Teachers at risk of anxiety amidst pressure and disruption – Dr Aneshree Moodley, a member of the South African Society of Psychiatrists (SASOP) – specialises in child and adolescent psychiatry, talks to #HeartBreakfast…

Just over a month in after the last lockdown and extended school holidays towards end July, teachers are at risk of anxiety due to pressure and disruption. Dr Aneshree Moodley offers some insight into how teachers can manage their own possible anxiety and depression yet at the same time need to look out for children’s anxiety/depression in their class rooms.

Recommended practical steps that teachers can take to maintain their mental health and reduce stress levels, starting with focusing on what they can control.

  1. Choosing how to spend their time and making healthy choices such as getting sufficient sleep, staying hydrated, limiting alcohol intake and eating regular, healthy meals.
  2. Make time for self-care – exercise, rest, reading, writing in a journal, meditating or spending time on a hobby helps to create balance and promote mental health.
  3. Model self-compassion. “We teach students the basics of self-compassion, but we also need to model it. Be kinder to yourself. This will benefit your mental wellness.”
  4. Set reasonable expectations. “We have to acknowledge that we are in the midst of a pandemic and it is not business as usual. We can’t expect to be as productive or as organised as before while having to balance teaching, caretaking and managing households. Set small realistic goals and expectations.”
  5. Maintain connection. Covid-19 shutdowns and restrictions have made the last 18 months a time of isolation, while social connection promotes mental health and wellness.

In touch with family, friends and colleagues, making time to connect and catch up, to share challenges as much as good news, even if only virtually.

  1. Micro-recharge – make time for “micro moments” to pause and allow your system to recover and re-set amidst stress.

Dr Moodley suggests small activities such as being mindful while hand-washing, taking deep breaths and observing your movements; or climbing stairs slowly and mindfully to give yourself a small break.

  1. Also, recommends the “30-3-30 approach” – actions that can be taken in 30 seconds, 3 minutes or 30 minutes to take a break and switch off to recover when feelings of panic or being unable to cope arise. These could include:
    1. 30 seconds – take slow deep breaths, counting to 3 on inhale and exhale; look out of a window and focus on each thing you can see; sit on a chair and focus only on the feeling of the chair pressing into your back and bottom; learn a favourite, inspiring quote to remember in times of stress.
    2. 3 minutes – do a quick household task; make a quick phone call to a friend; do a word puzzle or listen to a favourite piece of music; make a hot drink and focus on the steps and the feeling of the warm mug in your hands.
    3. 30 minutes – take a pampering bath; de-clutter one cupboard; watch a TV programme or listen to a podcast; get out for some fresh air and sunshine.

In all of these actions, she said, the importance was in doing it mindfully and focusing only on the activity at hand.

On supporting learners coping with uncertainty, stress and grief, Dr Moodley advised:

  1. Admit that the event/s happened. Acknowledge the reality of being scared, worried or upset.
  2. Do not pretend that this is all normal. Acknowledge that the “new normal” is not normal at all.
  3. It is helpful to communicate the optimism of support, that asking for help can ease panic and distress and provide hope.
  4. Encourage students to express their fears and anxiety openly.
  5. Allow students to feel like they can also help – ask them to think about how they could make a difference.
  6. Take concerns of depression, suicide and anxiety seriously and make contact with professional support of a psychologist or psychiatrist, or contact a helpline such as SADAG.