Whoever would have thought this would be our way of teaching and learning right now? This is a question I find myself asking my colleagues and even my students when we meet up over Zoom, FaceTime, texts, e-mails, and phone calls. We’ve all experienced educational “shifts” but this one was more like a “hard push” at the speed of lightning. These unprecedented times have left us adjusting to the “new normal”, demanding every ounce of energy from us, whether that’s the bandwidth we’re experiencing keeping up with the news or the weird learning curve of doing a job remotely. Not to mention, there’s always that looming uncertainty we are all grappling with.
Like teachers across the nation, I went into “emergency-mode” when everything around me started closing down in record time, including our schools, my daily place of work. All I could think of was connecting with my students, my family, and my friends and making sure they were alright. I needed to let them know that this was only temporary just as much as they needed to hear it. Equally, I needed my students to know that our connection would continue, just in a new way.
Now, into my 7th week of on-line teaching, with constant check-ins on students, daily phone calls with parents, e-mails galore, and texts coming in one after the other, I can honestly say that I have felt an exhaustion and level of overwhelming stress that is far beyond feeling “pooped out” and one I will look back on and remember years from now. There is no doubt that most educators right now can completely relate to this new way of life as they, quite frankly, are trying to do it all. The turbo button has been pressed, the engine of our body has roared into overdrive and we have become superhuman.
In order to prevent myself from going into complete burnout mode, I have come to grips with the fact that I, just like all of us, must give myself some daily self-love in order to prevail. I have come to savor my morning cup of coffee like it’s a new found gourmet specialty. Besides that essential cup of coffee, there are several other things that bring me pleasure and help me to de-stress that might offer all educators some relief.
First and foremost, the essence of self care is mindful awareness — being intentionally present with seemingly mundane tasks and savoring small moments of peace and connection. It is so easy to be “on autopilot” and rush out of bed and into the busyness of the day. Practicing mindfulness helps you slow down and involves responding compassionately to yourself and others. So, in the morning, I take a few minutes to focus on the breath through mindful meditation and feel the ground under my feet one step at a time. I use the morning as an awakening of the senses and take time to notice. I look out the window or even step outside and just spend a few minutes in awareness of the view. As I drink a glass of water, I visualize the water nourishing my body. I am intentional with tending to personal hygiene and “dressing for the occasion” (at least top half) as I am connecting with so many during the course of the day. Each day, I try to set an intention that is reasonable and will lift my spirits.
Find beauty in nature
Just as we are in the midst of such drastic changes happening to humankind right now, the season of Hope has appeared. Echoes of color are springing from the earth. I try to remind myself of the beauty that is all around us in nature and go on as many nature walks as I possibly can. It doesn’t matter if it’s 20 minutes or 2 hours, I’ll take what I can get. I have found that these quiet walks in nature have given me an experience to know more about myself while also bringing me peace of mind. It has given me the opportunity to understand and actually take time to think about the cycle of life and how each creation connects with each other. While practicing mindfulness in nature, I have come to appreciate the smallest things that I have discovered along my path. I can honestly say that I have taken great pleasure in noticing the wild mushroom, the rock shaped like a heart, the sound of a cheerful woodpecker, and the very interesting looking trees on my escapades in nature.
Escape in a book
Not a day goes by where I don’t open a book and try to escape for a while. So often, before this pandemic, I found myself longing to get to books that were specifically for my own pleasure. Life always seemed to get into the way of this pursuit. Now, I realize, is the time to delve into these books that seem to always be calling my name. I try to make a point of setting aside that “sacred time” to do as we teachers say to the kids, “drop everything and read”. Reading books truly takes us on an adventure when we have to stay where we are. Go into your home library, find some of your favorites, and get lost in a good book, because quite honestly, between the pages of a book is a lovely place to be.
Connect with loved ones
I believe I speak for others when I say that personal connection is one of the things we miss most right now and so for this very reason, it is crucial to make an effort to seek connection out. Make sure to reach out and connect with people who energize you. Each week, schedule phone calls or video calls online with people you enjoy and bring you laughter. Trust me when I say that my Zoom calls are not only work oriented! I have discovered that online happy hours with some good friends in the comfort of my own home can be quite therapeutic. This is the time to take the initiative to connect with old friends from childhood or college who you may have lost touch with over the years.
Humans are creatures of habit and routine and right now our worlds have been rocked to the core. No doubt all the worry and fear has caused us great anxiety which has ultimately affected our sleeping patterns. Making an effort to get ourselves away from the social media magnets that pull us to them is vital to our mental health. Limiting our viewing time of the news and time on social media platforms could do us all good. Trying as best as we can to get ourselves into bed at a time that allows for at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep is essential, especially with the spike in stress we are all experiencing. Taking time out to simply rest when needed is healthy and should be guilt-free.
Make time for your favorite things
Seriously, make a list. It is pretty amazing to tackle a list that you absolutely love rather than your grocery list at the supermarket during quarantine. So indulge in a piece of chocolate here and there (even dark chocolate if it makes you feel better). Spend time playing board games, cards, or putting together puzzles with your family. Create your own garden in your backyard. Take time to watch the movies you have wanted to watch. Carve out some daily time for music, listen to some tunes, play the guitar or just sing your heart out. Start drawing again or participate in an on-line art class. Get exercise in any way you can — walk, run, lift weights in your home gym, partake in classes on-line with instructors you love. And don’t forget yoga! If you haven’t ever attempted, please get a mat and give it a try. It’s not just crazily contorted, gravity-defying poses that make yoga awesome. Yoga can seriously open up a whole new world for you. Yoga has provided me so many benefits beyond the mat that have transformed my life. If you’re a skeptic, just do a little research and you will soon learn that yoga has a wide array of benefits for mind, body, and spirit.
As always, educators have stepped up, brushing aside our own concerns to put on brave faces for students and to continue our mission. Along the mission, we must not forget to go ahead and give ourselves some guilt-free self-love. Remember, it is important to put on your own oxygen mask first.