SLT : Managing the stress of Coronavirus


“As a school, we have been dealing with so many changes to policies, but we’re so conscious of focusing on the children and their needs, as they are the most important thing. I’m often waking up in the middle of the night with so many ideas about ways to do things better.”

Liz Stewart, Head teacher , Patterdale C of E Primary School, Cumbria

The stress and anxiety we saw and experienced during the protracted Brexit negotiations now seems almost minor in comparison to the Coronavirus Pandemic and its impending impact on our health and finances. Today, in modern history, globally, we are all sailing in unchartered waters – waters that are becoming more turbulent each day, and with maybe a massive storm lurking ahead on the horizon.

Stress, anxiety, and other more significant mental health conditions like depression, and even psychosis, can be fuelled by negative thinking. As humans, we have an innate ability to sometimes catastrophise events by looking on the negative side, and in no time at all, we are facing an emotional rollercoaster of emotions that do not serve us well.

Stop Catastrophising over Coronavirus

So, what can be done? The first step is awareness of what is happening right now and to stop catastrophising by imagining the worst-case scenario. Awareness means a rational and logical approach to your thinking based on expert views, and an acceptance that we are in a battle, but we are all in it together, which is the first positive thought we should be having each and every day. We can and will draw strength from each other’s beliefs and actions. This is true Community Spirit.


Secondly, if we feed our mind with positive thoughts, these will feed more positive emotions which in turn will lead to more positive behaviours. The very nature of thinking, feeling, and acting positively, precludes our minds from focusing on the negative outcomes. It builds our 100 billion neural pathways in our brains to search for positive outcomes, and that is aided by the secretion of more serotonin, the happy hormone. Conversely, if we focus on the negatives, stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol start being produced rapidly, and over time. this chemical imbalance will cause anxiety and the possibly of other mental health issues. We must not catastrophise events, we should be looking for the upsides, and equally, we should be ensuring we are acting safely within government health guidelines.

Consider booking a whole staff self-care and wellbeing INSET for your school to provide teachers and support staff with strategies to manage anxiety and stress. Click here for more details

Modelling behaviours

If you are a leader of a school it is vitally important that you model this positive belief. It might be tough at times, but great leaders always pull through. You may well have doubt, and negative thoughts from time to time, but your self-talk must address this immediately and you must empower others to feel valued and for them to be their best. A simple strategy to do this is to imagine the Coronavirus has ended, and after all your actions, how will your school, family and friends view you….as someone who kept strong by being positive, and who empowered others to be their best, or someone who buckled quickly and let events take over and everybody left to fend for themselves?

It is vitally important that beyond positive self-talk and leadership modelling, we create positive routines and structures that allow us to live one day at a time, and not focus too much on the future. Routines that include exercise, good diet, communications with understanding, but without judgment, and distraction time such as reading, watching a movie, or enjoying a craft or hobby, are the cornerstones to navigating each day successfully. Try and be daily producers rather than solely consumers.

This is the ability to ‘compartmentalise’ the day which means to not look at yesterday or tomorrow but focus on what only can be achieved today. Of course, school planning is crucial, but at the onset, it should be about steadying the ship and reassuring the crew, then you can go to work on your forward strategies.

If we can manage our stress, and be the model leader to others, then our ship will not only survive the coronavirus crisis, but will thrive and be steered out of the storm into calmer waters. Many people can sail a ship in calm waters, but who can steer a ship through a storm?

Ross McWilliam

Ross McWilliam is an Associate Consultant with JMC INSET, specialising in Performance Mindsets, Positive Mental Health, Wellbeing , Emotional Intelligences, and Emotional Competencies of Resilience, Willpower, Motivation, & Soft Communication Skills.

Contact us to book a training session with Ross in your school for Staff, Parents or Pupils

Tel: +44208 5314182

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