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Tuesday, October 13, 2020

4 Quick Self-Care Tips for Frazzled Teachers and Students

Photo by Anastasiia Chepinska on Unsplash

by Catharine Hannay

First off, I want to make something clear: I understand that self-care will only take you so far. Teachers aren't stressed because they don't know how to take care of themselves. Teachers are stressed because they're getting hit from all sides with unrealistic expectations. 

That was true even before the pandemic, but it's reached ludicrous proportions these days during the shifts back and forth from in-person to online instruction. (Bonus points if you're doing both simultaneously!) 

That said, there are a few ways to make it a bit easier on yourself.

Tip 1) Don't Throw Good Time After Bad.

Trust me, I'm on your side. I understand about that annoying* thing that happened this week. It was totally unfair you had to deal with it on top of everything else.

But do you really want to spend your whole weekend ruminating about it?

*Note that I said 'annoying' not abusive or discriminatory. There are times when it's best to just let things go. There are also times when you may need to advocate for yourself or others.

Tip 2) Do a Quick Reset

In an article at Edutopia, Laura Lee explains how Rapid Resets’ help teachers and students calm their minds and bodies and get back to learning: When someone's overwhelmed by frustration or grief or trauma, it can help to 

"take a sip of water, press against a wall, or try a quick walk while paying close attention to their physical sensations."


If you're feeling anxious or overwhelmed, it can help to shift your attention to your five senses. A popular way to do this is through the '54321' technique. 

Dr. Joy Harden Bradford of Therapy for Black Girls explains:

"You observe your environment and describe to yourself: 
five things that you can see (a clock on the wall, gray carpeting on the floor), 
four things you can feel (the fabric of your sweater, your toes wiggling in your shoes), 
three things you can hear (the buzz of the lights, cars passing outside the window), 
two things you can smell (your hand lotion, your coffee), and 
one thing you can taste (a swallow of water, a stick of gum). 
This is a grounding technique designed to take your mind off whatever is stressful and bring you back to the present moment."

(O Magazine, March 2020, p. 74)

Tip 3) Move Your Body to Rest Your Mind.

My favorite way to do this is through 'Rainbow Walk.' If you can't get outdoors, you might want to try an indoor Rainbow Walk or one of the self-care video playlists:

If you're looking for suggestions for kids, try:

4) Interrupt the rumination so you can SLEEP.

I know this is easier said than done. During my worst semester of teaching, I'd toss and turn for hours. Then, when I finally fell asleep, I'd have dreams about everything going wrong at school!

What finally worked for me was to keep shifting my attention away from rumination by:

  • counting backwards from 1000, by 1's then 2's then 3's, going back to 1's and repeating as often as necessary.
  • listing categories, like animals from A to Z. (Q=quail and X=xenopus. You're welcome.)
  • focusing on my toes. They're the farthest possible point from my brain, so it helps me to redirect my attention away from the thoughts that keep looping through my mind.
  • body scan or progressive relaxation: These are similar but distinct practices that involve gradually moving our focus from one end of our bodies to the other. 
    • In a body scan, we pay attention to our physical sensations, including where we might be feeling pain, discomfort, or tension. 
    • In progressive relaxation, we consciously focus on relaxing each part of the body. 

If you're feeling very anxious, you may have to do each of these options multiple times as you gradually let go of what's worrying you and let yourself rest. 

I hope these quick self-care tips are helpful as you navigate an exhausting, stressful, and confusing school year. 

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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.)