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Mrs Humanties talks wellbeing

All this week, the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families together with Teacher Tapp are conducting a survey examining the mental health and wellbeing of thousands of teachers across the country. To mark this initiative we are publishing 5 pieces from 5 guest bloggers to get their thoughts and  experience of the mental health and wellbeing of school staff.

Victoria Hewett, also known as Mrs Humanities, is a twice-nominated UK blog award finalist, teacher and soon to be author. She has been teaching in Kent for six years and is currently subject leader for Geography. Victoria is passionate about T&L, wellbeing and mental health having set up #teacher5adaybuddybox to help others with theirs.

May 2018 marks two years since I started taking anti-depressants. Something I thought I’d never be one to need. But April 2016 was the month of my undoing. Months, if not years of work-related stress and the resulting anxiety led to me having a mental breakdown. I walked into my classroom on the Monday morning after the Easter break and I couldn’t do it. I had to get out of the room.

The anxiety that hit was so crippling I had no words to convey how I felt. Tears streamed and streamed. Eventually I went home. Tuesday morning came, as soon as I woke from the terrible night’s sleep I knew again that I couldn’t go in. I ended up taking 3 weeks off work and only went back when I was put in a position that made me feel I had no choice.

During my time off sick, I tried to rediscover myself. Although I didn’t feel like it, I made sure I got up early and ate something. I’d go for a speed walk once a day to get my heart rate up, to get me outside and to give me time to listen to music without distraction. I read books and watched too many series on Netflix. I will admit I felt guilty, incredibly guilty but these were all the things I hadn’t done over the Easter holiday. Instead I’d worked my socks off planning lessons, marking assessments, completing admin… and the list goes on.

I’m on the mend, if not almost fully recovered but work took its toll and my mental and physical health suffered. I started sharing my experience this time last year as a result I’ve been contacted my countless numbers of others in the same of similar position but it shouldn’t be that way.

I’ve written about my experience with mental health a lot over the last year so rather than share the darker side of my experience with you; here are my top tips for protecting yours.

  1. Learn to say no. It took me having a mental breakdown and a year on anti-depressants to learn but learning to say no is vital to your wellbeing, your mental health and your family and friends. It takes practice and at first the guilt may feel overbearing, but it’s worth it in the end. Start small, don’t mark that whole set of books tonight; stop at a set time. What happened? Did the world fall apart? Probably not. It may feel like you just shift the workload and you’ll need to catch up but as you start saying no to little things, you’ll find it all starts to fit into place as you start saying no to bigger things. You just need to prioritise the important things and the things that don’t get done… well I’ve learnt they usually don’t get mentioned by anyone else and it was actually me creating the pressure to get it done in the first place.
  1. Find yourself. Make time for the things you enjoy or enjoyed as the case maybe. #Teacher5aday is a great way of helping you find time for yourself or alternately just set aside time each week to do something you enjoy whether it be reading, exercise, a craft. Whatever the activity, time for yourself is important.
  1. Help others. In February 2016, I launched the #Teacher5adayBuddyBox scheme, there are now over 1600 participants signed up from across the UK, Europe and the World. Helping others to bring joy and friendship to their lives brings a smile, makes me focus on my own wellbeing and has allowed me to develop many inspiring friendships. Whether you set something similar up in your own school or do something else that helps others such as volunteering a few hours at a charity shop, running a staff fitness club at school or whatever else every little thing helps. Help others and you help yourself.
  1. Move school. If it’s the workplace, be brave and make a move. Not all schools are the same. My first school was intense, high expectations but very supportive. Second school, a regular kind of challenge at first but then the workload exponentially grew and grew, felt unsupported by leadership and the breakdown occurred. My third school is very close to being the perfect fit. I was scared to apply for other teaching jobs, fearing that wherever I taught I wouldn’t cope and after spending two years ploughing my heart and soul into building a department from scratch I didn’t want to leave the hard work behind. Taking the plunge and applying was the best thing I did. I love my current school and envisage staying here for a long time providing there is opportunity for progression.
  1. Talking to the Education Support Partnership was the most important thing I did during my breakdown. Their counsellors are fantastic, supportive and knowledgeable. Speaking to them I swear kept me in teaching. Without the multiple conversations during April and May 2016 and their encouragement I know I would have ended up leaving the profession. Now I talk a lot more about the day-to-day stresses of the job with friends and family; I try not to bottle my emotions and anxieties up. There is always someone willing to listen whether you know them personally or not, talking is vital so make sure you make time to do it.

Best wishes,