Burnout and Mental Health

Teacher's burnout - for teachers; Dealing with burnout - for students; Personal experience - Ekaterina Sukhanova.

Teacher’s Burnout and Mental Health

Let’s face it, we all have our ups and downs and being an ESL teacher can be extremely draining. Teachers have to deal with huge workload, challenging students, homework, paper and test correction and lesson planning outside hours. It is easy to start taking on more and more classes forgetting about yourself, until the moment comes when you realise you can’t take it any longer. Have you stretched yourself too thin? Have you lost the gleam in your eyes? Have you caught yourself checking the time every 5 minutes waiting for a lesson to end? If so, read on. 

Burnout is a problem any professional may encounter, but teachers often suffer from it silently and without complaint. However, it affects your quality of life, mental health and productivity. Let’s look at the signs of a burnout:

Alienation from work-related activities

Individuals experiencing burnout view their jobs as increasingly stressful and frustrating. They may grow cynical about their working conditions and the people they work with. They may also emotionally distance themselves and begin to feel numb about their work.

Physical symptoms:

Chronic stress may lead to physical symptoms, like headaches and stomachaches or intestinal issues.

Emotional exhaustion: 

Burnout causes people to feel drained, unable to cope, and tired. They often lack the energy to get their work done.

Reduced performance: 

Burnout mainly affects everyday tasks at work—or in the home when someone's main job involves caring for family members. Individuals with burnout feel negative about tasks. They have difficulty concentrating and often lack creativity.

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Taking it all into consideration, it is of utmost importance to support each other and keep an eye on your colleagues. There are many things you can do to help others and first of all yourself, if you feel you are showing the symptoms of a burnout:

1. Ask each other “How are you?”, “Is anything bothering you?”

We are  prone to talking about work and classes only when in teachers’ rooms or meetings, but next time try to start your conversation with sharing your feelings and inquiring about others’ emotional state as well. Something as simple as voicing your worries and concerns may be a step towards healing. 

2. Ask for advice

It is ok not to know something, it is ok to be stuck or run out of ideas. And it is more than ok to ask for help in these situations. Make use of the special teachers’ chat-rooms, or approach a fellow colleague with your question, be it about teaching a specific grammar rule or looking for materials, you are sure to find motivation and encouragement. 

3. Be there for someone who feels bad

If you notice a fellow colleague feeling down or having problems, offer a helping hand to them. Not everyone can muster the courage to acknowledge they are struggling, so by taking the first step you may encourage them to share and ask questions. Do not force you help upon anyone, though, but by simply saying you are there for them may make all the difference. 

4. Share your resources, ideas, lesson plans

Creating a space where teachers may share their ideas and resources will help develop a community where everyone can find inspiration and motivation. We all sometimes struggle with coming up with new ways of teaching the same materials and seeing what others do will save time and energy.

5. Be aware that people may have hard days and it has nothing to do with you

Sometimes people may just feel down and not want to talk to others. Be aware that people need space and their mood has nothing to do with you. As was said earlier, just say that you are ready to help and listen to them if they feel the need to share.

6. Praising and saying kind words to each other

People often forget to give positive feedback to each other, only focusing on things to improve. However, just by acknowledging what your colleagues are good at will boost their confidence and make them feel better. 

7. Asking mindful questions at the start of a meeting 

Having the opportunity to speak out and share what is going on may encourage people who are usually reluctant to take the first step to ask for help. It also creates the atmosphere of trust and support in the company. Some examples of such questions are: “When was the last time you thought you didn’t know what to do in class?” or “Have you had any class management problems lately?” or even “Do you feel you are enjoying your job?”.

8. Go out together

Spending some free time with your colleagues will help build good relationships and get to know each other better as people. It will be easier to approach someone you know well when you need help and support, and will definitely improve overall job satisfaction.

How to prevent and treat Burnout

When you’re burned out, problems seem insurmountable, everything looks bleak, and it’s difficult to muster up the energy to care, let alone take action to help yourself. But you have a lot more control over stress than you may think. There are positive steps you can take to deal with overwhelming stress and get your life back into balance. One of the most effective solutions is to reach out to others.

Social contact is nature’s antidote to stress and talking face to face with a good listener is one of the fastest ways to calm your nervous system and relieve stress. The person you talk to doesn’t have to be able to “fix” your stressors; they just have to be a good listener, someone who’ll listen attentively without becoming distracted or expressing judgment.

