We’ve all been there: dragging our feet, scanning the clock, wishing for an opportunity to just sit down and relax for a few solitary minutes. If you’re a teacher, you’re likely to not have the words, “rest” and “relaxation” in your personal vocabulary.
It doesn’t matter if it’s the first week of school, or several months in, if you’re a new teacher, or a professional with 30 years under your belt, there are some days that just never seem to end. Right? Days where your 60-minute class seems to defy time and seemingly feel like it’s lasting at least three times as long? Days that seem like you need to hold your eyelids open just to stay awake?
While it’s likely a sign that you are pouring all of yourself into your profession and your students, sheer exhaustion is not a welcome state. Like with every other aspect of teaching, exhaustion is something we need to work to combat so that we are at our healthiest for our personal wellness, the needs of our personal life, and of course, so that we can continue to provide for our students’ needs.
I’ve consulted 15 different school professionals, including new, tenured, and retired teachers, plus some related-services therapy professionals, and school counselors, all who work in a school setting, daily. Here’s how we are staying well, managing the stresses of school-life, and finding time to call our own.
Ideas to Combat Exhaustion and Promote Teacher Wellness:
Cut Your Demands into Manageable Chunks
Instead of looking at your day’s tasks as one insurmountable list of things that you need to do, try changing your perspective and working in chunks. Perhaps you know that first period is an especially tiring group. Consider breaking your class period into two or three manageable chunks. Attempt direct instruction, followed by students practice, and culminating with small group collaboration. Working in chunks will give your students a change of pace within your class time, while allowing you the opportunity to take a mental break, and take a deep breath, even if for only 30 seconds.
Also, look at your day. Consider chunks such as morning before school starts, teaching before lunch, teaching after lunch, after-work prep, and home time. Focus on completing those chunks of time well, and try not to worry about anything but what you’re on in the present-time. Take it easy on yourself and celebrate good moments, and try to have a looking-forward perspective instead of a what-if viewpoint about the past.
Take it easy on yourself and celebrate good moments Click To Tweet
Use Food to Fuel
Nutrient dense foods are good choices and will help you to feel energized until you’re able to snack or eat your next meal. Also remember to take your own advice. We often remind our students to always eat breakfast as it’s the most important meal of the day. Remember this, and try to have more than just that to-go cup of coffee on your drive into work. Some great foods to fuel your hard work include: oatmeal (throw in some honey, peanut butter, or fresh fruit to liven it up), eggs, handful of almonds and/or pecans, lean meats (I love turkey and cheese roll ups), fresh fruit and vegetables (especially those leafy greens), peanut butter (add crackers, fruits or vegetables, if preferred), or Greek yogurt.
Here are some other ideas for “Feeding the Teacher’s Brain.”
Work in Snacks Throughout Your Day
Teachers lack of energy often comes from skipped meals. So often, teachers find themselves too busy with dealing with e-mails, paperwork, and student concerns – even during scheduled breaks and lunchtime – that that forego meals.
Bottom line, to be your healthiest and most energized self, you need to keep your insulin levels steady and food intake regular. Make it possible by eating a snack between classes, while you’re having informal student meetings, and make lunchtime a necessary break, for mental and physical reasons, as often as possible. Keep snacks effortless with items seen above, and also including: hard pretzels, chunks of cheese, healthy granola/energy bars, fresh apple, handful of healthy trail mix, or avocado spread.
Hydration is Key
Just like food, our body also needs constant water intake. Even though I am in my 30s, and am fully aware of the necessary role water plays in my wellness, I rarely get the daily recommended amount. Know what at least help me drink more? A fancy water bottle. There, I said it. If my water vessel is pretty to look at, has an intriguing saying, or image, I’m more likely to want to hold it, which in turn means that I’m more likely to drink from it. I encourage you to find a bottle that meets your needs: glass, stainless steel, made in the USA, contains a filter (a great investment if you’re constantly filling your bottle from a water fountain), or whatever your needs may be because even if the bottle is expensive, if it improves your level of hydration, it was worth every penny.
