Ok, truth talk. Working in the education world can be stressful! The list of responsibilities that fall onto teachers and administrators can be completely overwhelming. It’s hard to imagine finding the time to finish them all (especially for those of us who like to be sure that things are just right). I’ve been talking to several teachers in my building, and I can tell that the stress level is on the rise.
In addition, we take so much time to try to help our students with their various social-emotional struggles, as well as support our colleagues when they are going through struggles. This can lead to moments of secondary trauma, where we haven’t actually lived through the trauma of those around us, and yet we feel the same effects of that trauma.
Due to all these reasons, I am a huge fan of self-care strategies. I’m going to share a few of mine below. You may have similar ones, you may have completely different ones, but hopefully there will be a few nuggets here that you can take back to your own self-care strategies.
But before I get to some of my strategies, I’m going to share with all of you one of the things that causes so much stress to so many of us: Perfectionism. Something I know about educators is that many of us were rule followers when we were in school. A lot of us liked to work hard to get the teachers attention in positive ways because we knew we wanted to be a teacher. And because of those things we did, we developed this drive for perfection that still lives in many of us today. The problem with perfectionism? It’s kind of like counting to infinity. There’s always the one more. We have to be willing to let go of perfection. Sometimes good enough is all you need to take the next step with your students.
My first self-care strategy – Email
It’s easy to let email drive our day. It’s on our phone, our iPad, our computer. Depending on how you have alerts set up, you may not ever be able to receive one without knowing about it. And it kills us all! I’ve turned off email alerts on my phone, iPad, and computer (even the pop ups that show up on the screen of my device). The only time I am going to know I have an email is if I intentionally check for one. The alerts completely distract me from the more valuable work I’m doing.
In addition, I NEVER check my work email after 7 pm. Let me explain my thinking on this. When I receive an email after 7 pm, what are the odds that what I receive is something that I can actually solve before I get to school in the morning? Slim to none. You might be thinking “what if there’s an emergency?” For that, I have my cell phone and people who need to reach me in an emergency know it. Prior to making this decision, I found that the stress of an email in the evening was affecting the quality of my sleep and my ability to be completely present when I’m with my family. When I stopped checking email as much, I started sleeping better and evenings with my family were better.
My second self-care strategy – Movement
When I am feeling stressed out at the end of a hard day, or because of something that I know is coming up, one of my favorite things to do is to get moving. It could be a simple as going on a walk around the school building or an evening walk with my dog and family. Other times it might be heading out for an early morning #RunBeforeTheSun. And when I really have time for something, I’ll go out for a 40+ mile bike ride. Movement, even in the form of a walk, creates endorphins (those magical chemicals that our body produces to relieve stress and pain).
Not only do I use movement as a way to handle moments of stress, I also look at it as a stress preventative measure. I try to get some form of physical activity 4-5 days per week. When I do so, even the toughest days seem to go a little bit more smoothly.
My third self-care strategy – Rest
I’ve recently started using a sleep tracking app called Sleep Cycle. It helps me track not only my amount of sleep, but also the quality of that sleep in terms of a percentage. If I’m getting about 7 hours of sleep and my sleep quality is over 70%, then I’m going to be feeling pretty good for the day. If either of those numbers are much lower than that, I am probably not going to be feeling my best self the next day. Sleep is such an important part of our stress relief because it helps to clear our mind. The difficulty is though – when we’re stressed, we can’t sleep as well. Kind of a vicious cycle. So, see strategy one and two. When I remove potential stressors closer to bedtime, and I get a little movement in my day, my sleep quality is that much better. In fact, when I look at my Sleep Cycle app, on all the days that I had some form of physical activity in the past week, my sleep quality was higher than my non-workout days.
My fourth (and final for the purpose of this post) self-care strategy – Mindfulness
A couple years ago I participated in a Mindful Educator course and I learned about the benefits of mindfulness for our students, but also found great benefits for me as well. I try to carve out 5-10 minutes of my day for myself to take a mindful sit. I’m not very good at doing this all on my own. I love to use an app to help guide my mindful moments. Both Headspace and Calm are free for educators. In fact, it’s as easy as saying “Hey Siri, let’s meditate” and it opens Headspace and goes directly to the Everyday Meditation which allows you to start a session for as little as 3 minutes or as many as 20. Much like sleep, mindful moments have a way of helping to clear out some of those stress chemicals from our brain, and I typically feel energized at the end of a mindful sit.
So, my message to you, find ways to take care of yourself! We take on so much stress in our role of working with little humans that we need to have a way to help clear out that stress. I give each of you permission to adopt as many of the strategies above as you would like, or adjust them to suit your needs.
But here’s the thing – I don’t hold the key to everything, and I love to learn from others! If you have self-care strategies that you’d be willing to share, add them to the comments below.