Sign of the times, a school closed due to coronavirus notice chalked on the board.
Sign of the times, a school closed due to coronavirus notice chalked on the board.

Expert advises SA teachers to manage effects of stress levels caused by Covid-19

By Sibusiso Mboto Time of article published Aug 30, 2021

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DURBAN – A leading expert in psychology has called on teachers across the country to adopt certain habits that will help them in managing their stress levels, as South Africa continues to deal with the Covid-19 and its effects on everyday life.

Dr Alicia Porter, a member of the South African Society of Psychiatrists (SASOP) said teachers, who are expected to help learners recover lost ground with learning, are themselves increasingly becoming stress victims and face risk of burnout.

Porter, whose interest in the field is adolescents’ and women’s mental health said amid reports of rising levels of anxiety and depression in children and teenagers, mental health professionals were warning against neglecting the well-being of teachers too.

“For teachers to be able to offer positive support to learners, it is important that they are able to understand, identify and address their own emotional needs and possible mental health issues. It is important not to fall into the trap of giving relentlessly without stopping to take stock of one’s own psychological needs, “ Porter stressed.

She suggested practical steps that teachers can take to maintain their mental health and reduce stress levels, starting with focusing on what they can control including:

  • 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.
  • Making 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.
  • Modelling 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.”
  • Setting 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.”
  • Maintaining connection. Covid-19 shutdowns and restrictions have made the last 18 months a time of isolation, while social connection promotes mental health and wellness. Porter recommends keeping 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.
  • Micro-recharging – make time for “micro moments” to pause and allow your system to recover and re-set amid stress. Dr Porter 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.

In addition to this Porter also recommended the “30-3-30 approach” – actions that can be taken in 30 seconds, three 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:

  • Taking 30 seconds of slow deep breaths.
  • Counting to three 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.
  • Using three minutes to 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.
  • Enjoying a 30-minute pampering bath.
  • Declutter one cupboard; watch a TV programme or listen to a podcast.
  • Get out for some fresh air and sunshine.

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

THE MERCURY

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