Teacher wellbeing: little things mean a lot

Kerri Carr

Prioritising your wellbeing will be of benefit to you and your family, and make you better equipped to support the mental health and wellbeing of students in your care, says Hunter Institute of Mental Health program manager Gavin Hazel.

Don’t find excuses, such as lack of time, to put others ahead of yourself; school teachers are one of the top occupational groups for work-related mental disorder claims (Safe Work Australia 2015).

Dr Hazel says wellbeing is important because it helps us to function well in the world and provides us with feelings of happiness, enjoyment, curiosity, contentment and engagement.

Wellbeing also contributes to our mental health — that is, our capacity to manage our thoughts, feelings and behaviours so that we can enjoy life, maintain positive relationships and work towards our goals, he says.

“Evidence from research and lived experience both point to the positive contribution that an emphasis on wellbeing can have for people.

"By reducing risks and increasing protective factors we can both promote mental health and prevent mental ill health.”

Dr Hazel offers encouragement to those who think it is impossible for their mental wellbeing to improve: “Time and again I’ve seen what a difference a small change can make,” he said.

“Change is possible and that re-energising and re-engagement gives people a more rounded and balanced life experience. They thrive more — in and out of work.”

Dr Hazel recommends you begin by putting aside time for one of the following activities (to enhance energy, restore health and reducing stress) and then try the others.

Make time for these

1. Mindfulness: paying attention to the present moment. “Mindfulness, research has demonstrated, increases grey matter density in the areas of the brain associated with learning, memory, emotional regulations, emotional intelligence, self-awareness, compassion and empathy,” Dr Hazel says.

2. Gratitude: being thankful for something or expressing appreciation. Dr Hazel says the benefits of practising gratitude include lower blood pressure, more compassion and generosity.

3. Nurturing relationships: foster and maintain your connections with friends and family. “Friends are good medicine – they encourage us to achieve and thrive, protect us during difficult times and help us in recovery.”.

4. Self-awareness and reflective practice: devoting time to consciously and actively thinking about our thoughts, feeling, relationships and actions. “Many professional groups use reflective practice as part of their practice. It can also be used as a self-care strategy," Dr Hazel said.

"The benefits of reflective practice include developing on skills and
knowledge, improved problem solving, and clarifying boundaries and issues,” he added.

“Keeping a reflective journal is one simple strategy you can use to capture your experiences, thoughts, and feelings,” he suggests.

Other tips for maintaining well-
being include:

  • healthy diet, regular exercise and adequate sleep
  • monitoring and managing your stress in positive ways
  • making time for relaxation and fun
  • striving for a balance between your work and your personal life
  • developing interests and friendships outside of your work/study environment (visit responseability.org for more details).

Ask for help

People in caring professions can often neglect their own wellbeing and don’t seek help when it is needed, Dr Hazel warns.

“Being able to seek help is a strength,” he says.

Each year, in the Australian adult population:

  • about 14 per cent will experience an anxiety disorder in any 12-month period
  • about 4 per cent will experience a major depression episode in a 12- month period
  • approximately 45 per cent of all Australians will experience one of the more common mental illnesses at some stage in their lives.

Dr Hazel says that each year approximately one in five people will experience a mental illness.

“Reach out for support when you need it,” he advises, “from colleagues, friends, family, your GP, a psychologist, or an employee assistance program through your workplace or Lifeline, a 24-hour telephone counselling service (13 11 14).”

See the Response Ability’s Wellbeing and self-care fact sheet here.

Gavin Hazel presented workshops at Federation’s Principals’ Conference in Term 1 on Supporting and Leading Staff Wellbeing: Concepts and Strategies. Teachers Health Fund sponsored a research project, conducted by the Hunter Institute of Mental Health, on supporting resilience and wellbeing in beginning teachers.

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