Self-Care: Taking Care of Yourself So You Can Take Care of Your Students
As teachers, we often strive to teach our students valuable lessons. As teachers, we also know that learning never truly stops once we finish school. Life sometimes has an interesting way of teaching us lessons. I happened to learn mine the hard way.
One Friday afternoon, I felt an irritating tickle in my throat. I popped a cough drop in my mouth thinking nothing of it and continued through my normal routine: teach my afternoon classes, coach practice after school, come home, workout, cook dinner, do a couple of chores, and go to bed. The next morning, I didn’t feel well. My sinuses hurt, I had a bad headache, my throat was on fire, and I just felt like “blah.” You know that “blah” feeling you get when you just don’t feel well? I went to an Urgent Care and was diagnosed with sinusitis. I received a steroid shot and a prescription for antibiotics and was sent on my way. This day also happened to be a family member’s birthday. I filled my prescription and continued my day as if I was feeling fine. I helped cook the birthday dinner, spent time with family, went home, worked out, and finally rested after a long day. On Sunday, I woke up still feeling bad. I went to church, came home, cleaned my house, meal prepped for the week, and went to bed hopeful that my steroid shot and antibiotics would soon kick in and help me feel better.
That was four weeks ago, and I am just now finally getting better.
My sinus infection turned into the winter crud that graces the population every year. It is not quite the flu, but it leaves you feeling miserable with a deep cough, sneezing, loss of voice, and that miserable “blah” feeling. Being stubborn and determined not to let feeling bad keep me from slowing down, I powered through my days. I wasn’t feeling sick enough to actually take a sick day. As a teacher, I’m sure most of you have taught when you don’t feel well. And let’s face it, it’s sadly easier to go to school sick than prepare for a substitute. As you can imagine, I was not up to my usual “A game.” I taught my classes with hardly any energy and voice (I’m sure most of you know how hard it is to teach without a voice), I continued to tutor after school, and I continued working out. I powered through my days because that’s what I thought I was supposed to do. Though I never slowed down, it wasn’t until almost two weeks later that I finally started feeling like myself again. For the two days over the weekend, I was happy to just feel like myself.
Then it quickly hit in the middle of class on Monday afternoon:the chills, the body aches, and the awful feeling. I went home after school and couldn’t move for two days. It was the flu. Though I had received the flu shot and am always conscious about washing my hands, I felt as if my body was forcing me to slow down and get better. I couldn’t be stubborn and power through this one. Once the worst of the flu passed, the pink eye hit in both eyes and lasted for almost a week. On top of the pink eye, the glands in my throat were so swollen that my throat and ears were on fire. This also lasted for two weeks. My body was definitely teaching me a lesson, and all I kept thinking was, “I’m tired of feeling like this.”
Looking back on my icky-feeling February, I can’t help but wonder if I would have gotten the flu if I had taken care of myself when I first started feeling bad. We live in such a fast-paced busy world and are often too worried about the wellbeing of others or getting things done that we often forget to slow down and take time to take care of ourselves. While reflecting on my February, an important question popped into my head.
“How can I expect the best from my students if I can’t be my best self?”
As teachers, we understand the importance of modeling. Would I want any of my students powering through their day if they truly felt ill? When they are feeling down, would I ever ask them to power through it? If my answer is no, why can’t I give myself the same answer? And if I was modeling these behaviors for my students, what actions will they pick up and duplicate? Hopefully the answer is none.
As humans, we don’t have to be sick to be run down. Constantly going without taking a break will eventually wear you down physically and mentally. You can’t drive a car without having to refill it with gas. The same applies to us. We can’t keep going without being refueled not just with food, but with breaks. In this fast paced world, it can be difficult to find those moments to stop and refuel. It doesn’t have to be long, and it doesn’t have to necessarily cost money. Just a few minutes a day can do wonders for your sanity. Here are some of my favorite self-care ideas:
- Give yourself a manicure and/or pedicure. While going to the salon for a mani/pedi is relaxing, this can be both time-consuming and expensive. A quick 20-minute self-manicure (and pedicure if you have the time) is a great way to give yourself a mental break and look great! When picking my outfit for the next day, I like to paint my nails to coordinate with my outfit. The students always notice when I do this (they are very observant!), and the added compliment helps us mentally!
- Read a book. As teachers, we are always stressing the importance of reading to our students. Are we also stressing that importance to ourselves? Reading just 5 or 10 minutes a day is a great way to relax and escape reality. For those few minutes (or hours if you just can’t put it down), you’re able to escape into a literary world and live through someone’s eyes. Sometimes even scanning my library’s website to find a good book is just as relaxing as actually reading. Check to see if your library offers the lending of e-books. You won’t even have to leave your house to check out a book!
- Take a walk or get some exercise. You don’t necessarily have to go outside for this. If you’re working at your computer and your eyes begin to cross, take a walk down the hall. Even just a brief 5 minute walk will help you more alert and ready to tackle your work upon returning to your computer. Exercise is a great way to increase self-care. Find your favorite activity and go for it!
- Watch a TV show or a movie. Most of us have a favorite TV show or movie as a guilty pleasure. On a night when I know my favorite show will be on, I make sure to take care of anything and everything necessary before settling down to watch. In doing so, I’m able to let go and focus on the show as opposed to being distracted by everything else I need to do.
- Find a hobby. We teach because we love teaching. However, even teachers need a break from teaching. What is something else you love to do? Crafting? Coloring books? Baking? Bird watching? If you love to do it, you owe it to yourself to do it every once in a while. Personally, I love puzzles. Puzzles allow my brain to focus on the fun challenge in front of me and block out the rest. After completing the EdTechTeam Teacher Leader Cohort 1 course (which I fully recommend), I received the EdTechTeam’s Future Ready Honeycomb Rubik’s Cube in the mail. I mentally reminded myself that I had always wanted to learn how to solve a Rubik’s cube after watching my own students solve them in under five minutes. I took it as a personal challenge and taught myself how to solve the Rubik’s cube. Now it sits in my office and helps aid in my quick mental breaks. It has also become quite the conversation starter!
- Spend time with friends. Time flies by quickly, and we often do not slow down to realize this. When we are with friends, we tend to be more happy. Get your friends together and have some fun reminiscing or doing what you love! If you can’t be with them in person, most likely they are just a phone call, FaceTime, Skype, or Google Hangout away!
- Sleep. It’s well known that we do not function well without enough sleep. Be sure to get enough sleep every night. Your mind and body will thank you the next day. Even a ten minute power nap in the afternoon will help you throughout the rest of your day.
- Take a moment and breathe. In those very stressful moments, the easy path is to react rashly, scream, or cry. However, the easy path is not always the right path. In those tough instances, take a moment to breathe. Take a few deep breaths (I also like to say a quick prayer). Once you’ve had a moment to yourself, you will then find it easier to react appropriately.
Let’s face it, the mountain of work will always be there. We can either continue to power through—no matter the circumstance and no matter how we are feeling—or we take a moment to rest and ensure we are our best selves. Don’t let life teach you this lesson the hard way. Take the time to take care of yourself. Not only will you get more accomplished, but you will be the best self for your students. Don’t they deserve your best self?
Lauren Johnson is a Technology Coordinator and Middle School Computer, Coding and Robotics teacher from Covington, Lousiana. Also a Google Certified Educator, Apple Teacher and Certified BrainPOP Educator, you can follow Lauren @laurkjohnson.