This recommendation was made often with how the use of essential oils eases stress, calms the mood, and provides energy. Some teachers choose to use a diffuser (or diffuser jewelry during the school day) for aromatic uses, while others rely on topical use of oils. Specific essential oils recipes mentioned include:
-Lavender oil on bottoms of feet at bedtime. (For calming sleep)
-Stress Away oil behind ears every morning. (To help manage stress.)
-Orange and Peppermint oil on bottoms of feet. (To help energize.)
*Should you decide to experiment with how essential oils can improve your wellness, be sure to look for high quality, 100% pure, therapeutic grade oils backed with a history of purity, as there are so many brands labeled as “pure;” however chemical additives make the product ineffective, and potentially hazardous.
There is never a lack of work. Never. If we were capable at sitting at our desks for 24 hour periods, I guarantee you that you would still have something you wished you had done. Because we are all always seeking ways to do our craft better, to improve our teaching materials, and to find new ways to inspire our students, we are never going to be completely satisfied when we decide to get up from our desks and stop work. That being said, you must set limits and stick to them, no matter what.
Some of the teachers I spoke to said they took every Saturday off, no matter what. Other teachers indicated that they leave work “on time” at least one time per week. Even others said that they left work at a decent hour to turn from teacher-mode to parent-mode and then limited the time they spent working on school items at home. In order to retain some balance to our personal and work lives, we need to create those boundaries and stick to them. Sometimes, it’s helpful to have someone make sure you stick to these boundaries so that you can still enjoy your life outside of school. Loop a significant in, or close friend of your boundaries, and be ready to respect them if they indicate you’re breaking your own rules.
High quality multi-vitamins can help to improve a teacher’s overall wellness; however, remember that multi-vitamins do not take the place of a healthy diet that includes a variety of nutrients. As discussed in Michael Pollan’s book, In Defense of Food, “absorption of vitamins and nutrients through food” is the preferred method of acquiring what your body needs. Vitamins can aide in wellness, but a well-balanced diet is more likely to allow the body to obtain and use more of those vitamins and nutrients than from multi-vitamins alone.
*Should you be looking to add a multi-vitamin to your daily routine, seek of high-quality, responsibly sourced brands to optimize your body’s needs
Take a Mandatory Break
During the day, schedule times for you to simply get up, walk around the classroom or the building, perhaps even get outside for a few minutes. Giving yourself this short break will allow you to come back to your classroom with a fresh set of eyes, and often a fresh perspective which will help finalize what you need to do now. A good excuse is to take that quick walk to your neighboring teacher instead of sending her the e-mail. It’s good for collaboration and a mental break!
Make Exercise a Priority
Exercise improves so many aspects of our wellbeing. Some find the time to make it to the gym religiously, while others can only wish for that type of consistency. Remember, it shouldn’t be an all-or-nothing mentality. Taking a brisk walk outdoors, choosing the stairs over the elevator, and walking from your classroom to check in on colleagues all counts! Be mindful of opportunities to get up and move during your school day.
We’re All in This TOGETHER
Teaching is a very social profession. Likewise, ask questions, make friends, collaborate, and laugh with those you work with. Enjoying your co-workers and making meaningful connections helps to improve your happiness and overall wellbeing both inside and outside of the classroom.
Indulge, but Know Your Limits
Know the limits when it comes to caffeine, energy drinks, and yes, adult beverages. Many people I chatted with mentioned that these go-to adult drinks can be good, but there is always a limit. Overdoing it with coffee, soda, energy-inducing drinks, and even the glass of wine in the evenings can cause unwanted, negative effects that can cause you be be even more lethargic and tired. So, allow yourself times to indulge in your favorite beverages, but remember, less is probably more in this area.
Make Yourself a Priority
We want to be the best for our students, have the keenest mind possible, and take care of those in our personal lives. Remember, that to do these things, we must make ourselves a priority to, take care of ourselves, and constantly work to stay well.
May you have healthy, happy days ahead of you! Have some other ideas for fellow teachers? Please share in the comments section!
*Disclaimer: I am in no way a medical doctor, nor profess to be one. All medical decisions should be discussed with your primary care physician, including the use of multi-vitamins, essential oils, or any other method used to improve one’s wellness.
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