Useful links on Mental Health in ELT

My story

Panic attacks can affect anyone. After my interview for the CELTA course which I was trained on, probably the easiest interview of my life, I was walking to my friend’s house thinking it over. As I walked I started to hyperventilate, and I thought I might be having an asthma attack. I couldn’t understand what was happening because although I have asthma, it causes coughing fits, not ‘normal’ asthma attacks. When I got to her house, I couldn’t really talk, and I couldn’t calm down. I started to get pins and needles in my fingers and toes, gradually moving up my limbs. She phoned 999 because neither of us knew what was going on. When the paramedic came, he gave me oxygen and explained what was happening. It took at least 15 minutes for me to start breathing normally again and for the pins and needles to go away. I suspect the thought that triggered the attack was probably me worrying that they wouldn’t accept me onto the course, though I already knew they had: it was my final year of university and my entire plan after my degree was based around getting a CELTA and becoming an ELT teacher. It has only happened to me once so far. I had the first steps towards another one when I was ill at New Year a few weeks ago, but thankfully my amazing best friend was looking after me, and falling sleep due to exhaustion meant I didn’t go all the way into the pit this time.

Time to talk

It's time to talk

Apparently, 2nd February is Time to Talk Day 2017, a UK event “to get the nation talking about mental health and keep the conversation going round the clock”. For a combination of reasons, mental health is an area I have become more and more aware of over the past couple of years, and I’ve been thinking of putting together a list of connected resources for a while. This seems like the perfect opportunity.

Two years ago, Laura Patsko described the conversation starters which she was given for Time to Talk Day 2015, something which you could use yourself or with students.

Phil Longwell made me aware of this year’s Time to Talk Day through his very open interview with about how mental health has affected his life and career.

Panic attacks / Anxiety

My panic attacks they come from the tiniest smallest thoughts—and if you don’t know anything about panic attacks you tend to think that panic attacks are something huge—that they are huge, really life-threatening situations but for me they can be the smallest things. It starts from a tiny thought—and that thought can be a trigger which sets you off. Then you’re into a cycle. A panic cycle, they call it.

In May 2020, Phil recorded an interview for the TDSIG Developod podcast talking about mental health in general and within ELT.

The UK’s NHS website has a page explaining the symptoms of a panic attack, with a video showing how to tackle the vicious circle that starts it, and a link to tips for coping with a panic attack if you’re having one now.

Rebecca Cope has also had problems at work caused by anxiety attacks, and has written about them very movingly. If this happens to you (and I sincerely hope it doesn’t), you are not alone. Please please please do not be afraid to talk about it. There is nothing wrong with you. If you talk about it, then we can all help the stigma to go away and we can all try to move towards supporting each other and being there when things happen. By the way, as well as being a great writer, Rebecca is a talented artist, as can be seen here:

Four panels by Rebecca Cope: 1. A girl I once knew who always felt blue told me once with head bowed she was trapped by a cloud. 2. She said

James Egerton has a post about ways to help students diffuse exam anxiety, which I think could be useful at other times too.

Confidence – the inner critic, imposter syndrome

Elly Setterfield talks about her self-confidence issues and offers advice on what to do when you can’t stop criticising yourself, in which we learn about the inner critic, and how to respond to it constructively. She has also created an A-Z of self-care for teachers.

Emma Johnston presented a 15-minute webinar on confidence building for teachers.

Marie Delaney has a shorter post in a similar vein about how to take care of yourself so that you can take care of your students.

Jade Blue describes how to deal with imposter syndrome when teaching advanced grammar.

Teresa Bestwick describes how even as a successful and long-standing conference presenter, she still feels the effects of the imposter phenomenon before she presents.

Not specifically ELT, but the ‘Behave‘ episode of the language podcast The Allusionist is about how to defuse the power of words going round in your head.


Lizzie Pinard talks about her first steps with mindfulness and the benefits she has felt from it.

Accepting that thinking (and overthinking!) is what the mind does, and not getting frustrated about it, is key. Instead, it’s a case of gently and repeatedly bringing the mind back to the present moment. And from there, you can identify which of the thoughts, if any, are useful to listen to and pursue, rather than just being stuck amidst a load of endless mind babble.

She has also summarised a webinar by Emma Reynolds called ‘Mind full or Mindful?’ which was part of the 2019 Macmillan World Teachers Day Conference.

Depression, frustration

Liam Day tells you how to beat depression and anxiety in the classroom. Ricardo Barros describes his experiences with depression and how he sought help to get through them. Kip Webster talks about wobbles he had related to teaching and what he learnt from them. Anna Loseva reports on a session she attended about Frustration Regulation which was run by Sam Morris, including ideas like a frustration journal.

Metaphors for understanding mental health

If you want to explore a metaphor which could help, try four suitcases on Zhenya Polosatova’s blog. Another metaphor that I think is useful is that of the stress bucket – thanks to Lizzie Pinard for introducing it to me in this post on learning about mental health first aid.

Supporting others

Here’s a post from WeAreTeachers asking the question Should teachers take mental health days? including advice on what to do with one of those days when you decide that they are necessary for you.

