a walk, taking up a hobby, having a relaxing bath, meditating are all activities that will help to recharge your batteries.

See this article for other self-care strategies

3. Let go of Perfectionism.

Teachers are usually high achievers who like to work hard and are always looking for ways to improve.

These traits are commendable but can mean that we fall prey to perfectionism and don't leave enough time for our own self-care.

Perfectionism is a personality characteristic that has been associated with increased stress and burnout in teachers. Perfectionists not only expect perfection of themselves but also of others.

In schools with a perfectionist culture this can result in unrealistic expectations of all staff and a "cult of overwork," develops where being a workaholic is often celebrated as a virtue when it shouldn't be.

Teachers, especially, need to be reminded that they're more than their job. While teaching does become part of your identity, you still need to nourish the other parts of yourself that demand attention and care.

Psychologists have known for a long time that there is a strong link between perfectionism and poor self-esteem.

Perfectionists need everything to be perfect to feel good about themselves.

Being a perfectionist puts significant pressure on yourself.

If you are a perfectionist, what can you do?

1. Delegate, or ask for help, if possible.

2. Set time limits on tasks you have to complete.

3. Collaborate with colleagues so that you are not all reinventing the wheel.

4. Adopt the mantra ‘Done is better than perfect.’

5. Remind yourself that you are more than your job. While teaching does become part of your identity, you still need to support the other parts of yourself that demand attention and care.

4. Have an exit plan.