In this review of the literature, there is significant research and literature support that education is a stressful profession. Identifying many of the stressors within the profession, there can be connections drawn between environmental factors and personal skill level and enhanced reports of stress from educators. Environment can incorporate not only the students within the classroom, but also the administration and policies set forth by schools. The impacts of stress on educators is far reaching. It pulls not only on the health and wellness of teachers, both physically and mentally, but also manifests in student learning outcomes and teacher burnout from the field. Schools and administrators, understanding the impact of stress on the school system, are encouraged to respond to the needs of the teachers and enhance their self-determination to reduce reported stress. Schools are encouraged to provide training and resources for coping and managing stress, as well as critical skill development in classroom management and core content. In addition, another impact of stress in education is the development of wellness programs that help respond to stress and alleviate stress will enhance overall teacher wellness and thus the school environment. Schools are utilizing the elements of self-determination theory (Deci and Ryan, 2017) to enhance the school experience for students and teachers.
Impacts of Stress and Anxiety in Teachers
Teaching is an admirable, joyous, and stress laden profession. Teachers work with students that represent diverse backgrounds, unique experiences, varied family structures, and endless needs, within a system that tries to differentiate the process, but standardize and quantify the learning outcomes to have students produce very specific learning targets. As a profession, teaching is wrought with conflict and contradiction: time, objectives, stakeholders, initiatives, expectations, and curriculum budgets. Understanding this, it is important to examine the impact that those continuous stressors have on teachers, students, and schools.
Using self-determination theory (SDT) as a framework helps provide a lens to synthesis the research on the impacts of teacher stress and anxiety. Deci and Ryan (2017) looked at motivation of individuals, defining both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, and connected it to three basic individual needs: a need to connect, a need for self-efficacy, and a need for competence. Deci and Ryan go on to connect these needs to individual wellness. Each of these needs can be supported or thwarted as an inividudals interaction with the environment, impacting the individual mindset, behaviors, and physiological wellness. Examining the stressors within the environment that challenge teachers’ sense of self-determination, can be predictive of the outcomes related to their levels of stress and anxiety. Viewing the negative outcomes of stressed and anxious teachers through this lens, can also provide a prediction for how teachers with high stress and anxiety perform within a school and prescriptive direction for administrators and school leadership to support teachers by mitigating the environmental factors that increase stress.
Review of the Literature
Current literature is exhaustive on many elements related to stress within the education system. Research points to a variety of internal and external factors that increase reported stress by educators. The effects of stress then are manifested in a variety of ways by the teachers, including teacher burnout and negative impacts on the classroom setting and student outcomes. In response, schools are responding with wellness programs that develop teacher skills and mindsets to mitigate stress and stress related behaviors. The literature provides clarity on cause, direct impacts, and indirect impacts of teacher reported stress.
Stress, Anxiety, and Depression in Educators
Teacher stress is an inherent part of the profession. However, in recent years, reports of teacher stress are increasing and having greater impact. Teacher stress has been expanded into impacting health and wellness, including both mental and physiological conditions.
Definition of stress.
Stress is a challenging and multifaceted concept to define and identify. Demir (2018, as cited in Genc 2012) defines stress as “a state of psychological tension, affecting individuals physiologically and psychologically.” Recognizing that the tension, or contradictions, that are felt in education can impact both the physical and mental wellness of educators helps to define the depth of the challenge. However, this is one of many different definitions of teacher stress, however all look at the contradictions between support, expectations, resources, and pressures (Stiglbauer and Zuber, 2018).
Prevalence of stress in education.
Consistently within the literature, there is evidence that teacher stress is embedded in the very practice of teaching. Ayub, Hussain, and Ghulamullah (2018) define work stress as “a condition in which the person feels unpleasant emotional expiring regarding his/her job which diverts his/her attention from the job responsibilities” and go on to connect those emotions to impacts of the many demands on teachers. Herman, Hickman-Rosa, and Reinke (2018) found that three of the four profiles of educators, representing 93%, are stress laden. Similar evidence is found through out the literature, pointing to education as being profession where stress is a prevalent issue (Richards, Hemphill, and Templin 2018; Ayub, Hussain, Ghulamullah 2018; Stigbauer and Zuber 2018).
Causes of Stress, Anxiety and Depression in Educators
Both environmental factors and personal capacity for stress management were cited throughout the literature as impacting the effects of stress on educators. External factors examined were often the administration or school structure, student behavior, or expectations. In contrast, internal capacity for stress management looked specifically at individual’s ability to cope with stress and self-determination.
