Tips for Identifying and Managing Stress

The 1st to the 5th November 2021 is International Stress Awareness Week 2021. This awareness week was first observed in 2018 with the purpose of increasing understanding of stress prevention. This year, the ISMA U.K will debating key topics, such as:

"• Experiences people have with mental health challenges and what can be done to help them

• How employers are responding to mental health issues and what can be learnt

• The role of stress management professionals in alleviating stress, with practical and proven techniques for building resilience

• What further actions need to be taken in the light of the pandemic and workplace changes such as hybrid working

• Ensuring that those suffering from stress know where they can find advice and support” – Source

What Is Stress?

Loosely defined, stress is our body’s response to pressure. Stress can be caused by a range of circumstances and events; there is no size fits all when it comes to stress. Examples of situations that commonly cause feelings of stress include loss and bereavement, changes in lifestyle, e.g. new job, new home and relationship problems.

The way we handle stress is highly personal and individual to each person. According to the Mental Health Foundation, there are different factors that impact our response to stress ranging from genetics to socioeconomic circumstances. 

Why Is Tackling Stress So Important?

Feeling stressed is very common and the vast majority of us will experience feelings of stress. Sometimes, a certain amount of stress can be positive for some people, as it may spur them on and motivate them to achieve specific goals and objectives. But, if stress is a prominent theme in your life, it must be tackled. 

Stress impacts everyone differently and there are a wide range of symptoms that manifest both physically and mentally. 

According to the NHS, signs and symptoms of stress can include: 

Physical Symptoms:

• Tense muscles

• Muscular pain 

• Headaches

• Dizziness

• Stomach complaints

• Chest pains

• Increased heart rate

Mental Symptoms:

• Lack of concentration

• Memory issues

• Indecisiveness

• Feeling overwhelmed

• The inability to stop worrying

Changes in Behaviour:

• Drinking or smoking more frequently

• Eating too much

• Eating too little

• Sleeping too much

• Sleeping too little

• Irritable and short-tempered

• Avoidance of particular places and people

If left unresolved and allowed to continue, studies have revealed stress can have a lasting impact on health and wellbeing. Studies showed that long term stress can contribute to gastrointestinal issues and cardiovascular disease. 

The Mental Health Foundation provide some top tips for helping yourself when you are feeling stressed. These include: 

• Identifying when stress is becoming a problem.

• Considering the changes you can make in your life to reduce stress.

• Forming positive relationships so you have a support network of people you can turn to when stress is impacting you. 

• Maintaining a healthy diet. 

• Monitor your consumption of alcohol and cigarettes.

• Regular exercise and physical activity.

• Ensuring you make time for rest and relaxation.

• Practicing mindfulness with activities such as meditation. 

• Ensuring you get enough quality sleep. 

• Being kind to yourself. 

The NHS have also provided a fantastic and free mood self-assessment tool which should help you to pinpoint how you are feeling. It is important to seek help from a medical professional if stress is prominent and negatively impacting your life. There are many forms of help available to assist with stress, such as counselling and CBT. 

Teaching and Stress

It is undeniable that teaching can be a demanding and stressful profession. Research carried out by the Health and Safety Executive revealed school staff are some of the most stressed workers in Britain. In 2012, The Guardian conducted research into stress and the teaching profession. It was found that the number of teachers who were absent from the classroom due to stress had increased by 10% over the previous 4 years. It was also discovered that 15 local authorities had witnessed a 50% increase in stress-related absence. 

Research has shown that prominent causes of excessive stress for teachers include: 

• Excessive workload

• Excessive working hours

• Pupil behaviour

• Assessment targets

• Inspections

• Bullying

• Appraisals and performance-related pay systems

• Lack of professional opportunities 

But, there are strategies and support that can be implemented into the education workplace to help reduce the stress and pressure experienced by teaching staff. 

• School leaders can implement a range of systems to help teachers understand what is expected of them. Strategies include annual calendars for staff to follow, print policies and guidelines and ensuring information given to teachers is up-to-date, clear and accurate. 

• SLT should also review marking policies to ensure teaching workload is manageable. 

• Shared work schemes and shared curriculum resources to help reduce time spent lesson planning implemented by SLT.

• Providing staff with treats such as sweets, chocolates, biscuits and fresh fruit to boost morale. 

• Implement wellbeing policies, action plans and activities for staff. Kent-Teach are able to assist with this. Don’t hesitate to contact our Wellbeing Advisors for impartial advice on introducing a wellbeing culture to your school.

• Teaching staff should practice effective prioritisation and personal limits. It is crucial for teaching staff to create boundaries. These boundaries will prevent them from accepting too much work and responsibility which would, unfortunately, increase stress. Do not be afraid to say no. 

• Recognise and understand what causes you to feel stressed. You can then apply stress reduction techniques to stressful scenarios. 

• Talk to people you trust about how you are feeling. 

• Make time for hobbies and personal interests, as well as exercise. 

• Plan ahead and ensure you are prepared in advance for deadlines, events and tasks.

• Use our education staff helplines poster to find the contact details of various organisations providing help and support. 

Physical Activity and Stress

We asked the team at Kent Sport about Stress Awareness Week and how physical activity can positively impact stress. Kent Sport emphasises the importance of physical activity as one of the key components to manage stress levels. Whether you like to play sport, hit the gym or prefer a nice stroll in nature, being active boosts our mood, helps manage stress and keeps both our mind and body healthy! Visit Kent Sport’s Everyday Active website to find an activity you will enjoy. Teaching professionals can also play a role in increasing the physical activity levels of the young people we work with. Have you considered signing up for The Daily Mile? There are a lot of other ways to get your pupils active to reduce stress; Kent Sport’s Primary PE and Sport Premium page is full of ideas, support and guidance, also Kent School Games provide opportunities for competition and sport festivals, and there is even a Great Ideas Funding enquiry form. Here Kent Sport encourage schools to submit project ideas that will support children and young people who are least likely to be active, including those in under-represented groups such as lower socio-economic groups, children and young people with long term health conditions or a disability, and ethnically diverse communities. If you have a great project idea to help achieve these aims, Kent Sport would love to hear from you. 

If you require further support and advice, our blog article ‘Support and Services in Kent’ signposts key services Kent residents can access. 

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