The Art of YOU: Making time for yourself
Self-care isn’t selfish, it’s ESSENTIAL!
Now that school has likely started for everyone, whether online, face-to-face, or some combination of the two, it’s time to take some time for YOU! Much like dealing with oxygen masks on an airplane, you need to take care of yourself so that you can take care of others. I’m not talking shop this month because you’ve likely engaged in nothing but work-related chatter all summer. We’re all trying to navigate the current normal and our wells are running dry. Educators are the best at putting themselves last but #selfcareSeptember can help us lose that not so honorable distinction.
What is self-care?
Psychcentral.com defines self-care as “any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health.” Deliberately is the key word. According to Dr. Maria Baratta, “Self-care in essence is the mindful taking of time to pay attention to you, not in a narcissistic way, but in a way that ensures that you are being cared for by you.” Mindful. Deliberate. Sounds great but who has time, right? Perhaps you’ll make time once you realize just how important a little “me time” can be for your wellbeing.
Why is self-care important?
Teaching is a stressful job. We know this. We live it. But how does all that stress affect our wellbeing?
An article from Occupational Health and Safety summarized several recent studies, all with similar and sobering results. One such study from UCL Institute of Education reports that “one in every twenty teachers (or about five percent) suffer with a mental illness that has lasted, or is likely to last, more than a year.” The article quoted a 2015 study from the American Federation for Teachers that found that “34 percent of teachers cited a decline in their mental health (increased stress, depression and emotional changes).” The follow up study conducted in 2017 found that instead of 34 percent, a total of 58 percent of teachers reported a decline in mental health. Keith Herman, a professor at Missouri State University, authored that 2017 follow up study and was quoted in Yahoo Lifestyle saying “Studies since the 1990s have shown that teaching is one of the most stressful occupations, and teachers experience high levels of burnout and social-emotional symptoms and disorders at higher rates than many other professions.”
Again, you know this. You live it. BUT you are not alone and it’s okay to feel stressed, anxious, and overwhelmed. It is past time to focus on your own wellbeing so that you can attend to the wellbeing of your students and your family.
So, what can I do?
Self-care isn’t just applying a facial mask once a week or saying yes to whipped cream on your latte (though those are wonderful things to do for yourself); self-care is creating the time and space to do things for your wellbeing. Self-care might be a thirty-minute walk in the afternoon before you start dinner. Maybe it’s going to a weekly yoga class, or drinking eight glasses of water a day, or making time in your schedule to talk with a therapist on a regular basis. Here’s the truly great thing about self-care: my self-care might look completely different than your self-care and that’s okay! If you’re not in the practice of taking time for yourself, it might take a while to determine what are the most valuable and effective self-care practices for you.
Here are some ways to get started:
- Learn to say “no.” This is really hard for us, but we have to start setting some boundaries. Counselor Kaela Scott explains why it’s important to say no: “We reach a point where all of the “yes-ing” can lead to burn out and/or compassion fatigue. In other words, when it is important that we be present, caring and compassionate to ourselves and within our journey to recovery, we come up dry because we gave all of our energy away to other things.”
- Set aside time every day to do something just for yourself: anything that makes you feel calm and centered.
- SLEEP. REST. Our lack of recovery time is depleting our productivity. Don’t believe me? Take a look at this article from the Harvard Business Review. It states, “The very lack of a recovery period is dramatically holding back our collective ability to be resilient and successful.” Get some rest, friends!
- Move. Whether it’s running, gardening, or dancing around the house research indicates a strong correlation between exercise and mental wellbeing.
- Make art. Yes as art educators we make art all the time but when was the last time you made something for you, because you wanted to make it? Creativity can be both invigorating and calming. Creating something can also give us a great sense of accomplishment. All these feelings improve mental wellbeing.
These suggestions are just the beginning and a good place to start. Another great place to start would be with this action calendar from Action for Happiness. There’s still plenty of September left!
Educators are only human, though we often have to complete superhuman feats. We have full lives outside of the classroom, yet our job can feel more like a vocation or calling at times as it easily takes over our life. It feels selfish to take time for ourselves because we are so accustomed to giving all we have to our students and our families; however, if we want to continue to be there for those we love, we must stop and focus on ourselves from time to time. Even taking five minutes daily to focus on something that calms and centers you can be beneficial. Teachers take care of the world. Now it’s time to take care of ourselves! Take the #selfcareseptember pledge and promise to do something good for yourself once a day. We are worth it!
Achor, Shawn, and Michelle Gielan. “Resilience Is About How You Recharge, Not How You Endure.” Harvard Business Review, Harvard Business Publishing, 24 June 2016, hbr.org/2016/06/resilience-is-about-how-you-recharge-not-how-you-endure?utm_medium=social.
Baratta, Maria. “Self Care 101.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 27 May 2018, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/skinny-revisited/201805/self-care-101.
Cachero, Paulina. “Depression, Anxiety and Suicidal Thoughts: How Teachers’ Stress Affects Their Mental Health.” Yahoo Life!, Yahoo!, 1 Oct. 2019, www.yahoo.com/lifestyle/treating-the-new-ptsd-postteaching-stress-disorder-were-trying-to-survive-a-career-thats-destroying-us-155043903.html.
Michael, Raphailia. “What Self-Care Is and What It Isn’t.” PsychCentral, Psych Central , 8 July 2018, psychcentral.com/blog/what-self-care-is-and-what-it-isnt-2/.
Scott, Kaela. “The Importance Of Saying No.” Kaela Scott Counselling, Kaela Scott Counselling, 10 Feb. 2015, kaelascottcounselling.com/importance.
“Self-Care-September.” Action for Happiness, 1 Sept. 2020, www.actionforhappiness.org/self-care-september.
Smiley, Amanda. “Why School Wellness Isn’t Just for Kids: Many Teachers Are Stressed and Depressed.” Occupational Health & Safety, 1105 Media Inc., 7 Feb. 2020, ohsonline.com/Articles/2020/02/07/Why-School-Wellness-Isnt-Just-for-Kids-Many-Teachers-are-Stressed-and-Depressed.aspx?Page=1.