The last academic year was challenging for me on many levels, in fact every level. It was a case of so many things were happening, so many plates were spinning that all I could do was get my head down and “survive” every day. Just as a general overview I had started a new school in September 2017, in the hope that I will progress with my career, rather than having to deal with a political minefield, bullying and intimidation which caused me to leave the five other schools I had worked at. A number of us were new here, so that helped. I side stepped from always being a second in science role to leading Teaching and Learning in the dept. I love the coaching and mentoring of trainees and NQT’s and I always put my heart and soul into this. However, I had a very challenging time with one trainee who was not quite ready, though I had tried everything I could go ensure he would follow his dreams (he’ll return to teaching later in life now, though I learned a lot about myself – another blog!).
Furthermore, I was teaching out of my specialism, to a top set Yr11 and other sets which meant I had to learn the topics and exam questions before I could plan and teach them. In addition I taught AS and A2 topics that I had not taught before. Again, learning, before planning, then delivering. Teething issues had to be ironed out, as they would in any department where over half of it is new, including new management. Workload was just becoming off the scale as many new initiatives needed to be put in place.
In amongst this, my Mother had been taken ill in hospital. In 7 months she’d had 7 hospital admissions from her nursing home (she had a stroke in 2010 and was unable to move, speak, eat or talk). So a hospital admission meant me & family taking it in turns to stay around the clock, which included staying up at night, planning and marking at the hospital, and coming to teach the next day, sometimes with very little sleep (she was prone to aspiratory pneumonia so we had to keep an eye on her). Recently she’d spent the last 4 months or so in hospital. Where family members needed support, I gave it. Some needed it more than others on a regular basis. With Mum in hospital, it caused major instability within the family dynamics, emotions were rising high, patience and tolerance was running low. Giving up was not an option, keep going was.
In the meantime, the usual issues that form part and parcel of forming a team was throwing all sorts of things up, instabilities, high emotions, high stress levels. Everyone has a battle they are fighting as did everyone around me, including staff in the department, and all they needed was a listening ear to their emotions. ….where possible I did what I could and many supported me too. Students were stressed for various reasons, I supported and encouraged where I could, so I did regular meditation sessions with my A level students and some with Yr11.
I got tired, exhausted at times but kept up with everything the best I could, under the circumstances. I thought I managed it quite well. Yet did I….?
The psychological stress I was experiencing manifested in the following ways:-
- a chronic sinus infection with ear infection which went on for months.
- Asthma not regulating very well so always out of breath.
- Persistent cough throughout most of the year.
- Unexplained weight loss, persistent tiredness and feeling unwell all the time… I was diagnosed with anaemia (never had it before!)
- A small insect bite on foot which lead to cellulitis (where A&E though I had been either on immunosuppressants or very stressed as my immune system was very low – chronic stress is what she said).
- High blood pressure (never had that before either) doctor said that along with other symptoms was all work related stress so gave me a contact to stress counselling, as I wasn’t talking to anyone about work stresses & told me to start going to the gym).
- Viral chest infection where I was taken into hospital, along with other symptoms, in July, at same time as Mum passed away so I was signed off for 2 weeks sick and bereavement.
- I visited the GP in the last 9 months more than I had in the last 9 years!
This prompted me to read the book “When The Body Says No, The Cost of Hidden Stress” by @DrMate. It is backed up by research, very easy to read and understand. He highlights there are so many illnesses that start as an emotion. If emotions are repressed, and anger or frustration cannot be expressed, over time this will start building up in your system. The emotional centres in the brain, the hormonal network, nervous system and immune system are all linked. Affect one, you affect them all. They cannot be isolated. Many of the things that affect them arises in childhood.
So, take a scenario if someone is doing things or saying things that are unprofessional, or you are shouted at, patronised, intimidated, lied to etc., each time this happens you have a psychological response. Your adrenal glands release adrenalin. Your heart beats faster. Your breathing gets faster. Blood is diverted away as you go into the fight or flight mode. Your emotions also rise high, your nervous system gets heightened.
Then you rationalise whether to say anything or not, or just leave it as there is no point….until the next time. Take any situation that removes you from your authentic self, or represses your emotions, and your voice, or causes excessive levels of anxiety. Persistently facing this “fight or flight” response and high cortisol levels (stress hormone which inhibits the immune system, amongst other things) every single day without being able to do something about it, or say something so you are heard, or stand up for yourself will result in physical health issues. Even if someone comes across calm, they have learned a skill to do this (maybe through things like meditation), yet persistently stressful situations still cause the psychological stress response and eventually it affects your immune system, and other systems resulting in chronic stress related conditions, including autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis etc. So, if you don’ t say no, as @DrMate points out, your body will say no!
(Let me know on Twitter if you want me to do a brief overview blog of the book one I’ve finished it, in the meantime his You Tube clip, lengthy yet fascinating to watch/listen to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c6IL8WVyMMs).
So, how does all this relate to my pledge?
When my Mother passed away, it had a profound effect on me. It put my life in perspective and made me realise life is finite. The time we have on Earth is finite. Also each day that goes by is a day less, so how will I spend that day? Furthermore, my Mother took nothing with her. This is where ego ends. She left a legacy of her heart, compassion, her love and kindness. Yet on a day to day basis, I see people struggle to show kindness or heart, even seeing these attributes as a weakness.
So here are my pledges to try and minimise carrying “hidden stress” (I seem to have perfected that!)
10% braver emotionally:-
- To remind myself that I am equal to anyone else that even though they may have a position of authority and title, it doesn’t make me any less human.
- To ensure I do not put up with anyone shouting at me, being aggressive or trying to intimidate me. To tackle it and speak to the person rather than just leaving it. If it doesn’t work, then I have choices, wherever that may be.
- Not to hold my breath and run on the treadmill of work until the next holiday! Ensure I stop and smell the roses in term time.
- To book breaks away in advance (have started to do this – short yoga break booked already J).
- To take time out for myself more often and know that my good enough is definitely good enough so I know when to stop.
All these are to look after my emotional wellbeing. Once I’ve done that I know the mental and physical wellbeing will follow which will include meditation, personal energy management, sleep for at least 7 hours a day, continue with slimming world & healthy eating (most of the time) … and stick to it!
Thank you for taking the time to read this and I’d like you to reflect :
In what area of your life are your emotions being repressed, dismissed or unheard? What one thing will you/could you do to improve your emotional wellbeing?
Best wishes, love and hugs for the coming academic year.