As an educator, you have many changes to navigate due to the coronavirus. Your school might be shifting between online and in-person learning. You might be adapting to new schedules and different ways of teaching. On top of it all, you’re trying to keep up with the needs of your students, your family, and your friends.
It’s understandable if you feel overwhelmed. You may need a reminder that practicing self-care is essential to your well-being, especially during times of uncertainty and transition. You may be looking for ideas on how to practice self-care — or how to find time to practice self-care. To help with this, we asked our Understood Teacher Fellows to share ways they’re taking care of themselves.
Here are five ideas for practicing self-care as you teach during the coronavirus pandemic.
1. Set and maintain boundaries.
Dealing with changes to routines and schedules can be challenging. Working from home can blur the lines of when the workday starts and ends. Determine a schedule that takes into account a start time and an end time, your self-care practices, and breaks.
Students often use visual schedules and graphic organizers to organize information. Those same tools can help you process your thoughts and prioritize tasks. For example, when-then sentences can help set and maintain boundaries. You might write, “When it is 10 a.m., then I take a five-minute break.” Post your when-then sentences near your work station as a visual reminder of your self-care commitments.
Shira Moskovitz, a fifth-grade special education inclusion teacher in Sunnyside, New York, has one more suggestion for setting boundaries: “Schedule time for meals, and actually turn off the computer during that time.”
2. Reflect on your feelings and needs.
It’s important to recognize and name your emotions. When you’re aware of a new feeling, take a moment to reflect:
For example, you might say, “I’m feeling overwhelmed because there is a lot of new information about how my curriculum will change. I need a five-minute break. Then, I need to write down my questions and identify a person on my team to problem-solve with.”
You also may want to schedule a time in your day to reflect on your emotions and needs. Journaling, art, music, and other creative outlets can help you process how you are feeling.
“Take time for yourself each day to do something that is not technology-related,” says Stephanie Doyle, a third-grade language arts teacher in Roanoke, Virginia. “Take a walk, sit outside, read your favorite book, go on a hike, exercise, or just hang out with your family doing something enjoyable.”
3. Recognize what is and isn’t in your control.
With a rapidly changing world and sudden shifts in how you teach, it can seem like there are more questions than answers. This can cause worry and anxiety. One way to gain perspective is to recognize what is within your control and what isn’t.
Consider using a simple T-chart to write down what is and isn’t in your control.
“Allow yourself to be vulnerable and be OK with saying that you don’t know something,” says Lakrisha Howard, a kindergarten teacher in Newark, New Jersey. “It is also OK for you to learn throughout this time as well.”
4. Acknowledge moments of gratitude or joy.
Look for moments of joy and connection and hold on to them. Try writing down humorous moments, something that made you smile, or something you’re thankful for. You can write these moments in a journal or jot them down on a note to put near your work station. You can also share these moments with your students and ask them to share their own.
“One of my favorite moments this past week was seeing one of my students lose their first tooth during our Zoom call,” says Jessica Cisneros, a first-grade teacher in Washington, DC. “Our students and families are going through a lot right now (as are all of us teachers!), and these moments of joy and connection can mean so much in the midst of such turmoil.”
5. Use self-care routines throughout your day.
Starting and ending your day with self-care practices can be very helpful. For example, you might start your day with a guided meditation and end your day with exercise. But it’s important to look for small ways to take care of yourself throughout your day. Consider trying this
deep-breathing exercise for teachers as a midday break. You can explore this
self-care infographic for more ideas.
No matter which self-care practices you choose, remember to use them throughout the day. Stop to reflect on your feelings when you’re upset. Pay attention to self-talk. Can you talk to yourself the way you would talk to a friend? Remind yourself what is in your control when you’re anxious.
“Teachers are struggling and need processing time with a lot of these shifts,” says Lauren Jewett, a third/fourth-grade special education teacher in New Orleans. “This can be tough, so I am trying to remember to be accountable to self-care and empathy for those I am working with.”