Anxiety affects millions of Americans, both young and old. As a teacher, I have often had students in my classroom who have been diagnosed with different types of anxiety. Some are treated with therapy and medications. Some hide their anxiety well behind a façade of confidence in the classroom. Some panic before tests, group presentations, and speeches. Teachers rally around these students and try to create the most welcoming and calm environment possible for them. We want them to feel at home and safe in our classrooms.
But what about teachers with anxiety?
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There is a lot of focus about how students with anxiety and panic disorders will have enormous hurdles to face as they return to their classrooms this fall. This is a big concern for many schools, as it should be. However, there is one part of the anxiety equation that is often ignored: many teachers also experience clinical anxiety. This specific COVID-19 crisis will cause them to have a particularly stressful time as well.
A “Normal” School Year
Typically, teachers who have anxiety experience difficulties at the start of each school year. The unknowns can be overwhelming. What will my students be like this year? What new requirements will the district introduce? Will the parents be supportive and kind? How will I get to know all of these students and meet all of their individual needs?
These teachers lose sleep over what is to come for the upcoming school year. They toss and turn and try to breathe deeply, meditate, and let go of the things beyond their control. They do their best to overprepare and perfect everything to make sure that things go as smoothly as possible. The anxious teachers suffer consequences to their personal health and well-being as they attempt to make sure their students are healthy and doing well every day in the classroom.
Facing a Pandemic
After quarantining and stepping away from their classrooms for months, teachers will be even more anxious this year to return to their classrooms during this Coronavirus era. In addition to the normal stress of starting a new school year, they have the added pressure of dealing with safety guidelines, hybrid schedules, online learning, social distancing, face coverings, and health risks. It can be a lot to take on emotionally.
The thought of standing in front of classrooms full of masked students multiple times a day while breathing into a mask for eight hours a day is enough to make some teachers’ hearts start racing. Anxiety can trigger breathing issues, and breathing into a mask might make some of these teachers want to gasp for air.
Calming the Anxiety
Many teachers don’t have a choice but to face their anxiety head-on. They have to keep working to have a salary and benefits, so they don’t have the option to stay at home and avoid their classrooms during this school year. Their fears of health risks and panic attacks have to be dealt with if they plan to survive this upcoming year. So what can these anxious teachers do?
Find Support in the School Building
Reach out to your colleagues. It’s likely there are a lot of anxious and concerned teachers experiencing similar thoughts. See if your neighboring teacher would be available to peek in to cover your classroom if you need a moment to yourself to catch your breath in the hallway or restroom. Host a Zoom call before school starts to brainstorm ways you can all support one another and share ideas to help make this year less stressful.
Lower Your Standards
There is a lot of pressure to perform as well as you have done in the past in your classroom, but you have to remember that different circumstances will yield different results. And this is okay. Things might not run as smoothly at first as everyone gets adjusted to the new learning environment. Lessons that rocked in the past might have to be modified to work differently now. This year will be about survival and learning first. Meeting learning expectations will be an accomplishment. Any amazing lessons that exceed expectations will be a gift.
You have to take care of yourself if you plan to take care of others. This means eating right, exercising, and getting enough sleep. These need to be your top priority to help manage your stress and anxiety. If you’re tired or hungry, you will feel off-balance and not be able to be at peace. You have to model good self-care for others in your family and for your students in the classroom.
Contact your doctor if things become so overwhelming that your day-to-day life is a struggle. There is no need to suffer through bouts of panic and anxiety if your physician can help get you on a better track. There are medications and therapies that can help heal you during this stressful time.
Teaching is an extremely stressful job. For teachers who suffer from anxiety, the layers of panic can rise to a whole different level. During this pandemic, teachers need to take extra care of themselves so they can avoid feeling overwhelmed and stressed out every day. We must not forget to take care of our teachers so that they can take care of our students.