Guidance for teachers on how to handle coronavirus anxiety

People react in different ways to a crisis. We have had a few weeks of coronavirus anxiety and now suddenly schools are closed, examinations are cancelled, and there are so many more questions than answers.

You may feel that the rug has been pulled out from under your feet, with everything that you have been working for, all your students have been working for being taken away. You also have to be emotionally supportive to your own family, your students and colleagues who are also reeling from this.

A combination of uncertainty and responsibility can cause most of us some level of stress and exacerbate any mental health conditions we may already manage. Teachers often feel that their first responsibility is their students, but it should really be yourself. Unless you are feeling in a stable state of mental health you will not be able to support others. Here are some tips for dealing with this.

Adjusting to change

We all need time to adjust to sudden, unexpected change. This will take a few days. You may feel lost, bewildered or unsettled. It may affect your sleep, your eating and your emotions. This is normal. Accepting it and riding it out is ok. In a few days, you will find that you adjust and start to make sensible decisions.

Dealing with uncertainty

At the moment teachers don’t know what is expected of them over the school closure period, we don’t know how long it will be for, we don’t know how examinations will be dealt with. All this uncertainty can cause stress, disorientation, and knocks our professional confidence. Here are some strategies to manage this uncertainty:

Focus on what you can control. You may want to list what is worrying you and identify what you can control and what you cannot control. Let go of those things beyond your control and actively change those you can.

Develop new routines. Managing worry, stress and anxiety of your own or others is tiring. Expect less of yourself, prioritise what needs to be done, let some things go. Start later and finish earlier, plan more time to rest. Build in opportunities for ‘headspace’, quiet, the things that make you relax. For example, commit half an hour to reading a book before bed, sit in the garden, maybe go for a walk. Make arrangements with colleagues and family to give you that space and return the favour.

Stay connected with others. Talk to your colleagues about your concerns. Make agreements about how you will manage this crisis together, how to support each other.

Getting further help

If you feel overwhelmed, seek help. We have advice on page 6 of the ASE Science Teacher SOS document. There is also support from https://www.educationsupport.org.uk/

Remember your emotional needs are important, you have to actively manage your time and the activities you do to ensure you meet those needs. Take care of you.

Andy Chandler-Grevatt, CSciTeach, is a Senior Lecturer in science education at the University of Brighton and assessment editor and author for Oxford University Press. He volunteers as the ASE Surrey and Sussex Regional Chair and sits on the ASE 11-19 Committee. Andy is on a constant quest for a work-life balance and shares his ideas here: https://youtu.be/tt4CCHuUefk