Working with worry

Pubs or schools for September? Living with uncertainty – and working with worry as the impact of the lockdown release measures unfold…

As the R rate yo-yos around the measures taken to ease the lockdown and stimulate the economy, it’s a good time to check in with where we are at in our relationship with uncertainty about the next year ahead.

Sure we all want to put last academic year behind us and have a better one next year- but what will that ‘better’ mean?

In short we don’t know. And the key question is – how is that sitting with you? In theory we’re all going to be back in our classrooms teaching face to face. In reality we know we can’t fully say farewell to remote schooling – and there are noises being made around the potential need to have a blend of in-person and remote lessons.

In short, more flexibility is going to be required. And – as those who had planned breaks in Spain this holiday – or those had plans for Eid in the North found out…flexibility in these tricky days and times is often required at very short notice.

If you want next year to be an improvement on this – it’s a good moment in the middle of the summer break to check that the holiday is doing what it’s supposed to. And that you are retaining and embedding a wellbeing practice that will enable you to declutter your mind and experience spaciousness, calm, and stillness when back in the midst of it all. 

We need to find ways to nurture the green shoots of wellbeing and stave off burnout…

How has your holiday been so far? I have to say that mine has had some islands of calm and connection, but has also been fraught with action, now that we have decided to move out of our small apartment and seek more space. Just one extra room would make a world of difference!

So a good week of decanting clutter, cleaning, tidying, buffing up for pictures, viewings, doing the beauty parade of valuations with estate grants…AS this is the first time we’ll have actually sold a house, I do now get how extra-stressful moving house can be.

Not the most relaxing way to wind down after a term of coaching on-line and at times what felt like back-to-back webinars and meetings. So when my yoga teacher asked me what I wanted out of the session my reply was ready and definite…’Space! I want to open up my body and mind to spaciousness!’

And so began the beginning of a shedding. Breathing deeply the fresh morning air in our communal gardens. Opening up to the bluest of blue skies – watching the faint whisp of the odd airplane crossing London, and seeing birds in flight. Finally starting to stop. Easing in with the slowing breath, connecting my breath to my body and feeling my mind and muscles gradually free themselves from the tyranny of hunching over the laptop or scrubbing away with Cillit Bang…

How deeply refreshing and replenishing it felt to open up my chest, breathe with the depths of my belly and experience the hearts ease with the slow and determined expulsion of fuller, fuller breaths. 

The favourite pose that my teacher introduced me to was one she called ‘Holding up the sky’ – strong legs apart, standing broadly with arms out to the side and raised, palms up to the sky, pulling the chest foreword and leaning back – stretching the solar plexus and looking up! How often have you done that lately…simply looking out and up – taking in the gestalt….I have written before about my Atlas complex…holding up the world – and this was the most invigorating opposite – holding up the sky…Light, powerful, strong. A different type of stretching!

So what is your different type of stretch going to look like – ways of stretching yourself in less familiar ways to invoke stillness, growth, a different type of energy? 

How far would you say you are actually finding replenishment during the ‘long’ summer break…or is it? Are you finding your mind drifting back to ‘yes-but’ loops about the challenges ahead at work…the safety elements, the politics, the stressors our screens may have shielded us from…toxic colleagues, difficult pupils, demanding parents…Weak management, divided teams…

The interpersonal politics of school life can be particular stressors. We often talk about workload and work-life balance…but research into teacher mental health by Prof John Glazzard of Leeds Beckett University, who runs their Masters in School Mental Health, shows that it is the state of our relationships between colleagues at school that makes the biggest difference to teacher wellbeing – how well supported we feel, whether we have meaningful connections, these either bolster or deplete the energy that we bring to our work – which derives from vocation, purpose, and meaning. 

Teaching departments can be stocked with talent, but with little appetite for managing or leading…but an immense capacity for back-seat driving…For leaders of teams like these, life can be lonely and hard. You need your armour. How does this type of scenario affect the build up to any meeting? How does it make you feel about even casual interactions? How does it make you feel about simply being in your department space? How does it influence you in preparing to launch new initiatives? Does it fuel a collaborative approach? Does it help create the soil for sharing the load and moving forward together – or have you given up on any form of delegation?

