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Teachers’ Mental Health – My TES Article

TesWhen I was asked to write an article for the TES about my experiences with anxiety and depression as a teacher and the more general issue of teachers’ mental health, I was delighted. If you are a teacher reading this I hope that you won’t be able to identify with it but unfortunately it is a far too familiar tale.
Something has to change but unfortunately public perception still seems to be that teachers work 9am-3pm and have such long holidays that it must be a dream of a job. We have to start raising awareness and shouting about the conditions our teachers are working in, the impact our current education system is having on our children and the horror that is the upcoming budget cuts. Hopefully the more we share our experiences the more chance there is something will listen and make the changes so desperately needed in schools.

TES Article: 

“Statistics about female primary teachers being more likely to commit suicide come as no surprise to this former teacher

When I recently read that female primary school teachers are 42 per cent more likely to commit suicide than the average woman, it made me angry but did not come as a surprise.

I am a very sensitive person. This seems to be a negative in society these days, but I know that it is my biggest asset. I care when children are upset and I care when colleagues are stressed.

But being a sensitive person made it almost impossible for me to teach. I was a good teacher and I enjoyed my job, but I would also regularly lie awake at night worrying if my best was good enough.

At times, the anxiety was crippling. Senior management would often criticise the one thing out of a hundred that I hadn’t managed to do. Parents didn’t notice the 29 kids I had managed to hear read that week, but were angry because I hadn’t had a chance to hear their child.

And it wasn’t only me. I would look around at my colleagues and see them drowning in paperwork, with little or no energy left for forming meaningful relationships. I heard teachers ask for help because they were waking up every morning feeling unable to face another day.”

Read the full article.

No one is Perfect!

AnxietyNo one is perfect. We hear it all the time but do we really believe it is ok to be less than perfect?

This is one of the hardest blogs I have ever written, but I know I have to write it. Partly because it is a therapeutic must, but mostly because I know that many of you reading it need to read what it will contain.

So what is this challenging subject?

Well, I have been struggling with anxiety recently.

I know what some of you will be thinking:

“Well, she should know better shouldn’t she?”

And, yes I do. I have been applying all the things I advocate for everyone else; breathing techniques, keeping up with my meditation and mindfulness, giving myself time to take stock, eating well, resting… you name it I have done it.

I promise.

So “what’s the problem?” I hear you cry.

Well, despite all this there have been times when I have been completely overwhelmed.

I have cried a lot. Hugged a lot. Slept a lot. For a little while I even ate chocolate (pure poison for someone who is not only dairy intolerant but also chocolate intolerant!).

Here’s the thing though. I am not perfect. No-one is.

Sometimes I want to be though and therein lies the problem. I want to be able to do everything, help everyone, be kind to everyone and be as successful as possible at everything I do.

Who doesn’t?

So when I have a difficult time personally, which I have the last few months, I feel overwhelmed like everyone else at times. I lost my beloved Grandma, family members have been struggling, and of course I have been caring for the world and forgetting me. But that I can manage. I have spent years doing it.

Until I hit a bump in the road.

This time that bump was a verbal attack which knocked me off my axis.

It’s not like it has never happened before, but I rarely upset people, I am generally accommodating and whilst not often a push over, I tend go out of my way to be kind and helpful and make life as pleasant as possible for everyone. Sometimes I guess you just have to be reminded that other people don’t have the same philosophy as you though.

So, I spent a few days getting myself in a tiz. Wondering if I should have handled things differently, then I had a lovely holiday with my children. When I returned I realised that being back was triggering the same emotional responses I had left.

So what can you do if you feel like this?

  • Well, I have spent a couple of days really tuning in to my inner wisdom. Is this my issue? Can I change anything?
  • I have made sure my diet is supporting my mental health; reduced my sugar intake to virtually zero and eaten lots of fresh fruit and veg and I don’t drink alcohol or coffee anyway, but I have reduced my tea intake.
  • I have been doing my mindful breathing exercises; belly breathing and 7/11 breathing I find to be the most helpful.
  • I have been getting outside; fresh air and connecting with nature, especially in this beautiful sunshine, are so healing.
  • I have been spending lots of time with loved ones. Cuddles, love and feeling supported are so important.
  • I have talked about it. Not to everyone but I rang my parents for a chat, spoke to my sister, my in laws and of course my amazing husband. One of the biggest messages of the “Heads Together” campaign which the young royals are so involved with, is the importance of talking to loved ones and not bottling things up. This has always been my approach, I believe whole heartedly that a problem shared is a problem halved.
  • I gave myself permission to be human.

