Are you ever so stressed you get anxious or depressed?
When I look and reflect on how I felt when I was wrestling with the black dog I almost laugh, then there is a part of me that wants to cry, a part of me that remembers how shit it felt to be consumed by an imaginary “black dog”.
Why couldn’t I be taken over by Scooby Doo and cruise around in the Mystery Machine all day?
Me and my best friend Shaggy would have had the greatest of times saving the world.
Life just isn’t that awesome sometimes and you just have to accept the cards you are dealt.
Being crawled up in the foetal position on the bedroom floor at age 28, crying uncontrollably, wasn’t something I anticipated when I opened the book of life. All the same, it happened and looking back I believe it needed to happen for me to discover who I really was.
When you take a wind up toy car and wind it and wind it and wind it some more until you can’t wind it anymore, and you wind it a bit further it eventually goes SNAP! The car has been under too much tension for too long and eventually breaks, going nowhere at all. But,if you wind the same car just enough, until you feel the right tension and it makes a tiny click, it is ready to rumble down the pavement.
This is how I like to approach stressful situations in my life… the right amount of stress is good for you when you manage it accordingly . You will notice in our blogs about Check Yourself and Dinosaur vs Superproactive Teacher we uncover how stress can actually be good for you. Learning how to understand this concept of having the right amount of “tension” is my Thought for Thursday.
What are the most stressful situations in your life right now?
How can you best approach them?
Let’s take a look at my thoughts and feelings when I reached some of my lowest moments and link these to my behaviour and actions. I will share some personal accounts of my well being when I had wound up the toy car just a little to far and compare this to the never ending joy ride I don’t want to get off now.
Working long days on the hamster wheel, going around and around in circles, chasing your tail and not having a pitstop will sound familiar for the majority of you.
You finish the house chores you should of done the night before, you quickly make sure ate half a piece of toast as you head out the front door, picking up some last minute items on your way to the car, you race into work, stopping to get a triple shot double espresso with an extra shot and three sugars, you are probably early to work because either a) you love teaching, b) you have a truck load of preparation to do or c) both…
More than likely you are already late, then there is photocopying, printing, stapling, cutting, laminating, marking or resulting to do, all of a sudden you realise you have a lesson to plan, a colleague wants your help, a student needs a note, a parent wants a chat, whoops the bell just went the students are waiting at your door.
The triple shot double espresso with an extra shot is cold... your desk is a mess and it’s time to start teaching.
You convince yourself you just need to get through until recess, you have been doing this long enough and know how to lead an engaging lesson. It’s the beginning of the day, you have plenty of energy and half a coffee in you, you’ll drink the other half cold if you have to and you’ll be fine.
Next thing you know the bell rings, it’s recess, you lost track of time and haven’t covered half of what you wanted and you just remembered you’re on yard duty today, you grab your high vis vest and quickly race to the quadrangle after grabbing another coffee on your way past.
You spend the next 20 minutes playing the firefighter, putting out little spot fires all over the playground to make sure nobody gets hurt, the rubbish goes in the bin and everybody plays nicely. Ding, ding, ding break time is over!
You scrurry back to the classroom and rummage through the piles of paperwork on your desk for that awesome lesson you prepared earlier today. Now your day is in full swing, you enjoy what your teaching and the students are really engaged in your lesson.
Next thing, one of your student’s starts crying, breaking down, you need to gently remove them to the corridor and they tell you they have a terminally ill parent and the slightest thing in class has just set them off.
You now have your well being support and empathetic hat on, but the stress and frantic pace of the morning has already sapped you of your energy and you’re struggling to be strong. You do your absolute best to support your student before you can pass them on to student services if you are lucky enough to have a team, otherwise you’re on your own.
You have a full class inside that need your undivided attention, yet you need to be there for that student, your head is spinning, your heart is racing, your lesson is suddenly over. Did you get time to finish it? Probably not, you pop your head in the door and tell the now chaotic classroom to leave things as they are and you will finish it after lunch (fingers crossed).
Lunch time allows you to take your upset student to get the best support, but it also means you don’t get a lunch break. You spend your “break” time providing triage and making sure the student is well looked after. You don’t eat, you make another coffee and race back to class to finish of the day. Your class works on the half finished task for 20 minutes when there is a knock at the door and the sports teacher needs them for athletics practice. Pens down, off they go, lesson half finished but you finally have a chance to regroup before the end of the day.
Your day has been a mess, your heads even busier and you are very unproductive. The students are back fifteen minutes before the final bell, you do a quick tidy up, set some homework and then say goodbye as you flop back in your chair and take your first deep breath for the day. You spend the next 2 hours preparing for the following day, which will more than likely turn out much the same as today.
You go home and watch Married at First Sight, eat a block of chocolate and then retreat to bed to finish some emails before you try get a quality sleep.