Equally, looking at just one reverse situation…How is it to be managed or led by someone who has taken on the role, applied for it and got it competitively…but…simply doesn’t inspire…Their initiatives lack an edge, they can’t articulate a purpose behind them…it may feel that they are asking for more of their team but for no good reason…eg generating more data for data’s sake…To be led by someone who – isn’t really that good? How does that feel? What is the narrative you create around that in your mind? What might the impact be of that…what do you close off…what do you avoid? You can’t change them. You might be able to complain about them – but that is also fraught with political implications… How do you work with the spiral of building negativity…because once you’re on to that weakness, the negativity bias simply confirms it…and before you know it, your stream of consciousness about your workplace is polluted…

Another thing that’s for sure is that as we return after the lockdown -we return form a whole variety of different perspectives and distances. Some have been in school throughout, others have had a holiday from the interpersonal stuff for months…How is the return bearing in on you? Are you noticing return-to-school dreams intruding on your rest? Are you thinking about your ‘Bete noirs’ ? In times of threat and uncertainty, we are threat orientated, we ruminate over past challenge and scan the horizon for future threats…what are you anticipating? ANd what can you do?


Some ways to create a more fertile sense of spaciousness, so that we return to school with open hearts and minds – in a receptive state, rather than armoured…


1. Work on deep relaxation techniques and have an active, consistent routine for bed-time. Avoid noodling on social media, google, or going down the Netflix warren into the night, opening and finishing the second bottle of wine…OK – you CAN do it…and arguably that’s what the holidays are for. BUT you need a minimum of 8 hours quality sleep to avoid having a sleep debt. And a regular bed and wake time will help consolidate the quality and quantity of your sleep and allow nature to do its job with reducing anxiety in the REM rich second half of the night – the spa for the mind…

Do some regular check-ins – tuning in to thoughts and feelings in order to be at a point of choice… How do I feel right now? What is the thinking behind that feeling? How well is this serving me?

If you are noticing areas of preoccupation, an effective way to declutter your mind is to set aside a SHORT amount of time for expressive writing about it. In an unedited way. It can be bullets, it can be a stream-of-consciousness. The idea is to get what’s in your mind, out on paper – visible and able to be reflected on in tranquility.

If stressful through about school – or just thoughts about school are intruding in your holiday time, time set aside for relaxation and connection with others…then consider creating a designated thinking spot to focus on the worry or the to-do list for a DEFINED period of time. It’s quite hard to focus on a worry and really sustain it for more than 20 minutes. So try compartmentalising it. 

Sharpen your observation of your thinking patterns so that you can reframe the ‘yes-but’ loops in your mind. You may like to think about handy metaphors you can use to provide a mental short-cut to the impact of the ‘yes-but’ anxiety narrative and also harness a vision of what life might be like without that downward thinking spiral.


When we live in anxious times – which we are right now – it affects the way we show up for ourselves and for each other. 

We cannot influence how others show up around us. We can worry and over-think problematic workplace situations – whether that is colleagues, pupils, or parents. But one important question behind the statement ‘Stay away from problem people. They have a problem for every solution’ – is what about US – what are WE contribution to the situation. Within our own mind -are WE a ‘problem person’ to ourselves?

It is hard to ‘be on our own side’ in a really effective and impactful way when we are anxious. This is what I find is very powerful in the right training or coaching behind the psychology and influence of mindset. 

Now more than ever we need to live our lives by design rather than by default. 

If this article has resonated with you and you want to access a robust, supportive, and reflective space to move forward, then contact me for one-to-one coaching:

Perhaps you are reading this as a school leader and want to offer some training opportunities to enhance staff wellbeing – to help colleagues work through worry more effectively…then contact me to discuss how we could run an interactive webinar as a ‘live’ training event, and also capture a recording as a flexible resource for staff.


I hope you have found this belated holiday edition helpful. Please feel free to email me in confidence about other topics and challenges you would like included in future newsletters.As always, with love, gratitude and as much spaciousness as this halcyon mid-holiday time can offer…Emma.

More to explore