Teachers. We see you. This has been a very challenging year for you all. It might even be tempting to chalk it up to the worst year ever. Before we do that, let’s reflect a bit on what might have worked and what definitely didn’t work for each of us over the past year.
Every year presents us with gifts and challenges. It can be easy and, actually, we are hard-wired to cling to difficult experiences. In the past, (like when we were being chased by sabertooth tigers) it was vital to our survival to store negative events in our memory. That is why, these days, it is so important for us to pause and cherish any good we may have experienced over the past year.
Take a moment, grab a pen and paper and jot down your responses to the questions below. If it was simply an awful year and you can’t come up with anything, that’s OK too. We can learn from all of it!
- In your personal life, were there any unexpected gifts or positive habits that bloomed in the midst of COVID? Did you purge old things, get a chance to slow down, get outside more, explore any new hobbies, or possibly read more?
- How about in the classroom, were there any components that you found worked better than in years past? Maybe you liked virtual learning or hybrid schedules, etc.
- From the past year, what habits would you like to preserve while moving forward into the next phase of the pandemic?
- What did not work for you? (The isolation, the level of fear, the stress, all the zoom, etc)
Now that we’ve had some time to reflect, let’s begin to create a vision for moving forward. Let’s imagine a scenario where you are operating as the healthiest version of yourself, inside and outside the classroom!
A thriving self-care practice is essential when stepping into the next phase of COVID. Thank goodness summer break is coming up and we can all exhale and unwind. Summer is a great time to begin cultivating or refining your self-care routine. Grab a self-care buddy whether it be a friend, partner, child, or colleague because a supportive community helps with accountability and, ultimately, it can be more fun!
A few years back, when people told me I needed more self-care in my life, I thought, “Who has time for that?” It felt like one more thing that I needed to add to my to-do list and would then feel guilty about not accomplishing. It wasn’t until I felt completely burnt out, did I realize I needed to make some changes and I had to start small. At the time, I didn’t think I had the time or energy for much more. As I explored the idea of self-care more, I was able to redefine it and it became something I looked forward to each day.
As caretakers, we tend to be more comfortable focusing on taking care of others before taking care of ourselves. In addition, depending on our gender and cultural beliefs, self-care may feel selfish, self-indulgent, or even weak. Indeed, the opposite is true!
Though most of us are ready to burn our masks once COVID has taken its final bow, masks are a great example of self-care. Have you ever flown? When flight attendants go through the safety guidelines, they have to remind adults and parents to put on their own oxygen masks first, before they help anyone else. They know we would not be much help to anybody else if we were passed out! The same concept is true in the classroom, well, except for the passing out bit.
A solid self-care practice allows you to be ready for whatever challenges you might face in and out of the classroom. So what are some ways to create a robust self-care practice? Let’s discuss!
- Activities and actions that promote health and wellbeing in six areas: Physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, social, professional
- Small or large scale habits i.e. pausing to take a couple of deep breaths throughout the day, practicing hallway mantras, or re-organizing your classroom in a way that promotes calm and maximizes learning potential
- Something that feels rejuvenating and you look forward to each day
Self-Care is not…
- Something that only has temporary effects
- Something that takes too much time
- Self-indulgent activities that leave us feeling depleted i.e. eating too much junk food or binge scrolling through social media
- Something trendy that has no value
- Something we feel like we “should” do
So that self-care doesn’t feel like one more “should” we need to add to our to-do list, we are here to help you begin implementing small habits throughout your day in a way that feels manageable and revitalizing.
Self Care Made Easy
Here are a few quick tips to help calm yourself down during a stressful time. Ultimately, we want to move from the sympathetic nervous response aka the “fight-or-flight response” to the parasympathetic nervous response aka the “rest-and-digest” response.
Pause and do some deep belly breathing. The vagus nerve which activates the parasympathetic nervous system runs through the diaphragm. When you engage the diaphragm in belly breathing it pulls on the vagus nerve and activates the rest-and-digest response.
One great way to know if you are belly breathing is to place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest while seated or lying down. As you inhale through your nose, your belly should fill up like a balloon. The hand on your belly should rise first and the hand on your chest should remain fairly still. There is no need to force your belly to rise, your muscles should feel relaxed. Now exhale through your mouth. Notice your belly fall back inward naturally. It is common for this to feel awkward at first because most of us default to chest breathing.
Laugh out loud! That is right, pop over to YouTube and find funny bloopers and laugh away. This too stimulates the vagus nerve!
Splash your face with ice-cold water. This triggers our dive reflex which—you guessed it stimulates the vagus nerve.
Meditate. Meditation can seem daunting at first. Many of us feel like we aren’t doing it right. What are we supposed to do, think about, not think about, etc? There are some great meditation apps for beginners that lead you through short meditations. Or just set a timer for 2-3 minutes, close your eyes and notice the sounds around you. Which sounds are calming, which sounds are distracting? Notice your breath. Does the air feel cool or warm on the inhale, what about the exhale? Notice your thoughts. Imagine your thoughts are cars on a highway. You watch as they pass by but you don’t jump in the car and get taken away with them. If you do start to follow a thought, hit reset mentally and go back to your breath or the sounds around you. No judgment is necessary!
Take a hike! Try to get into nature whether it is sitting by a lake or creek, going for a walk at the park, or hiking in a nearby forest preserve. Gentle exercise can also kick us into rest-and-digest mode!
We hope these tips will help you to reduce stress and start leaning into a different way of interacting with stressful times. If you would like to learn more about the chemistry behind the importance of self-care and practice more simple techniques and strategies, join us at the 2021 Keep Indiana Learning #VirtuallyDifferent Summer Conference, June 29th and 30th. Our break-out session is Redefining Self-Care: Practical Tips to Reducing Stress In and Out of the Classroom. We hope to see you there!