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By Sara Rattigan, Communications Director and Gene Beresin, Executive Director
Posted in: Stress,
Topics: Healthy Living, Stress
Download our “Self-Care Tips for Educators” – perfect for posting your school or classroom!
During COVID-19,teachersare feeling additional pressures on top of their alreadydemandingwork lives:
- Being responsiblefor teachingand emotionally supportingstudents
- Responding to increasedparent communications,through multiple online platforms
- Creatinginnovative waysto teach remotely, if needed,and navigating the technology to do it
- Being prepared to switch between in-person and remote learning
These new job requirements take increased timeandenergy, andcanadd stress – even more than two years since the pandemic began.Self-care is necessaryfor relieving stress and maintaining mental and emotional health.
As we say to parents all the time, you have toput on your own oxygen mask firstto best support your kids and teens. The same is true for teachers– bytaking care of yourownmental health and well-being,you’llhave more positive energy for yourself, and for your studentsandtheir families.
With competing priorities and never-ending to do lists, self-caremay not feel likea choice, but it is!It can takehardwork to make it part of our daily lives. Below are some suggestions to helpyoubuild self-care into yourregularroutine.
The2020 Teachers of the Yearsharehow theypractice self-care (Google for Education):
1. Lay the Groundwork for Self-Care
Self-care looks different for everyone, so a good place to start in incorporating it into your routine is to answera few foundational questions.See a sample list of questions here.
These are questions that only you can answer. Questionslike, “How burnt out am I?”or“Am I trying to keep too many balls in the air?”These canhelp youtofigure outwhat’s causing stress in your life, how you respond to stress, and whatchangesare needed tomake you feel better.
Once you have a sense of yourbiggest stressors andwhat things might help you support your emotional health, take steps to make sure youhave timeto practice self-care.
- Prioritize self-care.Self-care should be on your mental “to do” list the same as other things in your life. You can’t do everything, but self-care is amust, so be honest with yourself about things thataren’tabsolutely necessary, and move them lower on your list to make room for self-care. Sometimes you’ll need to say “No” to a colleague who asks for extra help. Do you really need to watch that “tips for online teaching” video, or are you managing well enough already? Maybe you need to take a step back from your volunteer time, this year.
- Scheduletimefor self-care.Once it’sa priority, you can find a placefor itin your school-day or personal schedule.Not only will you be more likely to do itif it’spart of a concrete schedule,youmightlookforward to itbecauseyou’ll be able toanticipatewhen it’s going to happen.
Moreon laying the groundworkfor self-care fromMindful Teachersand thisvideo by EricaBronkhorst.
2. Set Healthy Boundaries for Your Time
You know better than anyone that a teacher’s job leads to working unconventional hours – evenings and weekends – in order to prepare lesson plans, grade schoolwork, catch up on e-mail, and more. Even before the pandemic, many dedicated teachers let work spill over into their personal lives at unhealthy levels. Now, amid COVID-19, the lines between professional and personal life feel even more blurred.
More important than ever is to set healthy boundaries for yourself, and stick to them. Just as you might schedule time for self-care, schedule time to be “off the clock.” For example, you might need to be firm on “office hours” you set for students or parents, to protect your time. Remind yourself, you arejust one person– you cannot control everything, and education is a collective effort. Remind yourself, too, totake time offwhen you feel overwhelmed, and know that you are doing good for both yourself and your students when you do.
By settinghealthyboundariesfor work,you’ll have more time forthethings that alleviate stress and make you feel good, whether these are specific activities, or just more time to spend with yourown family orfriends.
Read more on strategies for setting healthy boundaries from theNational Education Association andUnderstood.
3. Choose Fun Things to Do in Advance
Most of us have a variety of things we want to do for fun and relaxation. But even going over this list can become stressful! In the little time you have, do you want to learn to bake bread, read a good book, take a yoga class, watch TV, or get out for a walk? Keep things simple and doable. In advance, choose a couple of things you consistently look forward to doing and can realistically build into your schedule.
