A Rutgers expert explains how teachers can avoid or cope with burnout from new teaching methods and health concerns

Several months after schools re-opened nationwide, many teachers are experiencing burnout from having to adapt to new methods of instructing students while managing anxiety about their health.

Ann Murphy, director of the Northeast and Caribbean Mental Health Technology Transfer Center at Rutgers School of Health Professions, who has been providing training for school personnel, says burnout can cause exhaustion and chronic stress and lead to serious health consequences. Murphy discusses how teachers, with the help of school administrators, can manage stress and anxiety during these unpredictable times.

What are the symptoms of burnout?
Symptoms include feeling unfulfilled, overwhelmed, easily frustrated, exhausted, forgetful, easily distracted, fatigued, having difficulty sleeping and experiencing changes in appetite with weight loss or gain. Over time, if not addressed, burnout can lead to more serious anxiety, depression and physical health concerns. Checking in with yourself to assess your experience of these symptoms can help identify the need for additional support.

What are some ways to avoid or cope with burnout?
The best strategy is to develop a routine for self-care. Identify self-care activities — like walking, yoga or napping — that you enjoy and look forward to doing.

Try to create balance between your work and home life, such as scheduling related activities in a group. Instead of replying to emails as they come in, set aside blocks of time and return all emails then. You can include an automatic email reply that tells people you will return emails during set hours so they aren’t expecting an immediate response. Also, set a cut-off time later in the afternoon or evening after which you won’t reply to emails so you can create a distinction between work and non-work time.

You also may consider professional support from a mental health specialist, many of whom are offering telehealth services. 

What can school administrators do to support their teachers and staff?
It is important for all people within a school system to feel that they are heard, respected and are being taken into account. Administrators can do this by: holding regular open forums to discuss teachers’ and staff members’ concerns, maintaining regular communication so that everyone feels they are being kept informed, being transparent about how and why decisions are being made and including all stakeholders, to the greatest extent possible, in decision-making. Administrators can create nurturing environments that recognize and support the good work being done, promote team building and inform teachers and staff about available physical and mental health supports.