What it’s like to be a teacher with an anxiety disorder

Kim Constable

Kim Constable has been a teacher for 10 years across multiple subjects in the Secondary curriculum. Prior to getting her current position teaching sociology and PSHE at a state boarding school in Norfolk she trained in London where she continued to work for four years, then headed to work in a British school in Europe for 2 years. She blogs and tweets as Hectic Teacher, and shares cross-curricular resources and ideas on her website in the aim to encourage more active and innovative teaching.

Follow @Hecticteacher

Website: hecticteachersite.wordpress.com/ Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Image credit: Flickr // stuant63. Image credit: Flickr // stuant63.

We all feel anxious sometimes. Maybe it is going into a new situation such as starting a new job, or having to have a difficult conversation. The feeling of nervousness and anxiousness is completely normal, and an evolutionary necessity. However, for some people, like me, that feeling of anxiousness never goes away. You live with it day in, day out, and it can have quite a detrimental effect on your life and mental health.

I was diagnosed with social and general anxiety disorder about eight years ago, five years into my teaching career. Prior to this I thought that I was a little shy and a worrier, but when this was coupled with depressive episodes and insomnia, “I will not let these issues prevent me from doing what I love.”my health took a dramatic down-turn. I felt that even the smallest mistake was the end of the world and that everyone was judging me as inadequate and incapable, not just as a teacher, but also as a human being. I couldn’t sleep because I was so worried at having to face and interact with people the next day. I would stay awake all night trying to get everything perfect, from the lessons I would be teaching to the way that I would dress. I would run through conversations in my head, planning what I would say in advance so that I wouldn’t make social mistakes. It was exhausting and, in the end, I required a short stay in hospital to help me regain my physical as well as mental health.


The one thing I was certain of throughout this whole episode was that I wouldn’t let these issues and diagnosis destroy my teaching career. I realised that I would need to make some changes, create some coping mechanisms and tell people what was going on. I love being a teacher, and I will not let these issues prevent me from doing what I love.


Social anxiety isn’t just about being shy, anti-social or avoiding being the centre of attention. It can manifest in different people in different ways. For me it has manifested as an abject fear of doing the wrong thing in social situations, and then over-analysing these interactions to find out where I may have said or done the wrong thing and whom I need to apologise to or just plain avoid. In any social situation, I will be hyper aware of what is going on around me and will not insinuate myself into a conversation. I am that person on the edge of everything looking a little lost and confused. I find places like my school staff room terrifying, whole staff meetings and CPD sessions make me feel physically sick at the thought of going to them. I know this sounds utterly ridiculous; I work in a very supportive and friendly school, I have a lot of friends on the staff, but I still feel out of place and an interloper even after six years.


It may sound strange for someone who is in front of a class most of the day to not want to be in the limelight, or feel uncomfortable around groups of people, but when you are in the classroom it is a very different situation because you have control of that situation. You know the expected ways of behaviour, you know what is going to happen (as much as you ever can in a classroom with 30 teenagers) and you know your place in the room.


Please don’t confuse anxiety disorders with stress, they are not the same thing. In general, school work is not the cause when I slip down the rabbit hole of an “episode”. The education system can have an impact, especially when there is a lot of change happening at the same time, which means that no one is sure what is expected, needed or required. But this feeling of lack of control can exacerbate an issue that is a constant part of my life, rather than not being able to cope with workload. In actual fact, trying to help by reducing my workload can have the opposite effect, as I then worry that I am a burden on my department and that someone else is picking up my slack when I capable of doing the work, just not dealing with people.


The main factor which heightens my anxiety levels are lack of communication, particularly when a question is asked and the answer is either unclear or non-existent. I need to know exactly where I stand in a situation as much as possible. The more uncertainty there is the worse my anxiety gets. I am not asking for definitive answers because I know that “I need to know exactly where I stand in a situation.”is not always possible, but an acknowledgement of the question or the situation and that it is being looked into is required. I am not someone who likes to ask the same thing multiple times, because this makes me feel like I am making a nuisance of myself and people will be annoyed with me.


Since my diagnosis, I have developed several coping mechanisms that help me get through the day to day:

  • Music – I listen to music constantly. I am not trying to be anti-social when I walk around with earphones in; it helps to create a bubble where I feel safe. It is my little world where I am not being judged or getting things wrong.
  • Time Out – For some this might be exercise. I don’t enjoy exercise as it increases rather than decreases my anxiety, but I do like to go for a drive, go to a coffee shop and read a book, or (my favourite) go to the cinema and watch a film.
  • Organisation – I am an extremely organised person, as this ensures I know what I am doing, where I am meant to be and what deadlines I have to meet. I will have notebooks on me almost constantly and will use both my electronic calendar and hard copy diary. If I am organised it gives me the feeling of control.
  • Support – I have a very supportive HOD, and I was very open with her when I started at the school about my issues. We talked about my triggers and what she can do to help me, especially when I am falling down the rabbit hole and don’t see it. My friends are also aware, and will leave me alone when I need it. They won’t push me to socialise if I don’t want to, and have learnt to ask me to do things closer to the time so I can’t talk myself out of it.


