I know we’ve all heard the phrase “self-care” roughly a thousand times this year. Teaching has a high rate of burnout, much of our country is at odds with each other, and its the time of year in which you as an educator wonder how best to soak up your last weeks of vacation.
Additionally, many oft-touted self-care routines are impractical for the teacher. Teachers spend most of the day in front of students for whom they are responsible. You cannot simply leave to take a break, or shut your office door for a little peace and quiet.
And still, as with any profession in which you spend your days caring for the needs of others, teachers can run into “compassion fatigue”, which manifests itself in many insidious ways:
- headaches, digestive problems, sleep issues
- brain fog, short temper, loss of creativity
- less optimism, fear of the future, anxiety symptoms
- increased reliance on numbing activities – shopping, drinking, unhealthy eating
Of course, all of us have bad days, and caring for any underlying mental health issues should be at the forefront. Still, its helpful to know that when you as an educator begin to feel yourself exhibiting the above symptoms and you know that you are not operating at your best level–there are ways to cope. Ways to heal.
Here are 4 Ideas, Hand-Picked to be Effective & Research-Based:
4. Take a Music Break.
I used brain breaks in my classroom all the time. There is lots of literature on them, with endless ideas for incorporating them at every level. Don’t forget, though, to watch for your OWN needs as well of indications of restlessness from the students. Are you feeling run down? Has it been a rough morning?
Music is one of the oldest and most natural pick-me-ups known to man. Adding movement at all: marching, jumping, choreographed or not- also adds to the benefit. Think of it as an investment in the rest of your day- for you and your students.
3. Bake for Someone Else.
A study circulated earlier this year that took me by surprise. It stated that baking for someone else has psychological benefits. Of course, folks who love to bake have known this for centuries. I generally prefer cooking though, as it is often less precise. It requires less of my full attention, as I can often make adjustments as I go and “eyeball” the measurements.
Well, it turns out that my perspective is exactly why I’m missing the benefits of baking (besides the delicious results)!
“Baking actually requires a lot of full attention. You have to measure, focus physically on rolling out dough. If you’re focusing on smell and taste, on being present with what you’re creating, that act of mindfulness in that present moment can also have a result in stress reduction,”
So, end a rough day or week by rolling out some dough, tackling a recipe you’ve always wanted to try, an old favorite that’s guaranteed to please, or something new you found on Pinterest. The point is, as you spend a couple of hours with focused intensity and physical movement you are not only bringing joy to someone else, you are being mindful. And mindfulness, as we well know, brings our attention to the present which fosters gratitude and calm.
Meditation that results in brownies? Sign me up. No, really. Put me on your “bake for” list. 🙂
2. Clean off Your Desk.
Everyone has different levels of comfort with and theories about desk clutter. Some hate it, some want just a few personal items and carefully organized folders, some need a space that can be a landing pad. Your personality and needs certainly differ from your coworker’s. Still, the constructive act of getting something accomplished, coupled with the benefit of a clear visual space is actually very therapeutic.
Research is beginning to put together what every mom I know will say is true- when the house is a disaster, everything else is worse. And the key is always to start small. Start with a practical, visible space—-which likely is your desk.
Give yourself an orderly, clutter-free space in which to think after the final bell has rung, and wrapping up your day will feel just slightly easier. Maybe just enough to give you the energy to bake when you get home, or take a walk!
1. Practice 5,4,3,2,1 Grounding.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has a trick in which you “ground” yourself with the present space to quell anxiety, bring your attention back to the moment and not in runaway thoughts.
Its called “grounding”, and one of the easiest ways to practice this strategy is with the 5,4,3,2,1 countdown:
3: Acknowledge THREE things you hear. This needs to be external, do not focus on your thoughts; maybe you can hear a clock, a car, a dog park. or maybe you hear your tummy rumbling, internal noises that make external sounds can count, what is audible in the moment is what you list.
2: Acknowledge TWO things you can smell: This one might be hard if you are not in a stimulating environment, if you cannot automatically sniff something out, walk nearby to find a scent. Maybe you walk to your bathroom to smell soap or outside to smell anything in nature, or even could be as simple as leaning over and smelling a pillow on the couch, or a pencil. Whatever it may be, take in the smells around you.
These steps may seem silly if you’e never tried them. How could these steps help with self-care, with compassion fatigue? We don’t realize how often we are not present in the space we actually occupy. Our thoughts are so often dragging us back to ruminate in the past or project worry upon the future, where we have little to no control. Grounding takes a minute or two, and placed back into your hands the only thing upon which you can affect change: this very moment.
Practice each of these things in the coming week. Which practices helped you the most? What other techniques do you use to manage your self-care?