At the beginning of this school year, many of my colleagues and I discussed how difficult the past two years had been. One common comment was how we were looking forward to getting back to “normal”. None of us have seen normal yet.
Instead, we are working more with requirements to “catch up” students. There is a substitute shortage so we are asked to cover additional classes. There is a constant demand to teach better, tutor, help students that are in quarantine from home, provide missing work, provide “extra credit”, work more and do more every day. It is overwhelming and as winter break approached, I felt as though the school year should be ending, not just the first semester.
With additional work requirements, added meetings (it is so much easier to schedule more meetings when they are virtual) and added working responsibilities, we are also told to “take care of ourselves”. I dislike the term self-care. It implies no one is coming to give me a life jacket so I need to find my own if I am to survive and emphasizes just how alone we all are during this time. I especially dislike being told to “take care” after I have been given a list of 30 new things to add to my to-do list.
Since we are required to wear masks and socially distance from others, it is difficult to find opportunities to take a break. It is also hard to connect with colleagues–virtual just isn’t the same. But breaks are crucial to mental and emotional health.
Try some of these ideas.
1. Create firm boundaries–leave work at school and try to leave on time. I arrive early so I can relax before the day begins, but leave on time. Work does not go home with me, EVER.
Communicate to students and parents that you do not return emails after school hours or on weekends and stick to it. I cannot even look at work email when I am at home or I feel the anxiety rising. After distance learning, students think that they should have 24 hour access to teachers.
2. Say No. There are so many opportunities to participate that teachers often feel they are obligated to “do their part” for the school. Become a club sponsor, offer tutoring, join in activities, volunteer for events, or attend school functions. But any other profession doesn’t feel compelled to stay after work and continue working.
If the idea of not being an active part of the school bothers you, try cutting back instead.
3. Check in with colleagues. Send a text, email or leave a phone message for colleagues you have not connected with in a while. Social isolation is not healthy.
4. Try a gratitude jar. Place a mason jar on your desk (or in an inconspicuous place if you prefer). Each day add something you are grateful for, a positive message or affirmation to the jar. When you are having a bad moment (or day) pull something from the jar and meditate on it.
5. Stop complaining. This is a big one because we all have something to complain about. But complaining does not help, it actually increases the dissatisfaction. It makes things worse. Every time you start to complain, immediately say 3 positive things to offset it.
Find the positive in every situation. when I lost my planning period recently, I was irritated but I immediately told myself that I was getting to take a walk across campus to this new classroom, I could check out the classroom set up and decor and use the time to talk to different students.
6. Sticky Notes. Get a pack of sticky notes and write positive messages and place them all over. This is a good one for students as well. Put them under desks, on back of seats, near the floor or up high near the ceiling. You can also have students write positive messages to each other.
7. Create a bucket list of things to do when life is normal again. Add the places you would like to visit and experiences you would like to have.
8. Give your students a 3 x 5 index card and ask them to write a funny thing that has happened in a classroom. We all could use a laugh and students have the most interesting perspective on what happens in the classroom.
Note: I hear some tall tales but the purpose is to have a laugh, not to report on your colleagues.
9. Give students a break as well. Have some fun in the classroom and try some trivia. Play a game or use a wheel of names to choose student volunteers. Make up new rules just for fun.
Declare every fifth student who arrives gets to tell an interesting fact. Give a small candy to the first three students. Put on some music for the class (I only put on music that I know, so I avoid any problems with lyrics). Appoint a student in charge of enthusiasm. When I teach, the student makes cheerful comments or applauds when I finish the lesson.
Declutter to De-stress
10. Stay organized both in the class and at home. Have healthy meals prepared and planned in advance. Have supplies you need ready. You work outfits should be planned as well so there is no stress when you are getting ready.
11. Minimize screen time when you are not at work. Turn off the computer, hide the phone and try an activity that does not require the internet. Try reading a book for an hour a day.
12. Clear out digital dust. Have more than 5-10 emails in your inbox? Is your computer overfilled and you are using your 5th back up drive? Clean it all up, your computer will run faster and if it dies, you won’t have lost anything. If you need to back up files, get a 14T drive and back up the entire computer.
Organize files so you can find them. Every time I look at my back up files, I find that I have backed up the same files several times. Get rid of duplicates.
13. Go for a drive. If you are a coffee drinker, stop at a shop and have a cup outdoors (weather permitting) and people watch. I tend to avoid indoor shopping since we are required to be fully masked, but taking a drive is a nice break. Drive through for a hot chocolate (you can get a peppermint hot chocolate at McDonalds).
14. Sit Outside. Sit in the back yard in the sun and just watch the sky and listen to the birds (unless you have a cat, then scare off the birds because dead birds don’t sing). Think about flowers you will plant or vegetables you can grow.
15. Walk. During planning time, take a walk around the campus. Being outside is therapeutic and walking relieves stress. I naturally walk quickly, but try slowing down and breathe deeply as you walk. Extra credit if you do not think about lesson plans or your to do list as you are walking.
16. Exercise. Yes, I said it. My friends will laugh at this because I cringe at the idea when someone else says it. But dancing when no one is watching is fun. Get one of those rocker boards to increase balance, try some hand weights or stretching bands. Put on a Zumba or salsa dance video.
17 Get a massage. I have a reflexology massage once a month and it takes the stress right out of me. If you like pedicures, get a foot massage as well.
18 If you have a hobby that you haven’t enjoyed in a while, get it out. Try crocheting or knitting, play a musical instrument, or draw. If you have other talents, use them now. It helps to take a mental break.
19. Music. Make a playlist of your favorite songs and sing along as your drive. Sing loud. I’ve always thought that if you sing really loud, you are more likely to be on key. And pay no attention to those on the road around you. If you want, roll down the window and really sing out.
20. COLOR! Yes adult coloring is popular to help relieve stress. It only works if you are not worried about coloring outside the lines. Try some coloring sheets with affirmations and really think about them as you color in the images. Need some?
21. Take a mental health day. Use one of those emergency lesson plans and take a day for yourself. Sleep in, have breakfast in bed, read a magazine, watch Maury Povich (that will cheer you up), take a nap and have a meal delivered. Just make sure when you call in for a sub that you note that you are “sick”. And you don’t make a habit of this…..
If you notice that you are having a difficult time for extended periods, you may need to talk to someone. Long term anxiety and depression are harmful to your physical health as well.
Try this 30 day challenge with colleagues and see how you feel in a month. Download the challenge and print out. While they are numbered, think of this more like a scavenger hunt and do them in any order you like.
Try something new and change up your routine. Create a balance between your work and home life to become less stressed. I would love to see your finished coloring to add to a future post. Share them on Instagram or Facebook just for fun. As always, if you have suggestions, drop me a comment or email at firstname.lastname@example.org