Every so often I thought “I shouldn’t be going through this , I’m supposed to help others through this”. That perfection monkey crept in.

This is ridiculous. I am human. Not just that, I’m a human who struggled with anxiety all through my late teens and twenties. Anxiety was part of the reason that I got into mindfulness and natural healing in the first place.

How could I expect to just miraculously heal and never have this silent monster raise its head again?

The difference between this short attack and the anxiety of my twenties was that I acknowledged it. I didn’t try to paper over the cracks. I sat in the cracks, explored why I was feeling this way and helped myself heal. I asked for help from friends who are therapists and I allowed myself to be imperfect.

I could easily hide this time if I wanted to. I am more than capable of pretending that I’m ok. Of getting through days with loved ones and even visits to schools. It has been less than a month, I could easily conceal my true emotions on social media, and let’s be honest, very few of you are likely to bump into me doing the weekly food shop!

But one of the things that is most important to me is raising awareness of depression, anxiety and mental health issues.  Spreading the word that it can happen to anyone, at any time. So, how am I being true to my message if I hide away under my duvet while posting about sunshine and flowers online?

So, I am stepping into the light and shouting loud and proud about my recent blip in the hope that it will help someone to realise that it’s ok to be human. It’s ok to stand up and say “I need help”. Anxiety and depression are not about being weak, they are about being strong for too long.

At the moment I seem to have things back under control. I am using all the strategies I mentioned and I feel wonderful. But I am not naïve, I know that this may be a life long struggle. I am working hard to rewire my brain. To stop my need to be perfect. To release my instinct to worry about everyone all the time. But it’s a journey.

Anyone who says they never have a bad day is either so numb that they are unaware of their emotions or isn’t telling the truth.

If you are struggling with anxiety or depression. If you are one of the thousands of people who dreads Mondays, who is wondering whether you will have the strength to get through the week.

Please, please talk to someone.

Talk to me! 

Most of you reading this will have heard everything you have just read before. Most of you will have felt the way I have been feeling. The reason I wanted to write this and be so public about this blip is to let you know that will all the strategies in the world. All the knowledge in the world. Sometimes things still go wrong.

I can honestly say I haven’t had an anxiety attack since I was 24 years old. I’m now 40 and with so much more understanding of mental health issues and how to ease them. Please don’t be fooled into thinking that I have had an easy few years, because that really isn’t the case. It isn’t that life has been easy and this is the first time I have had to deal with anything negative. Believe me I have been the subject of trolls online, I nearly lost my daughter, I was diagnosed with a life altering illness, I have lost loved ones, I have been through all the usual stresses everyone goes through.

The reality is, I have been through much tougher times than I am going through at the moment. The scale of mental health struggles isn’t necessarily relative to the size of the issue. So if you are feeling like you shouldn’t be feeling the way you are because other people are going through much bigger/more challenging times, that’s just not how it works.

I can tell I’m starting to waffle now, but I would love to continue the conversation in my Calmer Classrooms Facebook Group. It is a private group so you can head over and share in a safe place.

If you feel you would benefit from some real support at the moment and you don’t know where to turn, my daily “and breathe…” emails and private Facebook Group are the perfect place to get that loving support as well as lots of tips and resources to help you get through this challenging time.

 

 

Can’t sleep?

Can't sleepIt is estimated that 86% of us suffer with disturbed sleep or insomnia to some degree.

Some people are able to get to sleep but then wake in the early hours and can’t get back to sleep (often writing lists or worrying about the day ahead). Other people can’t get to sleep in the first place. Either way a few simple tricks, which are a bit more powerful that the usual have a bath and a warm milky drink might be helpful. So before you resort to sleeping pills why not try some of these natural options.

