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Supporting Your Own Personal Wellbeing

Mark Solomons - creator of Welbee, the online evaluation and staff wellbeing improvement tool, six times winner in the ERA Awards and GESS Judges Commendation Award, author of ‘What Makes Teachers Unhappy and What Can You Do About It?’, and an acclaimed wellbeing expert with over 15 years’ experience developing leadership and culture in education, discusses the importance of supporting your wellbeing.

Stress and burnout have become integral to many conversations and articles about the education sector. These tend to ignore staff, who are driven by their passion for the children and young people they support, and continue to thrive and enjoy the work they do, despite these challenges. Therefore, one of the highest priorities for leaders must be to support staff by creating an environment where people want to work, can do their best work, and choose to stay.

Creating a psychologically safe workplace (Dr Amy Edmondson,1999) means staff members are confident to take risks, express their ideas and concerns, speak up with questions, and admit mistakes — all without fear of negative consequences. They feel they belong, have a voice, are trusted and appreciated.

If you are lucky enough to work with leaders who understand this, and also have good family relationships and a strong friendship group, your wellbeing is likely to be higher than someone without these supportive structures in place. However, whatever your situation, or the level of support you receive, if your work or home life is not what you want it to be, or you are experiencing stress and poor wellbeing, there is one person you can rely on to make a change – and that’s YOU.

But is stress always bad? Stress is a natural response to a perceived demanding situation, an automatic reaction often known as the ‘fight-or-flight’ response, preparing you for confrontation or escape. This is primarily orchestrated by the endocrine and nervous systems and involves the release of the hormones adrenaline and cortisol.

Stress can be much needed and have a positive impact, it can increase motivation and performance and enhance learning. For instance, the pressure of an upcoming deadline or exam can push someone to focus and work more efficiently, or ensure they are more engaged with increased alertness.Stress can be much needed and have a positive impact, it can increase motivation and performance and enhance learning. For instance, the pressure of an upcoming deadline or exam can push someone to focus and work more efficiently, or ensure they are more engaged with increased alertness.

On the other hand, stress (or distress) can be negative and harmful if it becomes chronic or overwhelming, leading to physical and mental health problems, such as: cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, anxiety, and a weakened immune system. It can also impair cognitive functions like memory, concentration and decision making. All which significantly diminish life satisfaction and impact mood, relationships, and work performance.

So, if you want to improve your working life, or work/life balance, one area for focus is how to manage your stressors. What steps can you take?

Tips to reduce stress and burnout

It’s important to identify those things that cause you the greatest stress – your stressors. Then there are techniques or models you can apply to help you. One of these is the Mayo Clinic’s ‘4 A’s of stress relief’- Avoid, Alter, Adapt and Accept.

Here’s a brief outline:

Avoid your stressors

•    Set boundaries and learn to say no: When you are asked to do more, negotiate current work or responsibilities – what are your priorities and what can be left?

•    Avoid places, people, or hot topics: If a particular area in the school, a particular person or a conversation topic causes stress, then avoid them.

•    Prioritise and reduce interruptions: Prioritise tasks that have impact and avoid those that don’t. Take time to plan your time, including your availability, and remain focused on what you are wanting to achieve.

Alter your stressors

•    Set clear expectations: On the hours that you work, the behaviour expected of others, and ensure scheduled meetings and other engagements start and finish at the agreed time.

•    Environmental adjustments: Rearrange the classroom or workspace to minimize noise and other unhelpful activities.

•    Use ‘I’ statements: When discussing issues with colleagues or parents, express feelings with ‘I’ statements to communicate personal feelings without placing blame.

Adapt to your stressors

•    Adjust standards: Focus on the overall impact rather than perfection and remember that often 80% of any outcome is delivered by a much smaller input.

•    Simplify tasks: Simplify administrative tasks or lessons to better manage workload.

•    Shift perspective: Assess whether a stressor will matter in the long run and focus on the positives to change your response to stress.

•    Positive reinforcement: Regularly remind yourself of your achievements and strengths to boost your morale and reduce stress.

•    Seek support: Engage in conversations with peers or a counsellor when overwhelmed; sharing challenges can lighten the emotional load.

Accept your stressors

•    Focus only on what you can control: Where you have no control, learn to accept the situation.

•    Reframe challenges: Look for the upside and focus on potential opportunities.

•    Embrace imperfection: Accept that not every day or lesson will go as planned and that this is part of the teaching experience.

•    Forgive: Learn to accept and forgive yourself and others when mistakes happen or when not everything on the to-do list gets done.

Working through the 4 A’s to identify action to take on your stressors, and reflecting regularly on your progress, will make a difference. The strategies are not necessarily suitable for all stressors, for example, you wouldn’t want to avoid taking action to address financial challenges.

Remember you are the only one who can guarantee to make a difference to your personal wellbeing.

For more information and support on improving personal wellbeing please contact

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