August 13, 2020
Back-to-School Self-Care: Putting Your Oxygen Mask On First
Michael E. Creekmore, Jr. LPC, CPCS
For educators, the beginning of the school year is one of the most stressful times of the year. It’s filled with anxiety, the unknown, the unpredictable — but also holds all the promise of what could be a great school year. However, this year is a little different. Let’s add a global pandemic to the equation and watch our anxieties rise to unprecedented levels. The politicization of public education has always existed, but rarely front and center on life-and-death discussions.
Unfortunately, this year educators have been involuntarily placed on a collision course with COVID-19. Caring for our students, maintaining school culture, and providing effective instruction are likely going to be more challenging than ever for many of us. But there’s one element we often neglect while we’re focused on the well-being of our class: whether you are teaching virtually, face to face, or in some combination, you will still need to check in with yourself!
While we're all grounded by the pandemic, it wasn't so long ago that we looked forward to a "reset" by hopping on a plane during a school break. In many ways starting the school year can feel like getting ready for take-off. And just like when we get ready for flight, we all need to sit down, buckle up, and remember this important message:
“Should the cabin lose pressure, oxygen masks will drop from the overhead area. Please place the mask over your own mouth and nose before assisting others.”
Of course we understand the rationale for that statement. However, we don’t always follow recommendations. The majority of educators enter the field with the intention of helping everyone. Unfortunately, we educators often help others at great expense to our personal health and well being. This year will undoubtedly push educator stress levels beyond previous years, so what can be done to mitigate the stress before we burn out?
Putting your mask on: Building your self-care recipe
Do not wait until the start of the school year — implement self-care now! When you do this, it becomes a part of your daily routine and not crisis care, which occurs when educators are on the verge of burnout. Crisis care is brief triage to help you return to your baseline level of functioning. Let’s look at some ingredients you should include in your self-care recipe, in no particular order.
- Identify an accountability partner
Find someone who will “call you in” when you need to take care of yourself and seem to be falling short. It needs to be someone you trust and who supports you.
Get moving each day and find an exercise routine that you love. Do you like the relaxation and stress release of yoga? Or do you like the fun and dance found in Zumba? It could even be High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) or a good old walk/run around the neighborhood.
- Join an educator virtual support community
This could be virtual or socially-distanced in your school community. Venting, getting fresh ideas, and feeling seen are all benefits of educator support groups.
- Establish work cut-off times
This time calls for educators to work three times more than we usually do at the beginning of the year. Especially if you are virtual, you have to establish times to begin and end each day.
- Find a laugh every day
Whether it’s a movie, a show on Netflix, reading a book, or a Zoom with family and friends, find time to laugh. Laughter is good for the soul!
- Feel your feelings, don’t deny them
Your feelings are your feelings, and they are valid. Get a journal and write. If something is bothering you, speak up. Don’t allow the weight of this time to bring you down by suppressing your feelings.
- Minimize social media consumption
Social media can be a gift and a curse! It can be amazing, and it can also cause an extreme amount of anxiety. If you start feeling swallowed up by social media, take a break.
- Enjoy the outdoors
Being outdoors with the sky above and the green grass below does something to you. The breathing in and out of fresh air is Mother Nature’s remedy for all of those uncomfortable feelings. Get outside and enjoy it.
- Broaden your horizons, learn something new
Educators are forever learners. We love learning. Take time to learn something different. Have you always wanted to learn how to play an instrument? What about learning how to knit? Do it! What better time than the present?
- Maintain a routine
Take time to write out how you want your day to go. Your day may not go exactly as planned, but it helps to maintain some control — a sense of normalcy, which can be calming during times of frequent change.
- Breathe, and embrace all that is right
Begin a gratefulness journal. Each morning write about what you are grateful for and what is going right. Humans naturally try to think about how to fix the wrong. Let’s take this time to embrace what is going well. Embrace the right.
- See a therapist
When your emotions start to impact your daily functioning, therapy may be recommended. There’s no shame in seeking therapy, and it’s one of the most responsible actions one can take when feeling overwhelmed with stress or other discomforting emotions and thoughts. After all, where else can you go to have someone listen and help with zero judgment?
Although there is a large push to get back to business as usual, refusal to take the necessary precautions can be deadly. Running in and out of a grocery store used to be a quick task. Going to the gym was second nature, barbershop and hair salon visits were routine scheduled appointments; Sunday morning service was a tradition, and the virtual world was only for video games. A lot has changed. The reality is... life. is. different. We are all doing our best to manage this unthinkable time in history. Our students aren’t immune from the chaos and hysteria gripping the country and they need our help to navigate this bizarre world — but let’s put our masks on first!
Nita is currently an Instructional Coach, was a teacher for 13 years, and has been in the field of education for 16 years.
Michael E. Creekmore, Jr. LPC, CPCS
Professional School Counselor
Michael is currently a Professional School Counselor for K thru 5th grades and has been a Licensed Professional Counselor for 16 years.