10 Oct 2023

10 Ways to Reduce Stress in Schools

At Activ People HR, we understand the critical role educators play in shaping our future. However, we also recognise the challenges they face in an ever-demanding profession. According to the Teacher Wellbeing Index, a staggering 78% of all staff in education experience mental health symptoms due to their work. It’s a startling statistic that sheds light on the pressing need for comprehensive support and self-care strategies within the education community.

We’ve partnered with Headstrong Training to address this vital issue. While we may not have the power to overhaul the entire system, we firmly believe that every educator can take personal responsibility for managing their own health and wellbeing. It starts with small yet impactful changes that can help reduce stress, build resilience, and create a healthier work-life balance.

In this resource, we’ve outlined ten key strategies that educators can implement in their daily lives. These strategies are designed to foster wellbeing, enhance mental health, and improve overall quality of life. They’re practical, actionable, and can make a significant difference in the lives of educators who choose to embrace them.

1. Sleep – This should be a priority not a luxury.
Poor sleep affects our ability to think clearly, focus, recall information and memory. Fatigue can also affect our emotional control, ability to manage impulsive behaviours and impair our ability to manage stress. This can have and negative impact for work relationships and, ultimately team morale. Where possible, go to bed and get up at the same time every day. Make your sleeping environment calm and inviting.

2. Connect – We are neurobiologically wired social creatures.
Connecting with others, helping, showing kindness and feeling supported all contribute to overall mental health and wellbeing. When we feel connected, our brains released Oxytocin which helps us feel good, calmer and more relaxed. Share a cuppa, go for a walk, have lunch with a colleague or set up a buddy system.

3. Take a break! – Your brain and body will thank you.
Taking regular breaks is essential to allow your brain to slow down and process. If you are on the go all the time, you will stay in a heightened state of stress. Micro breaks are very effective so even taking five minutes to get up, stretch your legs and have a glass of water. We can lose 2% of water naturally through daily activities so staying hydrated is essential to keep us firing on all cylinders.

4. Get Natural Light in your eyes – it helps manage mood and energy.
The world around us has profound impact on our brains & behaviour. As humans, we are happier and healthier when surrounded by nature or parkland. This also includes getting enough natural light. Natural light signals our brains to increase or decrease energy depending on the time of day. It also helps our circadian rhythms which improves sleep. Getting light in the morning boosts serotonin and dopamine levels which improve mood and energy.

5. Boundaries – Know your limits
Not having clear boundaries and not maintaining them is a guaranteed way of causing conflict and resentment at work. Sure, sometimes we need to work extra hours at work to meet a specific deadline, but as a general rule, be clear on your working hours and make this clear on email signatures. Don’t fall in to the trap of sending work emails late at night – if you prefer to work into the night that’s ok, but schedule the email to be sent in the morning!

6. Manageable workloads – Have realistic expectations
You are human beings not human doings and everyone has limits. Being busy is not a measure of self-worth. Ironically, the more we try and do and the longer hours we work, the less productive we become. Whilst workloads are the managers responsibility, we can all learn to manage our time and learn to ask when things are needed specifically or to say ‘I can do that but not until next week’.

7. Communicate Effectively – Say what you mean and mean what you say
The biggest culprit of workplace stress is poor communication. People interpret what you say based on their own experiences and understandings of the world around them. Be clear, concise and clarify. Remember that feeling stressed directly affects how we communicate from our tone of voice, facial expressions and body language. Be mindful of what you’re ‘not saying’.

8. Utilise support – what services are available to staff?
Do you know how many schools I’ve worked with where staff have no idea they can access an EAP (Employee Assistance Programme) for example? A lot. It’s not enough to just have the information in a Staff Handbook. If you have an EAP, Mental Health First Aiders, Private Medical Insurance, a designated time and space for wellbeing etc. Make it obvious and accessible to everyone.

9. Celebrate Achievements – Give and receive praise!
It is so important to recognise the wins and celebrate the gains, no matter how small. Everyone likes to know they’ve done a good job so recognise individual, team and company wins! Find those moments of joy and opportunities to be grateful. Doing these things releases the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine which boosts mood and motivation. Pat yourself on the back for a job well done and praise colleagues too.

10. Control what you can – Manage your day and environment
Creating predictability and order when and where you can gives you a sense of control. Create some internal order by tackling simpler tasks first. Create a comfortable and tidy workspace. Organise folders and filing both paper and digital. Bring the outside in – having plants and greenery can really positively influence mental health and wellbeing.