Like many teachers, I’ve spent a lot of time stressing over the fall. We have no idea what education will look like when school starts again. There’s the possibility that remote learning will continue to be the norm, forcing teachers to master new tools while assisting their students via Zoom, Google Meet, or some other newly familiar online platform. Schools are also facing massive budget cuts which are sure to create problems as the year progresses. Then there are the students themselves.
There are no shortage of articles listing the effects of COVID-19 on student’s mental and emotional health. It’s generally agreed that steps should be taken to help children process their emotions during these increasingly difficult times. But what about ourselves? I’m not trying to sound disgruntled or selfish, I’m actually quite serious. With all our focus directed toward the fall, it’s easy to overlook our own social-emotional well-being.
A Recipe for Burnout
As Jennifer Gonzalez notes in her Cult of Pedagogy blog, teachers aren’t great about taking care of themselves.
“You work too many hours, don’t get enough sleep or exercise, eat too many unhealthy foods, and don’t spend enough time doing things that refresh and energize you. Too many teachers have reached the conclusion that this lifestyle is just part of the job; there simply isn’t enough time to be a good teacher and take care of yourself. Self-care is something you’ll get to over breaks or in the summer, right?”
I know what you’re thinking, “Right now summer is a luxury we can’t afford. We have health guidelines to meet. Lessons to adapt. Budgets to crunch, and new programs we need to test-drive so they don’t break down during class!”
Yes, we all have a lot of work ahead of us, but if we don’t find healthy ways to manage our stress we’re going to burn out. It may sound strange, but we need to start prioritizing our own self-care. We are in the midst of some pretty chaotic events. We’re going to need the occasional moment to catch our breath and process everything we’ve been through. So, give yourself some grace and remember to spend time on things that restore you emotionally.
Physician, Heal Thyself
Here are a few useful methods for lowering stress and maintaining a healthy emotional mindset.
- Exercise: Get your blood pumping with a good, long run. If you’re really looking to work up a sweat, challenge yourself with the Deck of Cards workout. Go for a swim if you’re able to, or simply take a brisk walk through the park. Physical activity has been shown to reduce stress and it comes with the added benefit of keeping you physically healthy!
- Mediate: Sometimes all we need is a moment to breathe. Meditation can help you find balance and compose yourself whenever the stress feels like it’s going to boil over. It doesn’t require much time either. Just put on some ambient music and spend ten minutes focusing on your breathing. By giving yourself small increments of meditation throughout the day, you can organize your thoughts, lower your stress, and return to work feeling energized.
- Laugh: Everybody needs a good chuckle now and then. Is there anything around you that never fails to give you a good belly laugh? Maybe it’s a certain book or a Netflix show. It could even be something as simple as funny YouTube videos or Tik Toks. Whatever it is, give yourself permission to take in a little levity throughout the day. After all, laughter is the best medicine.
- Take a Vacation: Yes, you read that right. Sometimes you simply need to take a day off. Sleep in, fix yourself a big breakfast, and spend the day pursuing a hobby you love. Step outside and enjoy the summer weather. Find a comfy chair and catch up on a good book. There’s only one real cure for exhaustion, and that’s rest.
- Talk it Out: This can be uncomfortable, but I suspect many of us are socially starving. We’ve been stuck inside for months, working from home, and learning to exist virtually. We’ve even lost the minor social experiences of moving through a crowd or listening to the sounds of a noisy restaurant. If you’re starting to feel stressed, reaching out to a friend could help. Try to schedule a virtual coffee break with someone you know. If you think you can manage it, meet in person while maintaining proper social distancing.
It’s Ok to Not Be Ok
I think we can all agree 2020 has been a hard year for everyone. There’s still so much more to come, and our students are going to need us at a hundred percent when classes begin again. We must do what’s necessary to keep ourselves healthy, both physically and emotionally. So, in the days ahead, don’t neglect your own social-emotional health. Allow yourself the chance to rest.