For those on the outside looking in, first, consider how lucky you are that you don’t have first-hand experience of this. Then read about how to support a friend who is struggling with their mental health.

A management perspective comes from The Secret DoS in You don’t have to be mad to work here, but it helps, which includes some key advice at the end of the post, and the important line:

Let’s be clear…mental health issues are simply health issues.

Emma Johnston talks about what a mental-health friendly language school could and should look like.

Surviving as a teacher – living/working abroad, difficult colleagues, teaching long hours

One of the things Phil mentioned in his post was the extra pressure that those of us living and working abroad add to our lives by choosing to move away from home, often into places where we don’t speak the language or understand the culture. Here’s an 8-minute talk on helping teachers settle in, which I did at the IH DoS conference a couple of years ago based on my own experiences of arriving in many a new place. It was designed for managers/employers and not directly related to mental health, but it might give you ideas of what to ask for/about on arrival, especially if anxiety is a problem for you.

Working with difficult colleagues can also be problematic, so here are some tips from Chris Wilson to help you.

Hana Ticha has tips on how to survive teaching six lessons in a row.

Ola Kowalska talks about how to prioritise yourself and your mental health in your teaching business in a 30-minute podcast episode, based on her own experience.

Stress management / Time management

Another area that can cause a lot of problems is work-life balance, which I have a lot of bookmarks related to. They include tips for getting a better balance yourself, information about the importance of planning breaks into your day and examples of what other people have done. This is one of my favourite reminders of what you can do to help yourself take a break:

50 ways to take a break

Sarah Mercer did an excellent plenary talk at IATEFL 2017 about psychologically wise teachers. The third section includes tips on how to look after yourself.

OUP have a webinar called ‘Destress your classroom: stress management and wellbeing for teachers and students‘.

Claire Hart writes about taking control of your workload instead of letting it control you, particularly for freelancers, but also for others too.

Rachael Roberts shared strategies to survive overwhelm.


Burnout is also an issue which can affect people in many professions, particularly the so-called ‘caring professions’. Clare Maas has quotes from various teachers on avoiding burnout, and a list of tips and suggestions, of which I think the final paragraph is particularly useful.

Roseli Serra describes her experience and those of teachers she has interviewed, then offers advice on how to reduce the likelihood of burnout happening to you.

Andrea Camara also has advice about how to reduce the stressors in your life that may lead to burnout.

Rachael Roberts describes the ‘four burners’ theory and explains how this can help you to understand how to avoid burnout.

Lizzie Pinard responds to a webinar by Rachael on avoiding burnout for ELT professionals and talks about her own coping mechanisms for working from home.

Christina Jones describes some of the research into teacher burnout and how a technique from positive psychology called PERMA could help you out

Chris Mares, Theodora Papapanagiotou and a teacher with ADHD also contributed articles to the iTDi (International Teacher Development Institute) issue on Mental Health at the same time.

Marc Jones is blogging about his ADHD and how it affects his life and his job as an English teacher.

Other people who have talked about their experiences of mental health issues as English language teachers include Lizzie Pinard, and the podcasters at TEFLology. Lizzie has also summarised a workshop she attended on promoting positive mental health, particularly for LGBT+ people, but with tips that everyone should find useful.

Talking about mental health with students

AllAtC has a B2+ level lesson plan based around mental health and employment. The Mental Health Friendly Initiative has run competitions for mental health lesson plans, though I’m not sure if they’re available to download. They have various resources for promoting social inclusion on their blog (thanks for recommending it Phil).

Marc Helgesen shares ‘happiness hacks‘ on the iTDi blog and co-authors a whole blog about ELT and happiness.

Research on mental health in ELT

Phil Longwell used his IATEFL 2018 talk to describe the findings of research he has done over the past year about the mental health of English language teachers. You can read about his findings here. The recording is here:

He also did a 10-minute interview for the IATEFL YouTube channel:


The 8th March 2018 Twitter #ELTchat was about Teachers’ well-being and mental health, including stories, possible causes for poor mental health, and how things are slowly starting to change.

Phil Longwell summarised a one-day conference he went to in 2022 about the benefits of nature and its effect on mental health.

Although epilepsy doesn’t quite fall into the same category as the other mental health issues discussed above, I feel it’s also important to share Kate Cory-Wright’s story of Coping with Epilepsy in the World of Education, and this post seems like the best place to do it.

Update: March 2020 – COVID pandemic

Phil Longwell has compiled a list of links to help you with mental health and wellbeing during the COVID-19 outbreak. He has also conducted informal research into the impact of the pandemic on teachers, the summary of which includes quotes from teachers all over the world. Lizzie Pinard summarised an IATEFL webinar about Mental health, resilience and COVID-19.]


If you know of any other useful links or if any of these don’t work for you, please let me know so that I can update the post. Together we are all stronger.

31 thoughts on “Useful links on Mental Health in ELT

  1. Nice timing, Sandy! I’ve also started keeping a list. Maybe we can work together on collating these? Fiona Oates also wrote about it for ELTjam. Neil Millington wrote this, although more about general wellbeing. Likewise, Phil Nash wrote about wellbeing on the BESIG blog..