4. Take a ShortBreak
You are a human being,not a machinethat can operate all day! You may need to get creativeabout how you fitin breaks,especiallyif you are teaching from home and have other family members who need care.But even 10-15 minutes of rest or clearing your mind can make a difference (even 6 minutes!).Take a walk around your block,turn off the lights in yourroom and close your eyes, listen to a 10-minute meditationon your phone or computer.You can even take a power nap if you have the environment for it. The key is to schedule it into your day. Sometimesbuildinginmultiple short breaks is effective.
5. Connect WithOtherTeachers
Staying socially connected is really important right now. In addition to otherchallenges teachers face during COVID, working from home when required and being physically isolated from other teachers and staff can add to this stress. Just as you may be doing with friends or family, make an effort to stay connected to the teaching community you used to engage with every day.
Try to schedule a regular check-in with colleagues, once a day or once a week. This can be a way to support each other and talk through common challenges you face, like ways to adapt education plans, or responding to parent communications and concerns. In addition to talking about possible solutions to challenges, simply sharing your frustrations with a trusted colleague may help to release some of your stress. And these check-ins don’t have to be limited to work topics – work/life balance is something many are struggling with right now.
Another option is to form a teacher support group that can meetregularlyto share stories,struggles, andideas.Researchsuggeststhatpeer-supportgroup discussionscan help to prevent and lessen feelings ofburnout.
Read more on staying connected and self-care fromCalifornia Teachers Association.
6. Spend Time With a Pet
If you have a pet, take advantage of it! Pets can provide mental health benefits to their human companions andentire families. Especially if you have days in which you work from home, just imagine how much your pet will enjoy the extra attention, too. The added cuddles could do you both some good. And your pet doesn’t necessarily need to be a “furry friend” – there’s research to suggest that even pet fish can make a difference. If your school allows for it, maybe even consider a class pet as a learning experience for your students, with the added emotional benefits that come with caring for an animal.
7. Stay Organized
Managingfinances, keeping yourhome or workspaceclean and orderly, and setting up schedules isn’t always included in conversations on self-care. But think about it.Whenchores are in disarray,it increases stress.If it’s a challenge to manage the necessities of everyday life,when will you findthe time to relax?
Whether it involves spreadsheets, closet organizers, a rotating cleaning schedule, or prepping dinner in advance for the whole week – finding the most effective ways that work for you to keep your life in order is essential in caring for yourself.
8. Celebrate Your Successes
When it comes to self-care, remember self-compassion!Being kind to yourselfcan help you to control anxiety and remain in a calmer state of being. As a teacher, you play a special role in making a difference in the lives of young people, every day. You support their learning and academics, their social-emotional growth, their self-esteem, and more. Take time to reflect on this.
Even small moments – the student who looks forward to your class each day, or the “thank you” comment you received from a parent – are moments to reflect on and feel good about.You chose this work for a reason, and celebrating your successes is not just well-deserved, but important to your well-being.Remember, too, that your successes go beyond the classroom.
Read more on self-care fromTeaching Tolerance, and more on self-compassion fromHarvard Health Publishing.
9. If You Get Stuck, Seek Professional Support
Sometimes it is really important to get a formal consultation. In your role as a teacher, a colleague or more senior mentor might be able to talk you through a specific work challenge you’re facing. But when feelings of depression, anxiety, or stress begin to regularly interfere with work and life, scheduling an appointment with a mental health professional may be extremely valuable.
Many people during this pandemic have struggled with mental health challenges. Asking for help is a sign of strength! Most schools have in-house psychologists or social workers you can talk with for a referral, or you can always go to your primary care physician to obtain a referral.
You can also connect with the SAMHSA’s National Helplineat1-800-662-HELP (4357). SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental health or substance use disorders.
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Sara Rattigan, Communications Director
Sara Rattigan, MSis the communications director for The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds, and a public health communicator whose passion has always centered around innovative app...
To learn more about Sara, or to contact her directly, please see Our Team.
Gene Beresin, Executive Director
Gene Beresin, MD, MAis executive director of The MGH Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds, and a staff child and adolescent psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital. He is also...
To learn more about Gene, or to contact him directly, please see Our Team.