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Managing Stress and Improving Wellbeing in your School

Managing Stress and Improving Wellbeing in your School

Schools can be frenetic places to work, with teaching one of the top three most stressful occupations.

We often refer to feeling stressed, nervous or anxious, but it is important to differentiate between normal feelings - dealing with the everyday challenges of work and home life and the inevitable busy periods - and times when these become overwhelming and we start to find it difficult to cope.

Recognising the difference between pressure and stress and identifying key ‘stressors’, can improve wellbeing, helping staff to better enjoy their work and be more effective.


Everyone regularly experiences pressure at work. Accountability, with specific tasks needing to be delivered within a timeframe, together with external scrutiny, all play their part.

Pressure can be a positive, motivating factor, and is often essential for completing tasks - especially ones that need to be done quickly. It can help achieve goals and improve performance. A lack of pressure can lead to apathy, procrastination and decreased efficiency.


However, if that pressure continues and increases, it can become overwhelming, leading to stress.

Stress triggers a natural reaction within our bodies, referred to as the ‘fight, flight and freeze’ response. It is an innate reaction by the autonomic nervous system. The brain signals the release of adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones increase the heart rate making more oxygen available, heightening our senses and equipping us to act quickly and decisively.

Once the perceived ‘threat’ has passed, the body produces hormones that counterbalance the adrenaline and cortisol, bringing us back to a more relaxed state. It is a natural process over which we have little physiological control - in normal situations, stress is not an illness but a state.

Levels of stress increase if we are faced with a challenging situation or when we are significantly outside our comfort zone - job interviews, exams, public speaking. This state is usually short lived, once the interview, the exams or the speech is over, we can relax.

However, if this heightened state remains, the body does not return to normal and the stress can become chronic. This can lead to both physical and mental symptoms of distress – anxiety, irritability, inability to ‘switch off’, a constant sense of dread, depression, increase or loss of appetite - and mental and physical illness can also develop.

It’s important to identify the stressors and ways to reduce their impact. The UK’s Health and Safety Executive’s Management Standards, identify six factors that can be primary stressors. Take steps to deal with them.

Demands - workload, work patterns and working environment

  • Check school policies and see what is required. Workload is always going to be high, but if you are not able to deal with it effectively, discuss your concerns with your line manager.
  • Balance stressful tasks with easier ones – this provides a natural break, giving your body time to return to a ‘normal’ state.
  • Set realistic, achievable targets – chunk tasks to avoid the frustration of being unable to complete everything.
  • Work collaboratively and share resources for mutual benefit i.e. lesson planning.
  • Focus on what you have achieved each day and not on the tasks that remain uncompleted  – and accept that you will never get everything done.

Control the level of working autonomy

  • Make decisions about how you do your job and the hours you work – you do have some choice.
  • Decide how to spend break times – switch off for a few minutes and you will be more productive over the day.
  • Be assertive about how you want to work and list the benefits for your approach.
  • Ask constructive questions about school systems.
  • Plan activities outside school to avoid consistently working long hours.

Support – encouragement from leaders and colleagues and access to available resources

  • Know where to look for available information and resources – ask if you are unsure.
  • Support colleagues and line managers, people are more likely to reciprocate if you have supported them.
  • Recognise when you need support and ask for help.
  • Practice self-care - change tasks, relax during breaks, drink water and eat to maintain energy levels.

Relationships accepted workplace practices and behaviours

  • Foster positive relationships – be open-minded.
  • Identify strained relationships, address them with the individual or individuals concerned or accept the status quo.
  • If you are unsure how to proceed with an issue, request support from your line manager or a trusted colleague.
  • Reflect honestly and recognise it may be your behaviour that is the cause of an issue. Ask others for perspective and feedback on the situation.
  • Ask for training or development on coaching conversations or managing difficult people.

Role - clearly defined expectations If you are concerned about fulfilling your role:

  • Ask for clarification from your line manager if the expectations are unclear.
  • Create a personal development plan to develop the skills necessary to fulfil your role. The more prepared and able you are, the less likely it is that you will experience workplace stress.
  • If there are areas of concern, find information and policies, speak with your line manager and colleagues to understand their expectations.
  • Line managers can check team member’s understanding by asking them to explain their role and responsibilities.

Change - how change is managed and communicated.

  • Ask to be involved in decisions that affect you.
  • Create a schedule for any upcoming change that will involve you.
  • Delegate and share work effectively, take responsibility for necessary tasks and pass others to team members.
  • As a leader, involve others in discussions, communicate clearly and regularly about upcoming change. Always explain the ‘Why’.
  • As a leader, create an action plan and timetable communications to inform and update others.

For further information, support and advice, please contact