There are many well documented external causes of stress within the literature. Stiglbauer and Zuber (2018) recognize that all stress within the environment is a hindrance, however specifically student misbehavior. In addition, the policies and practices of the organization or administration that negatively impacted teachers’ perception of self-efficacy or were considered overly harsh, also had a direct relation to increased stress (Mern, Hussain, and Ghulamullah 2018; Ouellette et al. 2018; Stiglbauer and Zuber 2018). This is supported through the work of Deci and Ryan (2017) and self determination theory.
Internal capacity for stress management.
Much of the research also points teachers’ abilities to manage stress as an important element. Demir (2018) found that positive psychological capital, mindset, had an ability to mitigate stress. In addition, teachers that had a skill deficit, either in management or coping, also reported higher levels of stress than those with experience, classroom management proficiencies, and coping skills (Demir, 2018; Herman et al, 2018; Kebbi, 2018)
Impacts of Educator Stress, Anxiety, and Depression
Understanding the sources and ability to manage stress are important factors in being analyze the impacts of stress on teachers, the environment, and stakeholders. As perceived stress increases and teachers feel a decrease in self-determination, negative outcomes increase. These negative outcomes impact every facet of education.
Teacher attrition and burnout.
Two of the most visible effects of stress in teachers are teacher attrition and burnout. Burnout, representing both emotional exhaustion and decreases in self-efficacy, can cause both physical and psychological problems including depression, anxiety, ulcers, anger, and headaches, in addition to promoting avoidance behaviors of not attending to work or poor performance (Ayub et.al 2018; Demir, 2018; Richards et al, 2018). These burnout behaviors and loss of self-efficacy lead to challenges in maintaining a health staff (Stiglbauer and Zuber 2018).
Impacts on student learning.
As teachers are the director of both delivered content and are responsible for establishing the environment for learning, teachers with high reports of stress can negatively impact student learning outcomes. Herman, Hickmon-Rosa, and Reinke (2018) were able to see a relationship in classrooms where teacher lacked coping and stress management skills and adverse effects on student learning and poor student behavior. Ayub, Hussain, and Ghulamullah (2018) dig into the data to show that teacher mindset can negatively impact a teacher’s perception of students needs, the ability to reflect on personal practice, and recognize gaps of instruction, thus negatively impacting student learning outcomes.
Implications for Educational Leaders
Looking at both environmental factors and individual teacher’s ability to manage stress has created indirect impacts as well. Schools are working to create programs that mitigate the causes of stress, help teaches manage the stress, and establish wellness programs to respond to the stress. This impact is helping to redefine schools as social institutions and create a nurturing environment.
Stress management and responses to stress.
Stress management skills help teachers to manage stress and keep a healthy work life balance. The literature supports a multidimensional approach to helping teachers learn to manage stress from the hiring process through teaching them new skills and behaviors to manage stress (Oullette et al., 2018; Taylor, 2018). In addition, there is evidence that teacher proficiency and motivation can also be enhanced by providing professional learning that helps teachers refine their skills (de la Fuente, Amate, and Sander, 2018). Indications that schools that provide support for teachers were also viewed as more warm and nurturing and increased connections also helped to manage stress (Kebbi, 2018). Schools need to consider the balance of supporting programs to teach teachers how to manage the relationships within a school (Richards et al., 2018)
Development of procedures and policy.
The literature draws a connection between teachers and the environment. In response, many researchers are challenging schools and administrators to consider the social policies, workloads, additional duties, and expectations for teachers (Kebbi, 2018; Oulleette, et al. 2018; Taylor, 2018). In addition, understanding the need for connectedness, schools are challenged to reduce the stress between policy and personnel and the faculty (de la Fuente et al, 2018; Taylor, 2018). Going further, the research points to a need for programs that development mindfulness, relaxation, or supports for general wellness (Oulleette, et al. 2018; Taylor, 2018).
Teacher face a variety of stressors during the course of their profession. The research shows that there are many aspects of the the environment that enhance teacher stress, as well as individual characteristics. The impact of the stress can be seen in student learning outcomes, teacher health and wellness, and teacher burnout. Through a variety of programs and adaptations, schools can begin to mitigate some of the effects of stress management by promoting connection, self-efficacy, and competency.