How good is the life of a teacher?
And everybody thinks we do it easy and have the “cruisiest” and too many holidays. Well we need them because we work hard and unfortunately, the day just described is all to common for school teachers.
Your day’s at school may be very similar of vastly different to the account above, but one thing we all have in common is stress. We are all affected by stress in one way or another. Some teachers are resilient and have developed tools and strategies through life experience, professional development and sheer will to combat stress. Some have not and are influenced negatively by it on a daily basis.
The following is a very personal account of my journey through the darkest and difficult times that were a result of stress, where I lacked the self-awareness to recognise the unhealthy amounts of it I had in my life, I didn’t having the coping mechanisms in place I do now and when it all got very busy like the scenario just described, eventually after 6 weeks of high stress reactivity I had become a shell of myself that eventually cracked into pieces.
After pushing myself to do more, be more and become more in this "growth" mindset where I was trying to do to much with not enough I came to this point in my life.
Journal Entry 1:3:18
I really don’t feel like writing tonight, but I will. I don’t know why I put in so much energy in and I really hoped for once in my life I didn’t end up broken and lost. I was nothing but completely honest and if that wasn’t good enough, then I am sorry but there is nothing more I can do. I need to be stronger and braver and remember the only person I need to make happy is me. I have never felt this weak, upset and lonely. The only people I have got to help me is my family and I am grateful for that. Nothing I do at the moment makes me feel any better, I just want to hide under the rugs all day or sit in the shower.
As you can see wasn’t the energetic, confident and engaging teacher I aspired to be. I had become defeated and broken after letting stress, lead to self-doubt, worry and ultimately, anxiety and depression. I was a broken man taking my time to heal and rediscover who I was in the process. Feeling like a little lost boy was a far cry from how I feel today.
Journal Entry 8:3:18
I was in a very dark and lonely place, so much so I took a week off work to start to manage what had taken over me. Anxiety and depression. This was a combination of factors, but ultimately I just didn’t have the time, energy or resources to be looking after my mental health. I was focused on physical fitness, teaching and social life when I had time. I failed to cultivate my mind and rest, reflect and rejuvenate like I used to. I was a mess and still each day takes effort and energy to get up and get going.
As mentioned earlier, I look back now at that difficult time and feel grateful and honoured to have experienced it.
Why you may wonder?
Well that very difficult and painful period of my life has set me up for much greater things. Through that process of acknowledging that the way I was approaching life and stress was not healthy and this lead me to discover a much more effective way to live a health well balanced life that suited me.
I discovered yoga, meditation and a deep understanding of the self. This increased my self-awareness, resilience and confidence to explore what I am truly passionate about. I found my passion for health and wellness again and in particular how we can live our best life.
I created networks with so many inspiring people who’s story resonated with my own and I realised that so many other people are sadly faced with the same fate as me. I understood that everybody has a choice in life and whether you decide to let stress cripple you and control you or you can choose to manage it and use it to your advantage.
I met my SMILE Partner Greg Mitchell and together we have created this amazing organisation that provides teachers that are feeling stressed, tired and overwhelmed with better tools and strategies to survive in a busy education world. We don’t want teachers to feel like I did, we have so many amazing teachers and to lose them because they are affected by stress and mental illness is a tragedy in itself.
Finally, I would like to share a recent journal entry that illuminates the light I now have in my life. Sure there are difficult days, but there are no dark days. Join us at SMILE Teachers and help us spread this light all over the world. We are working tirelessly to provide teachers with the best tools and strategies to BE HAPPY and TEACH WELL.
Journal Entry 7:7:18
I am in a really good place. I feel so alive and well. Full of optimism and positivity, I don’t feel anxious and stressed. I am a lot better at acknowledging when the days are busy and I have become more self-aware and mindful to cherish each day and value it. I am constantly learning about myself and what makes me tick, the way I respond to people and situations is a choice and only I can control how I think and feel. I can only control my thoughts and what I think about will determine how I feel. If I catch myself thinking about something negative, I immediately change my train of thought to think of something positive and how this makes me feel. I will even just smile to change the way I am feeling. If I am really am feeling a little low I will listen to a podcast, speech, music or self-talk to increase positive vibes. I am grateful everyday and believe I am good at giving thanks and showing appreciation. I have learned that’s what truly makes me happy and I love helping people, helping them to reach their potential or achieve goals. I will continue to work on myself daily, to be present in whatever I do and radiate positivity. Just being me.
I hope that lifts the lid a little more and let's you see why I am so passionate about SMILE Teachers. In weeks to come for the Thought for Thursday blog post I will uncover some of my best and most effective strategies I use to shift from the reactive and anxious mindset I was in to the creative and benefit mindset I love so much now.