Self-Care for Teachers During the Coronavirus Pandemic
A Guest Post by Anne Brunette, LCSW, Psychotherapist
Self-care for teachers has always been important, but since COVID-19 changed our lives earlier this year, it is crucial With almost no time to prepare, school educators had to switch to a new way of teaching while also dealing with changes in our own lives.
Part of what makes social distancing unique for those in teaching and other helping professions is that we must our own emotions while helping others do the same. This can lead to COVID-19 overload. Increased stress, anxiety, and depression, along with high expectations by administrators and parents can leave teachers feeling overwhelmed.
Avoiding burnout is one reason self-care is important. You cannot model self-care for kids if you do not take care of yourself. Another reason self-care is important is to enable you to be an effective teacher. If you are tired, either emotionally or physically, you cannot do your job well. Finally and possibly most important, self-care for teachers is essential so you can model good balance and healthy boundaries to your students and co-workers. Following are 7 strategies to help you care for yourself more effectively.
1. Set healthy boundaries.
Say yes when you mean yes and no when you mean no. This is especially important at this time. The demands of teaching have significantly changed. Whether you have kids in the classroom full-time, a hybrid model, or all virtual, you are being asked to do tasks that you’ve never had to do before. You have expectations placed on you from the administration, parents, and your own family. It is imperative that you make your mental, physical and emotional health a priority. This likely means that you can’t do everything that is expected.
2.Take breaks often.
Take a walk down the hall or around the block; close your eyes and focus on a safe, comforting place for a few moments while breathing deeply; if you can, have the kids in your classroom take the quiet break too. It’s good role modeling! Set a goal to take a five-minute break at least every hour.
Research shows that exercise can help increase energy, improve concentration, and decrease stress and depression. It also allows you to focus on yourself and take care of your body. Both are important for reducing burnout. Get outside if you can. Be mindful of the beauty of nature and escape the stress of remote learning. It’s Ok to pretend it doesn’t exist for a while.
4. Know your own threshold for stress.
Recognize your first signs of stress. These may include increased heart rate, change in appetite, fatigue, and irritability. Pay attention to what triggers stress for you and either avoid those situations or learn relaxation techniques so you can manage your stress effectively. Modeling these skills for your students will teach them how they can handle their own stress. Focused breathing and deep muscle relaxation have been proven to work.
5. Participate in activities that relieve stress for you.
Do these things consistently. You likely feel like you don’t have time for anything except work. It is essential that you take time away. Then you will have more energy and a better attitude when you get back to work. Try out some mindfulness!
6. Connect with others, even if this means virtually.
Connecting with others is important during distance learning. Talk to other teachers or co-workers, as they are likely feeling the same way you are. Don’t just talk “shop” though. It’s important to feel as normal as you can sometimes. Connections with others can strengthen your immune system and improve your mood. Be safe, but be connected.
7. Start your day on a positive note.
Begin your day by doing something that lifts you up and makes you feel good. It may be enjoying quiet time in meditation or prayer, thinking about the positive things that are in store for you that day, taking a walk, or conversing with someone about positive things. What you do first can set the tone for how you manage your entire day.
Teachers everywhere are all feeling stretched and stressed. They are invariably doing their absolute best. My message to them and to you is to be kind to yourself and give others the benefit of the doubt as well. Remember that even though we are unsure about the future of Coronavirus, our emotions are temporary. We will get through this!