The Christmas break is not a time to catch up on school tasks; leave them all at the school gates and give yourself some free time to relax

The one thing that all teachers would agree on is that having to take your holidays to fit with the academic year can be a curse. The cost and restrictive nature of the school timetable can make it hard for a teacher’s budget to stretch to a week in the sun. A staycation is often a more sensible option.

At Christmas perhaps this isn’t such a problem, with so many things happening between gift buying and giving, festive and New Year gatherings and the glut of scheduled special TV programmes.

But what if being at home for the holidays adds to your problems? Not just the usual family stresses and strains but genuine mental health issues. How does the Christmas break impact on the wellbeing of a teacher who already finds his or her work/life balance one of the most challenging aspects of the job?

Some answers might be found in the initial outcomes of a new piece of research by Dr Paul Flaxman and Sonja Carmichael of City University in London, with support from the Education Support Partnership.

Work worries need to take a back seat for a while

The results, not yet published by the team at City’s psychology department, suggests that for many teachers, continuing to worry and ruminate about work during the Christmas break hinders their ability to recover from the demands of the past term. In short, it is healthier to practise letting go of thoughts about work over the break if you can, either by practising mindfulness or simply engaging fully in leisure activities so that work worries take a back seat for a while.

The research also suggests that teachers able to satisfy three “basic psychological needs” of competence, autonomy and relatedness had much higher levels of wellbeing, during the Christmas break and into the first few weeks of the new term in January.

In essence because the Christmas period can involve a certain degree of obligation, it becomes more important than ever to build in actions that could help you to satisfy these three needs.

So, for example, to increase your sense of personal control or autonomy, it might be wise to identify some small things that you would actually choose to do (rather than feel obligated to do), aiming to fit in at least some activities that you find particularly “nourishing”.

To help fulfil the need for relatedness, you could try to carve out some time to connect with those people who give you the strongest sense of being understood and appreciated, perhaps friends or other colleagues. So if you can’t be with those people over Christmas, make contact in other ways, perhaps by phone, email, or Skype.

Finally, make sure you find some time to engage in activities that give you a sense of competence or personal effectiveness – whether it is in your role as a parent, preparing food, being a warm and generous host, or simply being a supportive partner, friend, or family member. It is useful to reflect on your most valued personal qualities or strengths. Then look for opportunities to use or express those qualities in various small ways over the Christmas period.

So rather than seeing the Christmas break as a time to catch up on marking, lesson planning and admin, try to leave some work at the school gate 0r get it done early on in your break so that you have some free time to relax, make the most of your recovery time, and be kind to yourself.

Finally remember the Education Support Partnership’s free phone and online support services will be available 24 hours a day during the holidays as well as term time. For more information see www.educationsupportpartnership.org.uk or call 08000 562 561

The Education Support Partnership is the UK’s only charity dedicated to providing free counselling and a wide range of other support services to those working in education.

The City University research project will continue into the new year through to Easter. If you are interested in participating then contact the team on ross.mcintosh@city.ac.uk