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Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Tips for Dealing with the Emotional Toll of Teaching from Home During Coronavirus Quarantine

photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels

by Catharine Hannay

Life has certainly been stressful lately.

  • Even a simple trip to the grocery store feels fraught with peril.
  • Whatever your plans may have been for Easter, Passover, or Spring Break, it's very likely that's not what ended up happening. 
  • You may be worried about friends and family who are ill, or who are working on the front lines of health care.
  • If you're a teacher, you've likely been dealing with technology glitches as well as the odd combination of social isolation and 24/7 accessibility.
  • Meanwhile, many of you have been trying to balance the needs of your own children with the needs of your students. 
  • And all of this is on top of whatever ongoing issues you may be dealing with in your personal life, your family, or your community.

However you're feeling is perfectly understandable. 
Bored? Frustrated? Confused? Annoyed? Worried? Lonely? Overwhelmed?

On the other hand, however you've been reacting may not be particularly helpful. 
Overeating? Over-caffeinating? Snapping at your partner? Watching back-to-back episodes of a show you don't even like very much?

Here are a few strategies to help you cope with the complex mix of emotions in a healthier way.

Are you having trouble sleeping? 

Here are a few suggestions to shift your attention away from the mental loop of stress and anxiety.
  • One popular suggestion is to count backwards from 100 by 3s. 
If that doesn't work (it doesn't for me), try counting backwards from 300 by 3s, then do it three or four more times.
  • As an alternative, keep listing words that begin with each letter of the alphabet. 
Sometimes when I'm having trouble sleeping, I list the names of animals in alphabetical order, forwards and backwards a few times. (In case you're wondering, q=quail, and x=xenarthrans, the group that includes sloths. And thinking about sloths makes me feel sleepy...)
I start with my feet and work my way upwards. Typically, I have to keep bringing my attention back to my feet and starting over, since my attention keeps drifting away. If that happens to you, remember it's a practice, not a perfect.

Are you feeling sluggish?

Maybe it's hard to get out of bed in the morning. Or maybe you feel like you're becoming permanently fused to your sofa.

Try moving anything, any part of your body. When I'm feeling really sluggish, I find that if I can wiggle one finger, I can wiggle a second finger, and then move my hand, and then my arm, and before too long I can actually manage to get up.

Are you feeling restless?

If you can get outdoors, go for a walk. 

If you can't get outdoors, do some vigorous exercise. 

If you're in a small apartment and don't have any exercise equipment, you might want to try Lucy Wyndham-Read's Seven-Minute Workouts. These are appropriate for most fitness levels, especially since she often shows two different options. Since I'm already familiar with this series, I tend turn off the sound and play music instead. And I typically do four or five back-to-back workouts. (Of course, you should do whatever's appropriate for your own level of fitness.)

Do you feel frustrated because you keep getting distracted?

That's a big problem these days, since the very same device we need for our work is also our primary source of news, communication, and entertainment. (See 'How Information Overload is Ruining Your Work Life')

As soon as you catch yourself wondering how on earth you ended up on a particular website, step away from the computer or set down your phone. 

Get outdoors if possible. If you can't get outdoors, can you open a window? If you can't open a window, can you look at a plant?

Taking a quick break away from your device should help you reboot and refocus. As a bonus, this is also a good break for your eyes. (See '6 Tips for Dealing with the Physical Toll of Working from Home')

On the other hand, your distraction problem may not be the internet but the people you live with. There may not be an ideal solution to this, but do whatever you can. Hopefully your partner or older kids can take turns with very young children. Older kids and adults should be able to handle negotiating a personal space and some times when everyone can get their work done.

If you're sharing a small apartment, and the only way to get any privacy is to sit in the coat closet, go sit in the coat closet. It may feel a little weird, but these are very weird times we're living through right now.

Are you feeling discouraged or cynical?

Try a feel-good video playlist. At my house, we've been watching All Creatures Great and Small, and last night we saw The Bishop's Wife. (No, it isn't Christmas time right now, but who cares?)

I've also been enjoying John Krasinski's Some Good News, which has wonderful clips about coronavirus helpers and people getting really creative about connecting during quarantine. In case you haven't seen it, here's the link to the youtube channel (it will launch with sound): Some Good News

Here at Mindful Teachers, I have a lot of video playlists and song playlists, including:

I find that it really helps to focus on all of the good, decent people in the world doing their best to help their communities.

Are you feeling overwhelmed?

  • Set limits.
It's not reasonable for students to send email at ten o'clock at night and expect an immediate response. Your students need to know how and when they can reach you if they have questions. They don't need to be able to reach you at any time of the day or night.

  • When all else fails, lower your standards.

Superteachers may be posting charming updates to their social media: 
'I celebrate each of my students' birthdays through a personalized hip-hop song!'
'I just created a scale model of ancient Rome out of homemade cookie dough!' 
'I'm teaching equations through interpretive dance!'

Great! I hope they're having a wonderful time. But that's not a realistic comparison to try to live up to

The pressure of suddenly converting to online learning has been a lot harder on some teachers than others. It may be that you’re wonderful in a classroom setting or your subject is more challenging to teach online. You might also be having a really hard time of it right now, especially if you’re dealing with long-term issues in your personal life or work life, even before we all got hit by a global pandemic.

Let's face it. This is not going to be everybody's best semester ever. If you’re doing your best to help your students learn what they need to learn in the midst of total chaos, good for you!


Self-care isn't about being selfish. Nor is it one more item to add to your endless to-do list. It's about focusing on what you can control and what will help you feel better. 

I hope that these suggestions help you think about what you can do to take care of yourself in these exceptionally challenging times.

You may also be interested in the following posts:

And there are hundreds more posts on mindfulness and self-care here at

About the Author

Catharine Hannay is the founder of and the author of Being You: A Girl’s Guide to Mindfulness, a workbook for teen girls on mindfulness, compassion, and self-acceptance. (Sales of the book help me continue to run with no sponsorship or advertising.)