Coping in the Classroom: Teachers Dealing with Depression & Anxiety

Teaching is hard.

No really... teaching is REALLY REALLY HARD.

Teaching can be so incredibly stressful, overwhelming and tiring. That stress often follows educators beyond the school day, creeps into their personal time and seeps into the cracks and crevasses and into every aspect of their lives. The stress that I'm talking about here is just the 'normal' stress that pretty much all teachers deal with. This high level of job related stress can become almost unbearable when combined with other common mental health issues like depression and anxiety.

If you're a teacher (mother/father, wife/husband... human....) who struggles with depression and/or anxiety, you are NOT alone!

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, nearly 40 million American adults deal with some type of anxiety or depressive disorder. More specifically, about 16.1 million American adults are affected by Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) and depression is the LEADING cause of disability in individuals between 15-44 years of age. About 6.8 million American adults are affected by Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and women are nearly twice as likely to be affected as men. And to top it off, anxiety often co-occurs with depression! Those stats are NOT just a drop in the bucket; there are millions of people out there dealing with this!

I personally have dealt with my own anxiety and depression for more than 15 years and have only recently come to understand it better. I struggled silently for far too many years and kept my challenges a secret from most of my colleagues and friends. I felt ashamed and even felt that anxiety and depression made me a less competent educational professional. I've finally come to know, beyond a doubt, that anxiety and depression do not now, nor ever did, make me any less of a person, teacher, mother or wife; if anything, depression and anxiety have absolutely made me a stronger and more self-aware person!

For the record, the following isn't intended to be used a medical advice. I'm just sharing the coping strategies that I've found helpful over the years in hopes that something on my list might also help others. I've also included affiliate links for specific products that I personally LOVE and find helpful.

1. See a professional - Don't be ashamed to ask for help - revisit the stats above to remind yourself that you are NOT alone! If you're struggling with stress, anxiety and feeling depressed, this is where I'd start. Find a professional to talk to: a social worker, psychologist, religious counselor etc. Unless you're certain you need medication, you don't need to go straight to a psychiatrist; then, if and when the time comes for medication, a primary care doctor might be willing to prescribe and manage medication if you can't see a psychiatrist right away.

2. Fuel your body with something healthy -
  Try to remember to care for your body a little. This can be really difficult when you're sinking into depression and/or anxiety. Eat something healthy a few times a day. I strive for as much balance as I can find in this area because my first response to stress and feelings of anxiety is often to eat unhealthy, high fat comfort foods like french fries, cookies or chips or not to eat anything at all. This is where I employ things like a good multivitamin, a high quality fish oil supplement, a green food supplement and easy usually pre-packaged ready to eat (because preparing healthy food when I'm feeling lousy isn't going to happen!) healthy foods like green juice, pre-packaged salads and packs of veggies, fruit, yogurt, nuts etc. This doesn't always work, but I figure that if I eat a salad with my french fries or green juice after the chips or cookies, I'm probably better off than if I skipped the fruit and veggies all together.

3. Move your body - Research suggests that 30 minutes of exercise, 3-5 times a week can be very  helpful in the treatment of anxiety and depression; even as little as 10-15 minutes can be beneficial! I find this strategy very difficult to actually employ when I'm feeling my worst, BUT when I can get my body moving, I feel so much better almost immediately! I've used a Fitbit to track my steps and challenge myself to hit a minimum step count daily. If you can, get out of your classroom during your lunch break and talk a quick walk around the block or to your car to get your heart rate up.

4. Find someone to confide in - Once I started talking about my anxiety and depression with a few trusted coworkers, I immediately felt like a weight was lifted; I was no longer carrying around this shameful secret that no one around me knew about. On days when I'm  really struggling, I let my classroom assistant or teacher friends know and they check in on me, remind me to take an extra bathroom break or just offer a smile when the day gets crazy. Surprisingly, I don't think anyone has judged me harshly or made me feel bad about my anxiety and depression; in fact, I've come to find that many of my colleagues can relate because they have had similar struggles of their own.

5. Remember that 90% is still an A - This is often my go to strategy for when my anxiety gets bad quickly.  I've worked very hard to reframe my expectations for myself on any given day; there is only so much that I can realistically accomplish. I have come to realize that perfection isn't required to be successful, so I've lowered my expectations a bit. Realizing this has taken a huge weight from my shoulders and allowed me to spend just enough energy to finish the things that NEED to be completed and have a little energy left over for myself.

6. Do a little self-care - Find something that you enjoy and do it. Remember to care for yourself a little each day because a small bit of self-care here and there can go a long way. Somedays this means stopping for a coffee on my way to work (or simply having good instant coffee on hand at work for the days that I forget!), walking through a charming local bookshop right after work or listening to my favorite music on my commute. Other days it  means leaving my kids at aftercare a little longer so that I can walk around the thrift store or go get my nails done before I pick them up. Sometimes it means having a glass of wine and ordering takeout when I'm just too tired to cook. When I have a lot of trouble unwinding so that I can actually enjoy these fleeting moments of self-care, a cup of tea, some of this raspberry lemonade or a couple of these homeopathic tablets sometimes help.

7. Try to Think Positive - Consider starting a Gratitude Journal or choose an #anchorword to focus on. Centering your thoughts on something that you're grateful for can be helpful for some; writing down and coming back to the things you're thankful for can remind and retrain your brain to focus on the positive rather than the negative feelings that you're coping with internally. I started #anchorwords to help refocus my thoughts on productive and positive things rather than the chaos that my anxiety was stirring up. Check out my posts on #anchorwords for more ideas.

Do you have any other suggestions to add to the list? Feel free to comment!