I take medication when I need to, when things get too much, and am not ashamed of this. I need the medication to live a functional life just as a diabetic needs their insulin.


This was a difficult article to write, and I didn’t write it to make people feel sorry for me. I wrote it to raise awareness that there are teachers out there who suffer with mental health issues that have not been caused by their jobs or workloads. It is just how we are and we are doing our best to not let it affect the job that we love. I will push myself to go to conferences and present at TeachMeets because I want to be the best teacher I can and to develop myself within the profession I love. I may go home and have a cry or need a duvet day afterwards to cope with the overload, but I will not let my illness define what I can and cannot do. I just ask for a little understanding and compassion.

 Looking for resources to support your teaching online? Check out our unique list of the best free online resources on the independent review platform EdTech Impact.

Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support us.
When you register, you'll join a grassroots community where you can:
• Enjoy unlimited access to articles
• Get recommendations tailored to your interests
• Attend virtual events with our leading contributors
Register Now
Login

Latest stories

  • How to handle stress while teaching in a foreign country
    How to handle stress while teaching in a foreign country

    Teaching English in a foreign country is likely to be one of the most demanding experiences you'll ever have. It entails relocating to a new country, relocating to a new home, and beginning a new career, all of which are stressful in and of themselves, but now you're doing it all at once. And you'll have to converse in a strange language you may not understand.

  • Is Learning Fun for You, Teacher?
    Is Learning Fun for You, Teacher?

    Over the weekend, my family of five went to an Orlando theme park, and I decided we should really enjoy ourselves by purchasing an Unlimited Quick Queue pass. It was so worth the money! We rode every ride in the park at least twice, but one ride required us to ride down a rapidly flowing river, which quenched us with water. It was incredible that my two-year-old was laughing as well. We rode the Infinity Falls ride four times in one day—BEST DAY EVER for FAMILY FUN in the Sun! The entire experience was epic, full of energizing emotions and, most importantly, lots of smiles. What made this ride so cool was that the whole family could experience it together, the motions were on point, and the water was the icing on the cake. It had been a while since I had that type of fun, and I will never forget it.

  • Free recycling-themed resources for KS1 and KS2
    Free recycling-themed resources for KS1 and KS2

    The Action Pack is back for the start of the brand new school year, just in time for Recycle Week 2021 on 20 - 26 September, to empower pupils to make the world a better and more sustainable place. The free recycling-themed resources are designed for KS1 and KS2 and cover the topics of Art, English, PSHE, Science and Maths and have been created to easily fit into day-to-day lesson planning.

  • Inspire your pupils with Emma Raducanu
    Inspire your pupils with Emma Raducanu

    Following the exceptional performance from British breakthrough star Emma Raducanu, who captured her first Grand Slam at the US Open recently, Emmamania is already inspiring pupils aged 4 - 11 to get more involved in tennis - and LTA Youth, the flagship
    programme from The LTA, the governing body of tennis in Britain, has teachers across the country covered.

  • 5 ways to boost your school's eSafety
    5 ways to boost your school's eSafety

    eSafety is a term that constantly comes up in school communities, and with good reason. Students across the world are engaging with technology in ways that have never been seen before. This article addresses 5 beginning tips to help you boost your school’s eSafety. 

  • Tackling inequality in EdTech
    Tackling inequality in EdTech

    We have all been devastated by this pandemic that has swept the world in a matter of weeks. Schools have rapidly had to change the way they operate and be available for key workers' children. The inequalities that have long existed in communities and schools are now being amplified by the virus.

  • EdTech review & The Curriculum Lab
    EdTech review & The Curriculum Lab

    The world is catching up with a truth that we’ve championed at Learning Ladders for the last 5 years - that children’s learning outcomes are greatly improved by teachers, parents and learners working in partnership. 

  • Reducing primary to secondary transition stress
    Reducing primary to secondary transition stress

    As school leaders grapple with the near impossible mission to start bringing more students into schools from 1st June, there are hundreds of thousands of Year 6 pupils thinking anxiously about their move to secondary school.

  • Generation Z and online tutoring: natural bedfellows?
    Generation Z and online tutoring: natural bedfellows?

    The K-12 online tutoring market is booming around the world, with recent research estimating it to grow by 12% per year over the next five years, a USD $60bn increase. By breaking down geographic barriers and moving beyond the limits of local teaching expertise, online tutoring platforms are an especially valuable tool for those looking to supplement their studies in the developing world, and students globally are increasingly signing up to online tuition early on in their secondary education schooling. 

  • Employable young people or human robots?
    Employable young people or human robots?

    STEM skills have been a major focus in education for over a decade and more young people are taking science, technology, engineering, and maths subjects at university than ever before, according to statistics published by UCAS. The downside of this is that the UK is now facing a soft skills crisis and the modern world will also require children to develop strong social skills as the workplaces are transformed by technology. 

In order to make our website better for you, we use cookies!

Some firefox users may experience missing content, to fix this, click the shield in the top left and "disable tracking protection"