So what are my top tips for getting to sleep, or back to sleep?

Show your muscles how to relax

When you are stressed or anxious, or if you have been snacking through the evening and your body hasn’t used all the energy the best method for relaxing and helping you sleep is to get physical.

The simple act of tensing and relaxing all the muscles in your body in sequence will help you to relax and sleep. This works by using up the cortisol and excess energy that your body has produced, either in fight or flight reaction to your stress, or due to the excess calories you have consumed. By using your muscles you expel some of that energy and allow your body to calm down and sleep.

Begin by tensing your feet, then your lower legs, upper legs, stomach and bottom, one arm, the other arm and finally your face and neck. You can then finish the process by tensing your whole body and releasing. You will instantly feel more relaxed and will find it easier to sleep.

Left nostril breathing

This is a yoga technique which involves lying on your left hand side and gently placing your finger on your right nostril so you are only breathing through your left nostril. Breathe deeply and slowly using only your left nostril and it will reduce your blood pressure and calm your body.

Belly Breathing

This mindful breathing technique involves simply lying on your back with your hands gently resting on your stomach. As you breathe deeply, feel your breath entering your body, feel your tummy and hands rising. As the breath leaves your body feel your hands and tummy fall and the breath leaving through your nostrils.  This is a very calming breathing technique. Often people will fall asleep during the process.

Meditate

Guided meditations are brilliant for helping you to sleep. They calm your body and your mind and give your busy head something to listen to. It is the adult version of a bedtime story. There are many guided meditations on YouTube simply find one that appeals and where the person’s speaking voice is pleasant and listen as you relax into a sleepy state.

White Chestnut Bach Flower Essence

This natural flower essence can be bought in health food stores and is for calming the mind. It removes unwanted thoughts and repetitive thought patterns which can cause sleep issues.

If you want more advice about this there are many practitioners and the health food store staff will be able to help.

Smiling Mind

This is a wonderful free app which you can download from the app store. It takes you through a programme of mindfulness which is suitable for you. You can use it whenever you need to feel calmer or to build your personal mindfulness practise. (I am recommending this as I have used it personally and with clients, I am in now way benefiting from this recommendation).

 

There are many, many more techniques. If you are struggling to sleep try these and see if they help. If not, let me know and I’ll share some more in a few weeks.

 

Ten Commandments of Stress and Depression

Ten Commandments of stressWhen we think about stress and depression we tend to think of external factors which can contribute to our mental health. By making a few changes to our own thought processes and adjusting our approach to life we can have a huge impact though. I came across these Ten Commandments of Stress many years ago on a course. At the time I was a fairly typical twenty-something:

  • wanting everyone to like me
  • worried about having my hair and make up done perfectly all the time
  • agreeing to do things for people because I thought it would make them like me more and that they would help me in return (NB not everyone does!!)
  • doing lots of things because I thought that was what I was supposed to be doing not because it made my life better or made me happier….

The list goes on and I’m sure I’m not alone.

I also know that, unfortunately, I was not alone in being diagnosed with depression. After only a term in a very challenging inner city school it took hold. I was lucky because I had amazing support and I managed to pull myself out of it within months. Not everyone is so lucky.

What can you do to help yourself and others who may be struggling with stress or depression?

It is so important to spot the early signs of stress and depression before it takes hold of you. If you don’t know how to spot them please read my earlier post: Stress: Do you know the signs?

In my experience teachers are the most compassionate, dedicated, hard working and community minded of people. This can unfortunately lead to them being take advantage of, by the Government, by SLT’s, by parents and even by colleagues. Set clear boundaries and know that it is ok not to be perfect all the time (despite what OFSTED might make you believe!).

Make your mental health a priority.

Set good examples for your peers, children and your class.

Be a better teacher and a happier person.

You owe it to yourself and everyone who loves you.

 

If you are looking for resources to help yourself and your school with relaxation and mindfulness check out my relaxation resources.

Maybe you just want to dip your toes in the water and see how it can impact on your class. Why not try one of my free lesson plans which are available on my blog?