As we wrap up Mental Health Awareness Month, we sat down with Tami Zak, a local licensed marriage and family therapist for Grow Therapy for a Q&A on how students and teachers can work on their own mental health during summer break.
What are some things that people can do to overcome stress?
The first thing to remember is that this is a season, meaning it has a beginning and end. The sprint is not forever. So identify something to look forward to. It will help you drive to the finish, reduce stress and even improve your performance. It may be a trip, having time off or - my favorite - a staycation at home.
Another strategy is to prioritize self care. Don't change routines that keep you strong like working out, journaling, meditating, taking a walk in nature or deep breathing. It may seem easier to let these go in the sprint to the end of the school year, but don't do it. These things help you to cope with the stress and keep you on track.
What are some methods for relieving stress that would work especially well for students and teachers?
Keeping your mind in the present and slowing the ever-present worrying thoughts and feelings helps to reduce stress. The mind and body need a break from to-do lists and high-intensity activities leading up to the end of the school year. Get out and walk in nature or sit outside and take in the breeze, the sounds of the birds and rustling of leaves in the trees. All this helps reduce stress. Journaling is another great way to slow thoughts - human beings have thousands of thoughts every single day, which by itself can be exhausting. When you journal, you can only write about 20 words per minute, which naturally slows down your mind. It's a great way to be present, to unwind and to take stock of all the things you accomplished.
Why is it important to take care of our mental health?
Research shows that mental health is a factor in the top 15 most deadly diseases in America. There is a brain-body connection that drives your overall health and well-being. Working through your emotions instead of denying or ignoring them can be a lifesaver, limiting or preventing issues like depression, anxiety, addiction and other unhealthy coping mechanisms that are hazardous to your health.
What negative effects does stress have on the body?
Not sure I'm qualified to respond to this question - this feels a bit more like a physician needs to respond to this question.
What are the signs and symptoms of burnout? What are some atypical signs that people might not think is indicative that they are burnt out but is?
Feeling overwhelmed on a daily basis is one of the first signs. If you feel like the you will never get caught up, chances are you're overwhelmed. That leads to hopelessness. You will always be too busy with too much to do. There's no end in sight and you have no control. This triggers a downward spiral, leading to depression. Even things that normally give you joy, no longer do.
Possibly, you are having too little sleep or too much. You may also feel like you aren't as sharp, or what I call brain fog. You may even feel numb altogether and and your mind may be completely blank. Finally, are you feeling detached from your partner or family? If you can't remember the last time you had dinner, went out or simply enjoyed time together, you're running hot and in danger of burnout.
What can companies do to ensure their employees (especially teachers, as we get closer to the end of the year and they are swamped with work) prioritize their mental health? What kind of services can they offer?
Send reminders of the resources employees may have through their benefits like EAP or mental health benefits through their health plans. Some companies have self care programs - chair massage, yoga classes, gym membership etc. Again, remind employees that these are available to them and encourage employees to take the time needed to access these. Finally, listen to employees. What do they need at the end of the year and can employers support and help them to avoid burnout.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
When it comes to these resources being made available by employers and reminders sent, it is important that employees take advantage. Watch for these signs and prioritize your mental health. Speak to your management and express your need to have time to take advantage - advocate for yourself.