4 Coping Strategies: Learning and Teaching While Stressed or Depressed
Stress and depression are real dangers both for teachers and students. While a certain amount of pressure is good to keep motivated, too much can prevent you from working and harm your health. So if you think that you're struggling, what can you do to help yourself?
Lean on others
Many of the people most prone to depression are the most independent-minded. They try so hard not to put any pressure on others that they over-stretch themselves. Remember, if the people around you are offering to help out then they mean it. When you offer help it's because you want to be helpful, right? Well, so do others.
If no-one's offering then don't be afraid to ask. If you're a student then arrange a meeting with your tutor on how to manage your work. If you're teaching go to your department head or a manager and ask for their help. In either case, it's their job to listen to you. When I was newly teaching I struggled to ask for help. But when I did, when I acknowledged the challenges I was facing, others leapt in with support and advice. A huge weight lifted from my shoulders knowing that they were there for me.
Recognize the problem:
Half the problem can be recognizing that you have a problem, and that it's not your fault.
If you feel stressed at the thought of your work, if you struggle to face getting out of bed in the morning, if your concentration frequently fails, if you find yourself unable to let go of work concerns in the evening and relax, these things may feel normal to you, but they aren't. They are signs that you need help.
Looking for that help isn't a failure. We all lean on each other from time to time, and everyone faces stresses at some point in their lives that they can't cope with alone. The failure would be not to take care of yourself but to push on regardless of the consequences for your health.
Find your boundaries:
Once you've acknowledged the problem, work out where your limits are. How much activity can you cope with in a day, and how can you keep within that limit? For students this may be a matter of time management and of temporarily giving up some extra-curricular activities. For teachers it can mean reducing marking and falling back on old lesson plans, or using other people's resources.
When you feel that you're reaching that limit give yourself a break. Sit down, rest and try to relax. It's the only way that you'll get better.
It's not forever.
However dark things get, remember that it's not forever. With rest and help you can get through anything. Believe in others and take care of yourself. In time this too shall pass.
Too much stress can lead to clinical depression, for which you should seek medical help. If the feelings I mentioned above persist for weeks on end, or if you find yourself breaking down in tears for very little reason, then go to see your doctor. It may not feel like an illness, but this can be a sign of a change in your brain chemistry as a result of all the pressure. Any decent doctor will treat you seriously and sympathetically if you go to them for help, and they can provide support to help you through.
I've been through this myself. I know what it's like. So please, don't leave it until it's too late. Take care of yourself.
Picture by Celestine Chua via Flickr creative commons
About Andrew Knighton
I'm a writer and ex-teacher. You can find more of my writing on education at: http://www.degreediary.com/bloggers/27 I also have a blog on reading and writing: https://andrewknighton.wordpress.com/