Career & Education

Look out for early counsellor tells teachers

Sunday, July 22, 2018

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Even as they take advantage of the downtime of the summer holidays, a mental health counsellor is advising members of the teaching profession to watch for early warning signs of stress in themselves and among their students when they re-enter the classroom in September.

Clinical mental health counsellor Patricia Oberli, who was addressing participants at the JN School Savers' Programme Conference at Knutsford Court Hotel in New Kingston two Fridays ago, noted that vigilance is especially important because of the high-level stress presented by the classroom environment, not just in Jamaica, but around the globe.

If not effectively managed, she told them, chronic stress can lead to mental and physical problems.

“Stress is a big part of our lives, and while we need some levels of stress to push us to achieve our goals, chronic levels can cause all sorts of illnesses and can manifest itself in various ways,” she warned.

Oberli said further that stress can affect all aspects of people's lives, including emotions, behaviours, thinking ability and physical health.

“However, because people handle stress differently, the symptoms can vary,” she noted, informing that among the most common symptoms are: anger, sadness, anxiety, becoming easily agitated, moodiness and frustration.

Some of the physical signs of stress include: backache, headache, low energy, upset stomach — including diarrhea, constipation and nausea — tense muscles, chest pain, rapid heartbeat, insomnia, as well as frequent colds and infections.

“Most people who are undergoing stress find out from their medical practitioners, because they go to the doctor for shoulder and back pains, and the doctor has to refer them to a psychologist, because their complaints are stress related,” she explained.

Oberli, therefore, advised the teachers to look out for the warning signs of stress, “not only in yourselves, but also in your colleagues, students and family members, because you can help each other.”

To effectively manage and cope with stress, she advised participating in physical activities; talking to a trusted friend or colleague; relaxation strategies like prayer or meditation; keeping a stress diary; getting more sleep; and managing time.

“If you're not making a conscious effort to manage your stress, you're not coping and something is seriously wrong,” Oberli said. She further noted, “If you allow your stress to become toxic, it can make you physically ill and also result in psychological issues.”

In response, the teachers generally reported that Oberli's presentation resonated and promised to incorporate the suggested coping skills in their personal and work lives. Among them was Jacqueline Mitchell, teacher at Victoria Basic School in Clarendon which received the award for Top Basic School in the JN School Savers' Programme.

Mitchell, the school savers' coordinator at the school, was also recognised for her efforts getting students to save during the last school year.

In the primary school category, Dunrobin Primary School in St Andrew was named Top Primary School and copped the School of the Year title. School savers' coordinator and grade five teacher there, Sandra Graham Mitchell, was named Teacher of the Year.

Cornwall College in St James emerged Top High School, while student, Jamari Fearon, received the award for the Dream Big Promotion, winning an all-expense paid trip to Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

Paradise Preparatory in Westmoreland is the Top New School.

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