Although initially written about teaching, this post applies to any area of your work or life where you feel the things in the first set of bullet points.
No one said teaching would be easy but …
- You shouldn’t be exhausted.
- You shouldn’t be close to tears on a regular basis.
- You shouldn’t be angry.
Identify the actual problem
The key to effective problem solving is to be focused on the actual problem. That’s not always as easy as it sounds. Some things you don’t control. Focus on the stuff that you do. Accept the constraints you have to work within. Define success such that those constraints don’t have to disappear for you to achieve it.
In the longer term, your level of discomfort with those constraints may indicate a need to find a different job. Or a need to get active in your union. But for now, this is the environment you have to work in. Make the best of it.
Treat it as a research problem
You are trained as a researcher. Use those skills to improve your teaching. Get a notebook for this purpose. And take notes. You don’t have to do anything with your notes right away. Just writing things down helps get them out of your head and reduces stress.
Catch yourself doing something right
No matter how bad it feels, it isn’t all bad. Make notes of the positives before you focus on the negatives. Just noticing the positive things will help relieve stress and improve your mood. It might also be easier to see how to build on the positives than it is to see how to fix a negative. You should be able to crowd out some of the negative stuff that way.
Don’t wait until you are so frustrated you just want to quit or you are crying in your office after classes. Get help early, while you can still respond to advice rationally, and try things out. Keep in mind that your problems are unlikely to be related to the content of the course you are teaching. The fact that the person you ask for help doesn’t know your field is probably irrelevant.
Asking for help is difficult. Start by brainstorming a list of all the possible sources both inside and outside your university. Sometimes just knowing you have all those people you could ask takes some of the pressure off.
Look after yourself.
Good food, sleep, and regular exercise makes your brain work better. Taking time to eat proper meals and sleep a reasonable number of hours is not a luxury. It makes you more productive in the time you are working.
If you find teaching drains your energy, there is no point rushing straight from the classroom to some other work activity. Time spent taking a walk after class and then sitting down for a meal or a snack will be rewarded with better concentration and more energy later.
The value of pushing through and working when tired in the evenings might be completely negated by the effect it has on your ability to get to sleep and sleep soundly.
You are not alone
Most academics find the first few years overwhelming. Many of the senior people around you once felt like you do now.
Experience helps. But it takes time to build experience. In the meantime, get the support you need from yourself and from others.
And focus on the positive.
Edited November 14, 2017.