Teachers, your mental health is essential. Not just for you, but for your class. So start giving yourself and some self-care. You don’t have to be perfect. You may think you have to have all the balls in the air all the time, tick all the boxes, just be a success right from the get-go. And, to your credit, you may pull it off initially. How you are you going to sustain that? Let me tell you a little secret, you can’t and won’t support that, and something has to give. Sadly, usually, it is teachers mental health, their physical health, sanity, or their relationships.
So I am Nancy negative here, and you are already thinking about not reading the rest of this little depressive diatribe because well you have marking to do. I don’t mean to be ‘Miss take the wind out of your sails,’ but let’s get real. You want to save the world, be the best you can be, impress everyone, look all bright and shiny. I know, I get it, been there done that and listened to the tales of so many of your colleagues feeling like failures because they cant sustain everything. Teachers who feel like they need to keep all the balls in the air. (FYI I am a psychologist in private practice, and yes teachers are pretty much hard workers, organised, relentless schedulers who want to get it right, be the example, hold the space for the kids they care about and sacrifice themselves for the mighty cause).
Time for a little game. I call it quote bingo. Tick off the quotes you can overhear tomorrow at work. Don’t worry; the game will most likely be over by recess.
- “I have no life, I used to have friends, now I have colleagues” (actually, it would be harsh to hear this at work)
- “I eat lollies to spark my energy.”
- “It’s not like the kids are my friends, I’m meant to hold it together for them.”
- “I have never been so fricken tired in all my lif.e.”
- “my weight, oh my weight, I used to care, now I don’t have time.”
- “Today I have playground duty, marking, bus zone duty, professional development.”
- “self care, bahaha.”
I know a little secret about lasting the distance and not becoming a crazy cat lady/person in the process. You won’t want to hear it though, because it’s all about putting you on your to-do list at the top.
How self care helps teachers mental health
The difficulty is if you don’t do this self care gig what is going to happen? Yes, you guessed it the dark shadow in the corner of your mind, burnout. When you are on an aircraft the air hostess gives the safety spiel telling adults, in case of an emergency, the oxygen masks will drop, and you must put your own. However on first. I hear you saying, “what about my child next to me? What about that old lady sitting on her own over there?” “I have to look after them first; they need me.” How is it you propose to look after them first if you don’t have your oxygen mask on and you are struggling for air, and then you are splat on the ground?
Schedule it, like you schedule everything else for everyone else. Schedule the walk, plan yourself that massage, cook a healthy meal (with real vegetables), have that coffee with your beloved. Hell, watch your own kids Eisteddfod performance (okay so maybe this is taking it too far, I know grade 3 trumpet solo is not precisely the most indulgent versus a body massage, but you get the drift).
You need to self care.
Self care is not an indulgence, it is a necessity. If you don’t look after you, it is like running your car and never servicing it. All that gunk eventually gathers at the bottom of the tank. Over time it blocks the engine up and then your stuck on the side of the road swearing or worse at the car showroom signing your life away on the next new car cause you broke the last one so bad it was thrown on the scrap heap. Do you get it?
I know you’re not silly; you get it. However, I still hear “but when will I get all the work done”, “I can’t relax when I know there is all that marking to do”, “I would feel so guilty taking time out to go for a walk because it’s all going to be there still”. Yes, that is the truth. Your work will still be waiting for you. However your head will be more clear, you’ll be a little more centred. Furthermore, you’re likely to be a little less resentful and more likely to get the job done quickly. Time management gurus tell us if we batch tasks into shorter blocks of time we make it work and kick the goals just the same, the rules of efficiency at work.
It is like an IF, THEN, BUT sequence. If you don’t take time out to wind down, then you will be overwound and burn your coils, but if you take a break, stop, reset, then you will last the distance.
Do you get the picture? To be the best help to anyone else you must put your own mask on first, this ensures longevity. If you want to be in the game long term doing the caring thing you do for everyone, then, you must care for your self as THE priority, you must fill your own oxygen tank first, nothing runs on empty, something has to give.
Teachers mental health: Four tips to self care:
- Allow yourself to self care – like its part of your job description, e.g., The demonstrated ability to self care. Prove you do it.
- So you may feel guilty, do it guilty, knowing the guilt is just an old record playing in your head that likely belongs to someone else.
- Others may comment, “Must be nice for some to be able to fit in a body massage, I certainly don’t have time for those indulgences.” Your response, “I am so sorry you don’t care enough and respect yourself enough to look after your wellbeing, I’m in this gig for the long haul, so I’m like a thoroughbred racehorse, got to keep myself in peak condition.”
- Find another hobby outside of the classroom. Whether it be a business or something else, dedicate some of your time to focus on what is important to you.
What are you doing to fill your tank? Comment below.
Rachelle Hampson is a psychologist with 16 years private practice experience. She is also a university qualified wellness coach and likes to rave on about all topics to keep you well at The Juicy Living Project.