  2. The idea for my interview only came out of a conversation with Paul Walsh about three weeks ago, but it’s been brewing for a long time. Been waiting for the right moment. I have found it cathartic and am thrilled by the positive response.


    1. That’s great. I often find that writing can make a huge difference to how I feel about things, and it has allowed me to get a lot of things out of my system and to realise how supportive a network we have. I’m glad you’ve found the same with this post. I’ve added some of your links to the post and to my bookmarks – thanks for those too.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you so much for posting about this. It’s always been such a taboo topic but acceptance and understanding are growing. I too have had my share of panic attacks and bouts of anxiety. Open discussion and sharing our experiences help us all realize that we’re not the only ones.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you Sandy for this post.

    I experienced a huge panic attack on the train on the way to work four years ago. It was without doubt the most frightening experience of my life, I thought I was having a heart attack. At the time I was working full time while studying for the DELTM and my partner was pregant with our second child. Looking back I can see how this was a manisfestation of the stress I had put myself under.

    All workplaces are stressful in their own ways but educational organisations in particular have unique stressors that if not properly understood and managed can so often lead to the mental health issues among staff that you have described above. For teachers, there is the constant background anxiety of having to perform in the classroom, making sure all students are satisfied, time spent planning lessons etc. We all know how much of our thinking time teaching takes up.

    For those of us in academic management, the sheer burden of responsibility can be overwhelming – we have so many demands placed on us from students, teachers, colleagues in other departments and senior management. And all the while we are expected to be a beacon of calmness and serenity.

    A lot of stress is simply a result of the human condition – we evolved over millions of years to be super-sensitive to threats in the jungle; our bodies and minds behave essentially in the same way as our hunter-gatherer ancestors, yet we are no longer at risk (thankfully) of being torn apart by a pack of hungry wolves. The problem is we still have these ‘suspicious minds’, we see perceived threats everywhere, from an ambiguously worded email to a dissaproving facial expression from a colleague or student. This sends our minds into overdrive as we ruminate on tryng to work out what the problem is, how we can solve it, maybe we can’t solve it, etc. Before we know it we are having difficulty sleeping because of these thoughts, our bodies are tense with anxiety, we become more irritable in work/with friends/relationships. The truth is, most of the time ‘thoughts are not facts’.

    The sooner workplaces start to understand this and acknowledge the amount of stress staff can be put under, the better. Encouraging open and transparent communication and feedback systems is hugely important. A lack of trust within organisations can lead to a toxic environment and thus plenty of stress. Many teachers constantly feel like they are being judged by management, through observation systems and student feedback. Do we observe members of staff ‘performing’ in other departments? All this is compounded by the fact that workplace conditions in many organisations within the EFL industry still have a lot to answer for in terms of remuneration for workload and annual leave allowance, which can make staff feel under-appreciated.

    Introducing a well-being policy would be a good first step that organisations can take in addressing workplace stress. This needs to come from the top of course, but opening this up in the staff room as a priority and talking with colleagues is the way forward.

    This will be one of my goals this year and I hope to get something up and running. As for my own personal approach to managing my own stress levels and increasing my resilience, I enrolled on an eight-week Mindfulness-based stress reduction course a couple of years ago and I have found this to be really helpful in helping me to respond skillfully to stressful situations. I still practice daily when I can.

    I’d recommend everyone to read a book called The Chimp Paradox by Steve Peters. It provides an accessible, easy to read metaphor for how and why our minds operate the way they do. The Secret DoS wrote a reliably entertaining review of it here

    Another highly useful book is ‘The Mindful Workplace’ by Michael Chaskalson, easy to read and with plenty of practical advice on how to manage stress at work.

    Finally, ‘Reinventing Organisations’ by Frederic Laloux gives a fantastic analysis of how some of the most forward-thinking organisations, including educational ones, are reinventing how organisations work through removing heirarchies judgement systems such as top-down appraisals, and promoting autonomy and self-management.

    Thankfully the taboos around mental health are starting to dissolve and a lot of industries are already way ahead in prioritising the well-being of their staff. It’s time our industry caught up.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for this comment and for being so open Matt. I completely agree when you say that open and transparent communication and feedback systems are key. I would also add the adjective ‘supportive’ to them, though I think you’ve expressed that elsewhere within the comment. Thanks for the recommendations too. Good luck with maintaining your own balance – it sounds like you’ve got things under much more control now.


  5. 20 Oct. I have just finished reading ‘The Elephant in the Staffroom’ by Chris Eyre. Highly recommended. It features a quote from my mate, Thomas Rogers, a former deputy head and History teacher in the U.K., at the start of chapter 3.


  6. Thanks for this Sandy. I thought you’d have a good resource to help a wonderful CP on the CELTA I’m on.
    While there’s been an improvement in identifying strengths, which was completely absent in the first self evaluation, there still seems to be too much self criticism, overthinking things, with comments about not taking breaks, not managing time and being overwhelmed, stressed, and anxious .
    As you know, there’s a lot of reading and work on the course and this list with so many useful resources may also overwhelm the CP. If you could recommend your two or three top links for CPs experiencing this, what would they be? I’m sure we’d both appreciate it, as would many more.
    All the best.


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