Teaching is one of the most stressful jobs in the country. According to a 2017 Educator Quality of Work Life Survey conducted by the American Federation of Teachers, 61% of teachers noted that their jobs were always or often stressful. This number is more than double the rate of other working adults. 58% percent of respondents reported that stress contributed to poor mental health. This survey was conducted before all the additional demands and turmoil caused by the Covid-19 Pandemic. It’s now even more important to minimize stress and protect our mental health.
As teachers, our priority is creating a positive, nurturing learning environment that meets the needs of our students, but we often neglect ourselves in this equation. The reality is that our mental health is important because we are the backbone of our schools. Our students’ growth depends on us. Here are some ways you can protect your mental health to ensure that your impact is long lasting and you remain healthy and vibrant.
1. Take Care of Yourself
See what I did there? Taking care of yourself should always be your first priority! It’s hard when there are so many things demanding our attention, but the old adage, you can’t pour from an empty cup, is really true. You can’t be an effective teacher, coworker or anything unless you take care of your needs first. Get at least 7 hours of sleep at night, exercise, and eat right.
Stay connected to the activities and people who bring out the best in you, and avoid those that are toxic or mentally draining.
Take care of your mental health and seek help if you have signs of depression, anxiety and burnout. Some of the major signs of depression, anxiety, burnout and other mental health issues include fatigue, sleep problems, rapid heart rate and breathing, persistent headaches, feelings of hopelessness. IF you experience any of these signs, please seek help.
2. Set, and Keep Boundaries
There will always be work left to do at the end of the day. You can certainly keep going and going, but chances are good you’ll burn out! It’s important to set boundaries and to have time for yourself to refresh, regroup and find a balance between work and “life”. Pay attention to how you feel during your daily activities, if something isn’t working, adjust.
Learn to say NO and don’t feel guilty about it. You can’t do everything and be everywhere. Taking on more than you can handle is a chief cause of stress and frustration.
3. Accept Help
This seems to be a recurring theme for us. Why is it so hard for teachers to accept or ask for help? I don’t have any idea, but you know it’s true. I think it’s because it might be seen as a sign of weakness and that we “don’t have it all together” or “it just won’t get done the way I would do it”. We’re control freaks, you know I’m right. There is absolutely nothing wrong with asking for and accepting help! If you’re lucky enough to have parent volunteers, give them things to do. They can take on copying, cutting things out and so many other things. Give them clear instructions and turn them loose. Everyone needs help now and then.
4. Focus on What You Can Control
There are so many things happening on our campuses and in our districts that we have no control over and for some crazy reason these things tend to take our attention from the things that are actually in our control. Make it a point to focus on the things you can control. Spend your energy on things you can control. You control your mindset. A positive mindset goes a long way toward a productive and positive experience for both you and your students. If there are things that you don’t like, rather than complain about them, find a way to help make changes that benefit you and everyone else.
5. Be Grateful
Sometimes when I’ve had a really bad day, I stop to remind myself that there has to be something to be grateful for in this mess of a day. Try it, find three things to be thankful for every day. If a coworker or administrator helped you with something or you just realized that your life is better because of them, tell them, just a simple thank you for being you will brighten their day and yours. Notice the little things that your students do and acknowledge them. An attitude of gratitude can change your outlook.
7. Lend a Helping Hand
There’s a lot of power in shared experiences. The teachers on your team and others you’ve made connections with on your campus often share the same concerns and frustrations you do and it can help you lighten your load by lending a hand, a shoulder or an ear to a colleague who may need a lift. If you love a certain subject and others on your team don’t, share a lesson plan or offer a fun activity for them to use. Share something with a teacher you know might be having a hard time, a kind note, let them know you’re available to talk.
Take a look at our self-care suggestions to support your overall well-being Running on Empty is Never a Good Idea – Destination Knowledge for additional ways to protect your mental health and well-being.
Teia Hoover Baker is an educator, published author, and entrepreneur. She is an innovative, devoted educator whose career has been dedicated to coordinating programs that support struggling learners. Her passion is meeting students where they are and guiding them to excel. Her main focus is always what is best for children. Teia holds a Bachelor’s in Journalism and a Master’s of Education. In her spare time, she enjoys being Lovie to her growing grandchildren.