Submitted by W. Blakey, Teacher Wellness Chair
Recently, I learned of a past student who had died by suicide. He wasn’t the first of my students who has died and he probably won’t be the last.
My mother and father have both passed away, unexpectedly, during my tenure as a teacher.
Life’s challenges; a death of a loved one, family emergencies, financial difficulties, health crises, past trauma, personal relationships, and mental wellness are some of the facets of our personal lives that can interfere with our success.
Stressors at my workplace (past and present) include large class sizes, new program implementations, the adding on of responsibilities and duties (beyond teaching), a huge range of learning needs, colleagues, the never-ending pile of assessment for learning assignments and the planning…. oh, the planning. How does one person in the room plan exciting and engaging learning experiences that meet the sometimes huge range of diverse learning needs and styles we encounter in our classrooms?
If you are a teacher, you already know the feelings associated with our very demanding career. It takes an incredible person who can wear so many hats; tutor, cheerleaders, event coordinator, nurse, entertainer, detective, psychologist, coach, janitor, accountant, referee, and drill sergeant.
We manage human beings for a living. We cajole, convince and motivate young people to be their best. This is a difficult task, not made any easier by stress.
When we can’t do our job, we might; lose sleep, we might fall ill, we might have difficulty making decisions, we might fail in our personal relationships. We might find comfort in unhealthy foods, alcohol, drugs or we might feel apathetic and question our (career) choices. We might give up.
webmd.com lists the signs of stress and organizes them into 3 categories;
Emotional symptoms of stress include:
- Becoming easily agitated, frustrated, and moody
- Feeling overwhelmed, like you are losing control or need to take control
- Having difficulty relaxing and quieting your mind
- Feeling bad about yourself (low self-esteem), lonely, worthless, and depressed
- Avoiding others
Physical symptoms of stress include:
- Low energy
- Upset stomach, including diarrhea, constipation, and nausea
- Aches, pains, and tense muscles
- Chest pain and rapid heartbeat
- Frequent colds and infections
- Loss of sexual desire and/or ability
- Nervousness and shaking, ringing in the ear, cold or sweaty hands and feet
- Dry mouth and difficulty swallowing
- Clenched jaw and grinding teeth
Cognitive symptoms of stress include:
- Constant worrying
- Racing thoughts
- Forgetfulness and disorganization
- Inability to focus
- Poor judgment
- Being pessimistic or seeing only the negative side
This list reads as negative and for many of us it is. Our desire to do a good job is inherent in us. It is in our nature. But when stress gets in the way, as it often does, we can’t do the job as well as we expect of ourselves. We need to deal with the stressors in a healthy, positive way. If we can not, we need to leave and take a break. And we need to perform what is perhaps the hardest task…ask for help.
We have to look out after each other. If you know someone who is asking for help, be there for them, be mindful of their response. If you need help, make sure you ask someone for that help – because the community can’t help if they don’t know something’s wrong. We can have massive impacts on each other. Even just listening helps.
Our Winnipeg Teachers’ Association has developed some resources that can help us. Our Dental Plan and Extended Health Care Plan, owned and administered by us, help us access some of the resources that can help both ourselves and family. Our Teacher Wellness Committee is tasked with promoting stress reductions, physical activity, nutrition and life balance. We also have access to counselling services through Keystone Counselling, 10 hours per year, at no cost. Call the WTA Office at 204-831-7104 if you have questions about any of these programs.
Please take care of each other. We need each other.