Self-care tips for teachers during COVID-19
How to ease anxiety and reduce the impact of stress on your health.
Teaching can often be a highly stressful career, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, there are steps you can take to help cope with the pressures of the job and manage stress levels.
As a teacher, you might be afraid, nervous or anxious returning to the classroom, especially if you feel COVID-19 precautions are not being fully implemented in your school. You might be worried about how to protect your and your family's health, exhausted juggling work and family obligations, and concerned about how best to help your students make up for learning lost during school closures.
Here are some ways to help manage anxiety and reduce the impact of these stressors on your health:
Ways to cope
While people react differently to stress, people often do better over the long-term if they:
- Feel safe, connected to others, calm and hopeful
- Have access to social, physical and emotional support
- Regain a sense of control by being able to help themselves
If you recognize signs of stress and how they affect different aspects of your well-being, you can implement some simple strategies to help your mental health and well-being. This can include connecting with people that support you, asking for support from school management or professionals, becoming more physically active, learning new things and remembering the simple things that give you joy.
What is self-care?
The World Health Organization defines self-care as “the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider.”
Self-care is any activity that we do intentionally in order to take care of our mental, emotional and physical health. Although it’s a simple concept, it’s something we can very often overlook. Good self-care is key to an improved mood and reduced anxiety. A self-care activity can be as simple as taking the time to enjoy a cup of tea, listening to your favourite music or going out for a walk. Think about some simple activities that re-energize you. Identify and implement any particular forms of self-care that work for you.
Self-care needs to be something you actively plan, rather than something that just happens. Add certain activities to your calendar, announce your plans to others in order to increase your commitment, and actively look for opportunities to practice self-care. See if you can incorporate self-care activities into your work day with the support of school management or colleagues.
Self-care is key to preventing burnout!
What is burnout?
One of the negative consequences of accumulated stress is burnout. Burnout is a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion that results from prolonged exposure to job stressors or work situations that are emotionally demanding. It is emotional exhaustion and can result in a sense of reduced personal accomplishment.
Burnout includes many symptoms that can be both physical and emotional, such as:
- Feeling tired most of the time
- Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
- Reduced performance
- Concentration and memory problems
- Inability to make decisions
- Muscle tension
- Getting sick more often, frequent headache or upset stomach
- Loss of empathy
If you relate to any of these symptoms, or if you see these signs in a colleague or friend, it could be a sign of being on the verge of burning out or being burned out. It is a sign that it’s time to pause, seek support from colleagues, loved ones and school management, coupled with a focus on self-care. If you feel that you need further support, do not hesitate to seek support from a professional who can help you to prioritize self-care and explore how to manage stress.
Prioritizing self-care is a necessity, not a luxury.
Making time for self-care as teachers
Too many people work until they can't go on or they view rest and sleep as something which is not important. It is important to view rest as an essential tool for maintaining well-being.
Resting can be as simple as just turning off the lights in your classroom for a few minutes after your students have left. Or try and limit the time you spend online and on social media. Many people spend a lot of time checking their phones throughout the day – perhaps you can substitute one or two of those checking times with just silence and stillness, or getting out into the fresh air alone or with a colleague. Less time checking your devices and e-mails can make a difference to your energy level and your ability to focus and concentrate.
Think about what you can let go of to create space for your self-care. This is where saying no becomes vital and might require evaluating your workload. Perhaps your work or school activities are overwhelming or unmanageable, and you need to raise this with school management, family or colleagues. Are there ways you can say no to certain activities? Can you develop or strengthen some boundaries at work or at home?
- Make self-care a part of your daily routine. For example, as soon as your students leave the classroom at the end of the day, take 60 seconds for deep breathing to just clear your head and to energize yourself for the rest of the day’s activities.
- New habits can be difficult to establish at the start, so it’s essential that you prioritize self-care activities if you want self-care to become a regular part of your life.
- Eat well, get enough sleep and exercise regularly.
- Do an activity you enjoy or find meaningful every day.
- Take time out of your day to talk to a friend or family member about how you are feeling.
- Talk to your colleagues about how you are feeling about teaching during the pandemic and see if you can find ways together to support everyone’s well-being.
- Create a routine for home and for school as much as possible.
- Avoid the overuse of substances that temporarily change your mood or energy level (such as caffeine, alcohol or nicotine).
- At the end of each day, make a list of positive things that happened that day.
- Remind yourself daily to let go of the things that are out of your control.
- Take regular breaks throughout the day.
- Limit how much time you spend following the news about COVID-19 to no more than 30 minutes each day. Be sure to rely on trusted sources such as the World Health Organization and UNICEF.
Whether enjoying a cup of tea, listening to your favourite music, or going out for a walk, make your own list of self-care practices that you will use.
Developing self-care practices is not always easy. However, it is important to listen to your body and understand that taking time to care and look after yourself is not selfish. Prioritizing self-care is a necessity, not a luxury. In order to prioritize self-care you need the support and understanding of friends, family members, colleagues and school management. You may even benefit from professional support.
When there are many obligations on your time, the need to take care of yourself can be easy to sacrifice, but when you are at your best, you can better help those around you, including your students.
Hope and well-being
It is important to remind yourself and your students that you have control over different aspects of your life and that you can bring about change. When you are facing challenging times, it can be difficult to feel hopeful that things can improve. When we feel hopeful, it helps us to focus on change, look to the future, and actively look for solutions to the difficulties we may face.
It is important to remember that you are not alone and that others can play an important role in helping us to practice self-care. Look out for signs of stress and burnout in yourself and those around you, and prioritize your well-being and self-care needs. To help maintain self-care strategies, seek support from others including friends, family, colleagues or professionals.