Many of us have struggled with our mental health over the last year. Teachers, however, have had unique challenges.
In addition to being concerned over their own health and wellbeing, as well as that of their families, the 2020-2021 school has been unpredictable. Some districts have taken a hybrid approach, while others have remained all virtual. Even if the school reponed, it may have had to close if COVID-19 cases climbed too high.
Educators have also had to cope with isolation and creative ways to keep their students engaged. They’re also trying to attend to the needs of their students, who are also struggling right now. Teachers are also working more hours, which is interfering with their personal lives. And, they’re stressed out over unrealistic expectations.
How bad is it? Last August the National Education Association reported: “that 28% of educators said the pandemic made them more likely to leave teaching.” Additionally, a study of early childhood educators in Louisiana found “that rates of depression almost doubled, with more than a third of those educators indicating depressive symptoms.”
If there is a silver lining, it’s that you’re almost through what will probably be considered the most challenging academic year of your career. But, in the meantime, here are 7 simple ways that teachers can attend to their mental health.
1. Practice self-care.
Don’t worry if this initially seems selfish. Self-care is an integral part to our well-being. So, make this a priority by;
Setting and maintaining boundaries. For example, use when-then sentences. “When it’s 4 p.m., then I will turn off my phone to spend time with my family.
Recognize and name your feelings as opposed to ignoring them. One suggestion would be to incorporate journaling as a part of your evening routine.
Practice gratitude and celebrate the small wins, such as celebrating birthdays, sharing funny stories, or when a student “gets it.”
Engaging in healthy habits like trying to get 7-8 hours of sleep each night, staying hydrated, and eating foods that can improve your mental health.
Incorporating self-care throughout your daily routine, such as breathing exercises during a midday break or reading before bed.
2. Control the controllable.
“There are certain things that you simply cannot control right now: who will be impacted by COVID-19, whether it will be you, how things will evolve,” writes EVERFI’s Erin McClintock. “But there are some things that you can control: how you spend some of your time, what you choose to prioritize, what types of media you consume (and how frequently) and your mindset, to name a few.”
“By focusing on the things that you can control and prioritizing the ones that are healthy, you can help to put your mental wellness front and center,” she adds.
3. Adjust your expectations.
“This is a completely different time to be teaching in,” Miriam, Secondary R.E. a teacher, told The Lily-Jo Project. “Especially during the full-on lockdown, I really had to adjust my expectations of what my students were capable of but also what I was capable of in terms of traditional classroom experiences.”
“You can’t force a year 12 to do homework if they don’t want to, especially over Zoom!,” she adds. “Even now we are back in the classroom, it is totally different. I can’t chase things up like I used to, and the bubble system means that discipline has to look different, too. I can’t realistically set detentions in the same way! So I have to adjust, and I also have to give myself a bit of compassion about it.”
“Things are different – I’m not going to beat myself up about being unable to provide the exact same experience as pre-lockdown because it’s not feasible. This has allowed me to let go of a lot of potential pressure and stress.”
4. Get your body moving.
Physical activity is a proven stress reliever as it releases tension. It also stimulates the release of the “feel-good” hormone dopamine. Moreover, it can help improve focus and boost energy. Best of all? It doesn’t have to be a huge time commitment -- it’s recommended that adults fit in at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of heart-pumping physical activity per week.
If you can’t make it to the gym every day, throw yourself a dance party or play with your kids when you’re done instruction for the day. If you have a break between classes stretch or go for a brisk walk outside. Or get creative, like doing exercises during routine chores, such as brewing coffee or folding laundry. You cloud do calf-raises, squats, or races.
5. Avoid toxicity.
Avoid anything that you consider “toxic” as much as possible. Examples could be colleagues, social media posts, unnecessary events, or online comments on websites and blog posts. Instead, surround yourself with positivity.
6. Engage in activities that take your mind off teaching.
Give yourself permission to get distracted. That means partaking in healthy activities that you not only enjoy, but that can help “turn-off” your teacher’s mindset. Examples could be a game night with friends or family, going hiking, cooking new recipes, gardening, listening to a podcast, or watching a movie on Netflix.
7. Reach out.
Finally, don’t try to be a hero. While teachers are amazing, they also have their limits. If you're feeling overwhelmed, share your feelings with another teacher, friend, or family member.
Teach For America has also put together a helpful list of mental health resources teachers can use. These include worksheets, games, and tunes to lift your spirits.
And, don’t hesitate in reaching out to a mental health professional. Many licensed professionals, such as Delaware Psychological Services, now offer teletherapy. Besides promoting social distancing, this is a more convenient and flexible type of counseling if time is a concern.