Teachers at risk for anxiety in the face of pressure and disruption
Just over a month after schools returned to full-time in-person classes after a third round of lockdown closures, the pressure is on and teachers are expected to deliver learning and support stressed and anxious learners.
After 18 months of intermittent, rotational and distance schooling, the South African education system has lost ground.
Some learners are up to a year behind in school and up to 500,000 have dropped out completely.
Amid reports of increasing levels of anxiety and depression in children and adolescents, mental health professionals are also warning of neglecting the well-being of teachers, who are supposed to provide psychological support to teachers. struggling and traumatized learners, but struggling to mentally cope on their own.
Dr Alicia Porter, a member of the South African Society of Psychiatrists (SASOP) who has a particular interest in adolescent and women’s mental health, said: “For teachers to be able to provide positive support to learners, it is important to important for them to be able to understand, identify and respond to their own emotional needs and possible mental health issues.
“It is important not to fall into the trap of giving relentlessly without stopping to take stock of your own psychological needs.
Porter said teachers were faced with the challenge of having to adapt quickly to distance learning and unfamiliar technology, and how to support learners who did not have access to the technology, while juggling the needs. of their own families and fears of contracting Covid-19, as well as coping with the loss of loved ones and colleagues.
The return to in-person learning has brought its own stress of lack of masks and disinfectants, challenges in monitoring learner compliance, fears of contagion and children being sent to school while showing symptoms. of Covid, while supporting learners who have experienced losses on multiple levels.
The unrest and looting in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal has added to the stress and challenges teachers face, Porter said, as they attempt to help their learners deal with disruption, injury and death , while facing their own response to the situation. .
She said research in various countries indicated that teachers’ already high rates of stress, anxiety and depression were on the rise during the pandemic, negatively impacting morale and job satisfaction, as well as increasing sick leave and absenteeism, and leading many people to consider leaving the profession. absolutely.
Porter said the challenge for teachers was twofold – learning to maintain their own mental health and also how to support their learners – and encouraged teachers to “put on their own oxygen mask first”.
“It is important to protect the emotional health of teachers.
“A recent study highlighted that teacher-learner relationships are also stressors for the learner, and that teacher behavior predicts the emotional well-being and engagement of learners, which are also important factors. to reduce their stress levels, ”she said.
Porter recommended practical steps teachers can take to maintain their sanity and reduce stress levels, starting by focusing on what they can control.
• Choose how to spend your time and make healthy choices, such as getting enough sleep, staying hydrated, limiting your alcohol intake, and eating healthy, regular meals.
• Take the time to take care of yourself – exercising, resting, reading, writing in a journal, meditating, or spending time on a hobby helps create balance and promote mental health.
• Demonstrate self-compassion.
“We teach learners the basics of self-compassion, but we also need to model it. Be kinder to yourself. It will benefit your mental well-being.
• Set reasonable expectations.
“We have to recognize that we are in the middle of a pandemic and that it is not business as usual. We cannot expect to be as productive or organized as before, while having to balance education, maintenance and household management. Set small, realistic goals and expectations.
• Keep the connection. Covid-19 closures and restrictions have made the past 18 months a time of isolation, while social ties promote mental health and well-being. Porter recommends staying in touch with family, friends and colleagues, taking the time to connect and catch up, sharing challenges as much as good news, even if only virtually.
• Micro-recharge – take the time to take a break and allow your system to recover and reset under stress. Porter suggests small activities, such as paying attention while washing your hands, taking a deep breath and watching your movements, or going up the stairs slowly and mindfully to give yourself a little break.
• Porter also recommends the 30-3-30 approach – actions that can be taken in 30 seconds, three minutes, or 30 minutes to pause and switch off to recover when feelings of panic or inability to cope. arise. These could include:
* 30 seconds – breathe slowly and deeply, counting to three while inhaling and exhaling; look out a window and focus on everything you can see; sit on a chair and focus only on the sensation of the chair pressing on your back and buttocks; learn a favorite and inspirational quote to remember in times of stress.
* Three minutes – do a quick household chore; make a quick phone call to a friend; do a word puzzle or listen to a favorite piece of music; brew a hot drink and focus on the steps and the feeling of the hot cup in your hands.
* 30 minutes – take a relaxing bath; declutter a wardrobe; watch a television program or listen to a podcast; get out in the air and in the sun.
In all of these actions, she said, the importance was to do it mindfully and focus only on the activity at hand.
To help learners cope with uncertainty, stress and grief, Porter advised:
• Admit that the event (s) happened. Acknowledge the reality of being scared, worried, or upset.
• Don’t pretend this is all normal. Recognize that the “new normal” is not normal at all.
• It is helpful to communicate the optimism of support, that asking for help can relieve panic and distress and give hope.
• Encourage learners to openly express their fears and anxiety.
• Allow learners to feel that they can help too – ask them to think about how they could make a difference.
• Take depression, suicide and anxiety issues seriously and contact professional support from a psychologist or psychiatrist, or contact a helpline such as Sadag.