Reach out to those closest to you, such as your partner, family, and friends. Opening up won’t make you a burden to others. In fact, most friends and loved ones will be flattered that you trust them enough to confide in them, and it will only strengthen your friendship. Try not to think about what’s burning you out and make the time you spend with loved ones positive and enjoyable.

Be more sociable with your coworkers. Developing friendships with people you work with can help buffer you from job burnout. When you take a break, for example, instead of directing your attention to your smartphone, try engaging your colleagues. Or schedule social events together after work.

Limit your contact with negative people. Hanging out with negative-minded people who do nothing but complain will only drag down your mood and outlook. If you have to work with a negative person, try to limit the amount of time you spend together.

Connect with a cause or a community group that is personally meaningful to you.Joining a religious, social, or support group can give you a place to talk to like-minded people about how to deal with daily stress—and to make new friends. If your line of work has a professional association, you can attend meetings and interact with others coping with the same workplace demands.

Find new friends. If you don’t feel that you have anyone to turn to, it’s never too late to build new friendships and expand your social network.
Being helpful to others delivers immense pleasure and can help to significantly reduce stress as well as broaden your social circle.

While it’s important not to take on too much when you’re facing overwhelming stress, helping others doesn’t have to involve a lot of time or effort. Even small things like a kind word or friendly smile can make you feel better and help lower stress both for you and the other person.

Whether you have a job that leaves you rushed off your feet or one that is monotonous and unfulfilling, the most effective way to combat job burnout is to quit and find a job you love instead. Of course, for many of us changing job or career is far from being a practical solution, we’re grateful just to have work that pays the bills. Whatever your situation, though, there are still steps you can take to improve your state of mind.

Try to find some value in your work. Even in some mundane jobs, you can often focus on how your role helps others, for example, or provides a much-needed product or service. Focus on aspects of the job that you do enjoy, even if it’s just chatting with your coworkers at lunch. Changing your attitude towards your job can help you regain a sense of purpose and control.

Find balance in your life. If you hate your job, look for meaning and satisfaction elsewhere in your life: in your family, friends, hobbies, or voluntary work. Focus on the parts of your life that bring you joy.

Make friends at work. Having strong ties in the workplace can help reduce monotony and counter the effects of burnout. Having friends to chat and joke with during the day can help relieve stress from an unfulfilling or demanding job, improve your job performance, or simply get you through a rough day.

Take time off. If burnout seems inevitable, try to take a complete break from work. Go on vacation, use up your sick days, ask for a temporary leave-of-absence, anything to remove yourself from the situation. Use the time away to recharge your batteries and pursue other methods of recovery.

Burnout is an undeniable sign that something important in your life is not working. Take time to think about your hopes, goals, and dreams. Are you neglecting something that is truly important to you? This can be an opportunity to rediscover what really makes you happy and to slow down and give yourself time to rest, reflect, and heal.

Set boundaries. Don’t overextend yourself. Learn how to say “no” to requests on your time. If you find this difficult, remind yourself that saying “no” allows you to say “yes” to the commitments you want to make.

Take a daily break from technology. Set a time each day when you completely disconnect. Put away your laptop, turn off your phone, and stop checking email or social media.

Nourish your creative side. Creativity is a powerful antidote to burnout. Try something new, start a fun project, or resume a favorite hobby. Choose activities that have nothing to do with work or whatever is causing your stress.

Set aside relaxation time. Relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, and deep breathing activate the body’s relaxation response, a state of restfulness that is the opposite of the stress response.

Get plenty of sleep. Feeling tired can exacerbate burnout by causing you to think irrationally. Keep your cool in stressful situations by getting a good night’s sleep
Even though it may be the last thing you feel like doing when you’re burned out, exercise is a powerful antidote to stress and burnout. It’s also something you can do right now to boost your mood.

Aim to exercise for 30 minutes or more per day or break that up into short, 10-minute bursts of activity. A 10-minute walk can improve your mood for two hours.

Rhythmic exercise, where you move both your arms and legs, is a hugely effective way to lift your mood, increase energy, sharpen focus, and relax both the mind and body. Try walking, running, weight training, swimming, martial arts, or even dancing.

To maximize stress relief, instead of continuing to focus on your thoughts, focus on your body and how it feels as you move: the sensation of your feet hitting the ground, for example, or the wind on your skin.What you put in your body can have a huge impact on your mood and energy levels throughout the day.

