Image by Alexandra_Koch from Pixabay
by Catharine Hannay
Lately I've been seeing backlash against advice about self-care for teachers. I can understand why it would seem insulting to be told to 'take care of yourself' when you're being hit from all sides by forces beyond your control.
What most teachers are expected to do this year is not humanly possible. (If you don't believe me, see The New York Times' article 'Teaching in the Pandemic: 'This is Not Sustainable' by Natasha Singer.)
I believe self-care means focusing on what you can control. In the midst of a crazy situation, do whatever you can to make things a bit easier on yourself, given the time and resources you have available.
Here are a few suggestions that may help:
Tip #1: Do something to clear your head.
Meditate, pray, stare aimlessly into space, spend time in nature (or as close as you can get).
If you can't get outdoors, can you look out the window?
If you don't have a window, do you have something pleasant to look at? a houseplant? a poster, painting, or photo?
Choose something that helps you get offline and off your to-do list for a few minutes. It will help you feel more rested, and also help you prioritize how to spend the rest of your time and energy.
Tip #2: Find a safe way to blow off steam.
- Talk to someone who 'gets it' but isn't caught up in the same drama. (If it's someone from the same workplace, venting sessions can keep spiraling, which could make you feel worse instead of better.) You might try talking to a teacher at a different school, or someone else in the helping professions. This is a very tough time for health care workers, counselors, and clergy, so there's likely someone you know who could also use a safe venting outlet.
- Be careful about social media. You may want to share some of your frustrations as a way to advocate for fellow educators. Just keep in mind that social media is a public forum, so anything you say could potentially be seen by your students, their parents, and your colleagues and supervisors. When it doubt, step away from your device for a few minutes.
- One of my favorite ways to vent and clear my head is 'write and recycle.' It's similar to journaling or Julia Cameron's morning pages. The difference is that I scribble illegibly on scrap paper and immediately toss it in the recycling bin. 'Blah blah blah. I'm in a bad mood. Blah blah blah. I feel unmotivated. Blah blah blah.' OK, on the page, crumpled up, and in the bin. Back to work.
Tip #3: Gently Move Stiff Muscles.
You're likely spending most of the day typing, videoconferencing, and/or sitting at your desk much more than usual. There's a cumulative toll to staying in the same position, often with poor posture.
Here are some suggestions for basic stretches, with a few caveats:
- Of course you should only do what's appropriate for your body and your current level of fitness.
- Of course you should follow any guidelines from your health care provider, especially if you have a medical condition that impacts your movement.
- Stretch slowly and gently, moving to the point of tension, not pain. If you push yourself too far or too fast, you could strain a muscle, which you don't need to deal with on top of everything else.
- Look over one shoulder, then the other (or as far as your head will turn comfortably).
- Look up toward the ceiling, then down toward the floor.
- Pull your head straight back. (Yes, this will make you look like you have a double chin. And no, it's not the best time to take a selfie.)
You might want to look at the illustrated article on Gentle Stretching Exercises for Your Neck at VeryWellHealth.com.
- Make circles with your hands, moving them clockwise, then counterclockwise.
- Gently press the palms of your hands together, with your fingers pointing up. Move your hands up and down, closer to and farther from your body. Then do the same thing with your fingers pointing down. (Your range of motion may be a lot smaller with your fingers pointed down.)
You might want to look at the illustrated article of Stretching Exercises for the Wrists at HealthLinkBC.
And you might like these self-care video playlists, especially if you can't get outside to exercise:
Tip #4: Try some strategies for sleeping better.
Note that I did not say: "Get more sleep." 'Oh, really? Sleep is good for me? I didn't realize that. Wow, thanks for the suggestion!'
If you're not getting enough sleep, you're likely:
staying up late to keep slogging away at an unreasonable workload
lying awake ruminating.
If you're staying up late to catch up on work, that's all right in the short term but unsustainable long term.
Going back to my first point, if you take just a few minutes to clear your head, that will help you prioritize. You may need to make some tough choices about letting some things go or lowering your standards.
No, that isn't ideal. But we are in the middle of a global pandemic. And it's not going to help anyone if you work yourself to the point of illness or breakdown.
If you're ruminating:
Try to shift your attention to something pleasant or neutral:
- You may find a body scan or progressive relaxation helpful.
- You could try different ways of counting the breath. For example, slowly inhale and exhale, repeating to yourself, "Breathing in, one, two, three, four. Breathing out, one, two, three, four."
Tip #5: Put a Big X on your calendar at the end of each day.
“Anything could be endured, she had discovered, if she could only package the time into discrete little packets. She imagined taking the minutes, each one like a pellet, and wrapping them up—one minute, five minutes, fifteen, thirty. Once she had managed to survive a whole hour, she could put the packets of time into a box, tie it with string, and push it down a conveyer belt. Just one more minute, one more hour, one more day.”
The Translation of Love, Lynne Kutsukake
This school year will eventually end. The pandemic will eventually end. Life will eventually get easier. Each day is bringing you a little bit closer. Hang in there!!
About the Author
Catharine Hannay is the founder of MindfulTeachers.org and the author of Being You: A Girl’s Guide to Mindfulness, a workbook for teen girls on mindfulness, compassion, and self-acceptance.