/ Mind/ Managing Mental Health for Education Workers
Learn more about how to manage your mental health as an education worker, while continuing to support others.
Education workers have been the unsung heroes of the pandemic, navigating shifting regulations, online schooling, and the increased uncertainty COVID-19 has brought. But this has come at a cost. Many education workers feel they do not have the tools necessary to manage their own mental health, leading to a collective sense of burnout. We spoke with Izette Fry, Personal Coach and Founder of Remapped Coaching, who is a part of the Inkblot network of lifestyle coaches. Fry helps us understand the stressors faced by education workers, how they can better manage their mental health while supporting others, and how to build resilience.
After the breakout of COVID-19 in 2020, Statistics Canada found fewer Canadians reported having excellent or very good mental health — 55 per cent (July 2020), down from 68 per cent (2019). While this is an alarming statistic, Fry offered a glimpse of hope by explaining that the pandemic has also brought awareness to mental health and increased conversations around mental health in the workplace. As the conversation around mental health has become more normalized, people have become more aware of their mental health concerns and are better able to identify their symptoms.
A couple of years into the pandemic, education workers still have to deal with unprecedented levels of change. Turnover, constantly evolving government regulations, and higher workload levels have led to increasing rates of burnout. Post-pandemic, education workers support students with higher levels of social anxiety and depression, with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) reporting that 39 per cent of Ontario high-school students indicate a moderate-to-serious level of psychological distress. Fry helped us understand the co-regulation impact this has on students and education workers. When students arrive with higher rates of mental health issues, this influences the mental health of education workers and increases the weight they have to carry to support students.
Fry explains that assessing whether or not your mental health is strained starts with evaluating the signs in your physical body. Changes in sleep patterns, weight and appetite, illness frequency, mood, and energy levels can be a few important indicators that something deeper is going on. Other physiological signs include incessant overthinking, negative thought spirals, muscle stiffness, irritability, problems with concentration or headaches. Rather than ignoring or dismissing any signs of discomfort within the body, pay attention to them. This will help you identify when a change is needed or when it's time to seek help.
Managing your mental health is a highly personal journey and can differ from person to person, but it is an everyday practice. Fry’s recommendations include staying active, being present, checking in with yourself and returning to the things that bring you joy.
Physical activity and movement have been proven to bring down stress and anxiety levels — but it doesn’t have to be hard. Something as simple as a short walk in nature can help you be more present and evoke feelings of joy. Remember that something is better than nothing, even if it’s a five min set of jumping jacks. You win just by showing up, and it doesn’t take long to feel the benefits.
Fry also explains how bringing your attention to the physical senses is a great way to self-regulate. When you become overwhelmed, activate your senses by bringing your awareness to the sounds you are hearing, any tightness in your body, or how your feet feel against the ground. The more you do it, the easier it will be to return to the present when you are stressed or overthinking.
“As we become adults, we forget the things that are fun for us,” she explains. It is important to carve time in your day for things that bring you joy. Whether it's dance, art, cooking, sport, gardening, or another activity, pick something to do that’s fun for you and prioritize it. Doing activities that activate your creativity and imagination can do wonders for mental health.
Journalling is a great way to become more present with your thoughts and assess your mental health. This habit will increase your self-awareness and teach you to be more present with yourself. This will help you spot the signs of declining mental health faster and discover what you need to address your unique symptoms. Getting used to regular self-assessment can make it easier to regulate your thoughts and emotions before they become too difficult to deal with.
To build these habits into your day, Fry recommends habit stacking. Say you want to start journaling — try building that activity into something you already do daily, like commuting to work on transit. Instead of going on your phone before bed, keep a journal beside your bed and reach for that instead. It is all about making it easy for yourself and keeping it simple. Start with one mental health habit and gradually add more as the activities become a part of your everyday life.
Communicating your needs can be difficult, especially if they haven’t always been received well in the workplace or home. Fry explains that “sometimes it’s more about the expression than the response.” While we may not always get the response we want, the act of expressing our thoughts can be what helps us the most. Whether that expression is with friends, family or colleagues, find a place where you can talk about the challenges you are facing.
She also suggests being “intentional about the direction of your conversation” and open to discussion. This will lead to better communication and increase the likelihood that you will get an empathetic response. Alternatively, find someone within your community of education workers who is able to voice the issues you are facing for you. This might be an education worker who has been vocal in the past, someone who has a leadership position, or even a principal who has shown interest in improving the workplace. Leaning on your support system and community is the best way to feel less alone.
Taking care of your mental health as an education worker is an essential part of your ability to show up for yourself and your students. The work education workers do is demanding and it is important to honor that reality. Be intentional about building mental health practices into your day, allow yourself the time to rest, communicate your needs at work and put yourself first. This will allow you to show up at your best and continue to do the important work you do.
If you struggle to manage your mental health alone, lean on your Inkblot EAP for additional support. At Inkblot, we believe in holistic mental health support. We offer counselling and Advisory Services, including lifestyle, health and career coaching. To access your advisory services, go to your Inkblot dashboard, choose the “Advisory Services” section, and get connected with the support best suited to your needs.
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