Is Feeling Ill A Sign Of Stress?
It's that time of year where there are snotty noses and niggly coughs everywhere! And it doesn't help when you work with children who cough without covering their mouth, sneeze in your face and wipe their nose on their sleeve! At this current time, we are being extra cautious with the cleanliness in our classrooms and will probably be told not to come into school unless you have been tested for the dreaded C-word. Despite all of these cautionary measures - we're still getting sick! But why?
From my experience, stress played a big part in the illnesses I've experienced during my teaching career; from ear infections to chest infections, migraines to stomach cramps, stress was a huge contributing factor to all of them. In the early years of my career, I'd make it through each half term only to be struck down with an illness at the very end and spend my half term holidays recuperating. But as the years went by, I found myself getting ill more often and there are many reasons for that - pushing myself to keep going and not taking the time to rest, not giving my body the time it needs to fully recover from illnesses, chronic stress, eating and drinking shit, staying up late, not exercising, etc.
Stress can get a bad rep - especially from me! But actually, stress is an amazing physiological response that keeps us safe from a potential threat. We may not face bears or struggle for survival like our ancestors did, but we face our own challenges in today's modern world and stress can help us to deal with these.
In small doses it can...
Motivate us to prepare for an exam.
Help us feel confident to lead an assembly or a staff meeting.
Help us ride our wave of nerves during an inspection, etc.
These small doses that last seconds, minutes or hours are known as acute stress. However, a lot of us are experiencing more stress than ever before due to the demands and pressures of the job, leaving us feeling stressed for days, weeks, months and even years! This is known as chronic stress and it is a huge problem in education, with 78% of educational professionals experiencing either behavioural, psychological or physical symptoms due to stress (Teacher Wellbeing Index 2019). Being unwell is physiological feedback from your body that something isn't right and stress can be the main culprit!
Stress releases a hormone called cortisol which triggers your immune system to respond to a threat, for example, a virus. However, when we are living with chronic stress, our body is constantly releasing cortisol and pumping it around the body; this excess cortisol can make us susceptible to illnesses because our immune system becomes less sensitive to the hormone.
What To Look Out For
There are many symptoms and illnesses caused by chronic stress which we delve deeper into in my 'Happy Teacher Course', but here are my top 3 physiological symptoms to look out for...
Back-to-back colds. 🤧 Your immune system is not responding to the threats inside your body, because of the excess cortisol floating around, which makes you a lot more susceptible to cold and flu viruses. And when we work with 30 children every day, no matter how many times we wash our hands and clean the surfaces, we're bound to catch something! 😷
More frequent or worse headaches than usual. 🤯 These are often known as tension headaches, when your back, shoulders, neck, jaw and scalp are tense due to stress. They can be felt as pain, tightness or pressure in the front, sides or top of your head. You may experience sensitivity to light and noise (anyone taught in a dark, silent classroom?) and have difficulty doing tasks you would normally complete.
Digestive issues. There is a connection between your gut and brain, so if your brain is stressed out then so is your gut! Symptoms may include cramping, nausea and vomiting, bloating, constipation and diarrhea.
How To Overcome Stress-Related Illnesses
Take some time to rest - even if it means calling in sick to work!
Make sure you're getting a good night's sleep - get yourself to bed at a decent time so your body can recover and replenish during the night.
Use relaxation techniques to relieve feelings of stress - head over to my Facebook group to check out some of my relaxation ideas.
Avoid drinking too much caffeine - this can fuel your stress levels even more!
Have hot epsom salt baths to soothe your cold and relieve your stress.
Use essential oils to relieve tension and stress - lavender and peppermint are a great combo for headaches and tense muscles. If you'd like to know more about using essential oils for your health and wellbeing, please get in touch!
Consult with your doctor if symptoms persist or get any worse.
If you are fed-up of consistently feeling ill and want to manage your overwhelming stress levels, click the 'Contact Me' tab at the top of this page to send me a message. ☝
Remember, you're a person first and a teacher second!