Minimize sugar and refined carbs. You may crave sugary snacks or comfort foods such as pasta or French fries, but these high-carbohydrate foods quickly lead to a crash in mood and energy.

Reduce your high intake of foods that can adversely affect your mood, such as caffeine, unhealthy fats, and foods with chemical preservatives or hormones.

Eat more Omega-3 fatty acids to give your mood a boost. 

The best sources are fatty fish (salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, sardines), seaweed, flaxseed, and walnuts.

Avoid nicotine. Smoking when you’re feeling stressed may seem calming, but nicotine is a powerful stimulant, leading to higher, not lower, levels of anxiety.

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Personal experience

Hi! I'm Kate, I'm a teacher of Chinese and English born in a tiny village of Siberia. Now I live in Italy. But it wasn't always this way - not about teaching, yet about Italy.

Everything has changed this summer, when I finally had a rare possibility to rejoin with my (now) husband after 5 months being apart because you-know-what (maybe if we don't talk about that anymore it will go away? Sorry, just a joke).

So, I've become "la Signora Giordano" living in Imola, 30 km from Bologna in the north of Italy. 

I bet when you hear "Italy" there is a thought like "Good food, good wine, the sun and dolce vita!" in your head. This is what almost all my friends think my life looks like. 

If it were true you would not be reading this text. 

Wow, don't be afraid, there are still tasty wine and good food. However, with the "dolce vita" it’s a bit more complex. 

Actually, I'm just going through a very hard period of my life, which smart people call "cultural shock". I’d like to share with you how to listen to yourself and create your warm and peaceful tiny world, even when you had to cut off every single thing from your "old" life. 

It was unbelievably hard for me to accept that I wasn't ready to live in Italy. 

I pictured myself an independent and organized person, who has been in different Italians cities many times. 

"Hey, I've been travelling to Italy for 7 years, not just like a tourist, I have a family and friends here. I know what it means to live like a local! I know!" 

Never let the arrogance trick you.

I did.

The life here is completely different. I was shocked when I went to a supermarket for the shopping for the first time and the only thing I recognized was Nutella. 

It takes a huge effort not to convert the prices in rubles all the time. 

To make this long story short, after 1 month here, I found myself with no energy, lying in bed, staring at the wall in a rented apartment.

Covid-19 had ruined my wedding ceremony in Sorrento, I had spent 5 months alone stuck in Moscow, I had left all my belongings, my family and friends, I have no job, my Italian is not as cool as I wish it could be, my husband spends the whole day at work.

I was not "me" anymore at that moment. I didn't know what to do and I didn't really want to do anything. I just wanted to stay in my bed.

I had to face the reality - I'm an immigrant. And I have no idea how to be Italian.

In other words, the only option I had was to become myself. Again. 

I needed to create a space in which I can feel whole. 

I think advices like "occupy your time, make yourself busy" to deal with () cultural shock are not reliable nor obvious. 

We are so different; everyone should find their way out. I want to share my way, maybe it will help an alone distracted soul in a distant place. 

1. Cry. It helps to get rid of stress and to clear thoughts. 

2. It won't be like that all the time. Just remember that nothing lasts forever. 

3. Tell your friends and family the way you feel. Make them understand that you are not just "sad". Tell them that every call from them cheers you up. 

My friend calls me on her way to the office. We have 15-20 min but it means a world for me. 

My dad calls me every week and sends WhatsApp messages almost every day. 

My husband buys me something nice just to make me feel that I'm not alone. 

4. Rituals, rituals and rituals.

Any tiny detail that makes you feel good must be a part of your life. 

I brought my Nespresso Cappuccinatore (Cappuccino maker?) to make my cappuccino every morning. It's essential for me. 

I have nice smelling candles at home, because I like watching them and smell something "warm". 

I read news in Russian just to feel connected.

5. New friends. 

This part is the most difficult. I would not recommend to find people who speak your language, just because they are from your country. Find people who you enjoy to be with. Mindset is critically important. Don't waste your precious time on people who don't bring you any joy. Never. 

6. Relax. In any way you please. Reading, taking a bath, jogging, cooking, cleaning your house (I know these people exist). I cooked a "medovik" for the first time in my life! It was fun! 

7. SLEEP. And take care of yourself. You are the only person who you will spend your whole life with. 

Don't forget that it's OK to be sad and feel lost sometimes. But your mood depends on you and only you! You know what works better for you. Take it with you everywhere you go. 


That’s all for now,

Stay amazing <3