Building our resilience to daily stresses is a task that we are all working on. However, during times of crises, teachers face not only the stress of changes in their own lives and in their families, but also their deep concerns about the well-being of their students.
Times of crises (natural disasters, disease outbreaks, etc.) raise the level of anxiety and concern for all of us. Feeling anxious and worrying about what might happen is a totally natural reaction to change, especially when we don’t know what will happen next, how long it will last, how we, our families, and students will be affected.
When we are feeling anxious or uncertain about the future, it is easy to panic and when we feel overwhelmed by anxiety and fear we often can’t think clearly—we often ruminate or continuously think the same thoughts over and over which are often sad or dark. When we are overwhelmed it is hard to make good decisions for ourselves and others. If the crises lasts, or if we are continually feeling stress, this chronic stress can affect both our body and our mind.
Self-care is critical for educators to build our resilience, energy and focus in times of stress.
What can we do to support ourselves, colleagues and students?
Being Aware of our Emotions and Thoughts
First, it is important to “check in” with yourself and notice how you are feeling. If you are feeling anxious just notice it, try not to judge it. As we teach students in the PATHS Curriculum, feelings provide us with information—they are signals we should not ignore. We can also “investigate” our feelings and see if what they tell us is really true, is it based on reality? Or fear?
How Can Mindfulness Help?
By practicing mindfulness we can bring our body and mind to a resting state in which we can just notice the nature of our minds, see the flow of thoughts, and be curious without having to do anything else. Here is a short practice from the CARE program for teachers that you might try. By focusing on our breath we can use mindfulness practices to stay in the present moment and not ruminate about all that might happen.
We can also focus our actions on being kind to ourselves and others. Doing something kind or thoughtful for others generates positive emotions and improves your well-being. Think of simple acts that you can do for your students, family and friends. By doing so you will not only feel better and support others, you also will strength your social connections.
You might try a practice of generating compassion for others who are also anxious, worried, or suffering in some way. Here is a short Caring Practice. The goal of this practice is to generate caring and compassion for others as well as for yourself.
Another way that we can be mindful is to notice all the things that we have or the ways that we are fortunate, in spite of the current situation. This is also something you can do with your family or students. During class or at the dinner table, have people recall good things that have happened that day or other things that we are grateful for. Some people find it useful to write these down in a journal and then refer back to them when times are difficult. Some families start a gratitude jar and read this at dinner time.
Other Ways to Increase Your Resilience
Do Things That Your Enjoy
There are lots of positive ways to manage stress during difficult times life. Make regular contact with friends and extended family, start a new hobby, soak in a warm bath, cook your favorite meal, binge on a new show or movie that lifts your spirits and/or distracts you from your worries.
Establish An Exercise Routine
We all know that regular exercise (walking, biking, yoga) is very helpful both for our bodies and minds. Try to pick a regular time to stretch, do yoga, take a walk, or dance to your favorite music.
Regular Sleep Routines
High quality sleep is essential to supporting both your physical and psychological health. Develop a bedtime routine by keeping a consistent sleep schedule and going to bed early enough to get at least 7 hours of sleep.
The most important thing to remember is how valuable and important you are to your students, family and friends. To be your best means to find ways to take care of yourself that fit your personality and situation with outcomes that increase your sense of well-being. By taking time for yourself, you are not being selfish, but instead the opposite. You are increasing your resilience so you can be the kind of caring educator, parent, and friend that you want to be.