Have you ever heard that quote, "You cannot pour from an empty cup, fill your own first"? Up until recently, I didn't buy it. I believed that as an educator, taking care of myself first was just an expected part of my job description. I would lay awake in bed at night worrying about my students, stay at school getting projects and tasks done until 7pm, and return home to quickly eat dinner while grading papers until bedtime. Sound familiar? I thought I was doing everything I needed to do to keep my head above water as a teacher, and I felt that taking time for myself was selfish. And then it hit me--going to school sleep deprived, anxious and unhappy was hurting more than just me, it was hurting my students. I had less energy to plan engaging activities, implement proactive behavior management, and build relationships with my students.
So there's no more denying it, taking care of myself is an essential part of my responsibility as an educator. Investing in my own well being has made me both a happier person and a stronger teacher. Read below for a few strategies and tips that have worked for me!
Tip #1: Develop morning and evening routines that make you happy
I think that it's safe to say that as teachers we are naturally creatures of habit. Working some habits and routines into your life is a great way to relieve stress and anxiety and take some guesswork out of your day. I find that as a special education teacher, my days at school are highly unpredictable, so having a morning and evening routine keeps me sane. I picked 2-3 non-negotiables routine items that bring me happiness and relaxation that I work into my morning and my evening. In the morning, I have gotten myself into the habit of waking up early enough to make time for some brief stretching, a comforting breakfast, and enjoying my cup of coffee while watching the news. Before bed, I take 2 minutes to jot down three things I'm grateful for, do a few minutes of meditation, and read a chapter of a book. Again, I chose these tasks because they make me feel happy, calm and relaxed. You know what works best for you, and I encourage you to make a list of tasks that bring you happiness, and try narrowing down this list to 2-3 morning and evening routine items.
Tip #2: Set limits on your out-of-school work
Okay, okay. I know this is WAY easier said than done. As a special education teacher teaching multiple grade levels in an urban school, I often feel like I am drowning in IEP paperwork, don't have a second to breathe during the day, and have piles of grading and planning to do every night. But if you think about it, the work really will never be done. As teachers, we are constantly coming up with new ideas, being met with new challenges and deadlines, and being asked to do more than we can handle. I suggest writing out a schedule each week or day, and blocking off a certain amount of time outside of school to complete work. Think about your body's energy and what time of day is best for you be most efficient. If you find yourself falling into a black hole of venting and gossip (not healthy!) with other teachers after school, get into school an hour early instead and leave as early as you can. Or maybe you want to co-plan with another teacher 3 days per week after school--try holding each other accountable and making sure you both only work for one hour. This past year I even set an alarm on my phone at 5pm each day saying "leave school!". Start my setting small limits on the amount of time you'll dedicate to school work. Remember that your students will benefit more from a teacher who is well-rested, relaxed and energized than a stressed-out, exhausted teacher who has everything "done".
Tip #3: Participate in #SelfCareSunday
So long, Sunday Scaries! This is a new discovery of mine that I absolutely LOVE. Social media can be overwhelming at times but can also be a fantastic resource for ideas and inspirations--as all teachers know well. I've been following the hashtag #SelfCareSunday and seeing what people all over the world are doing to nourish and care for themselves has inspired me to make intentional self care a more deliberate priority. I even went to Target this summer to stock up on some items that make me happy to put into a "Self Care Kit" for when I am feeling particularly depleted or anxious. My kit includes some lavender essential oil, delicious smelling candle, face masks, luxurious body wash and lotion, chamomile tea, and Justin's chocolate peanut butter cups. I stashed it under my bed so it's not an everyday indulgence, but something special I can look forward to once a week. I think Sunday is a great time to invest in self care, being that it tends to be a day full of nerves and anxiety going into the week. Take some time to love and care for yourself instead of devoting all of your energy to overthinking the week ahead.
Stay tuned for more posts about some other anxiety-relieving routines that have helped me become a better teacher and a happier person, such as gratitude journaling and meditation. In the meantime, I hope you take some time to invest in and care for yourself!
What do you do to care for yourself? I would love to hear in the comments!