It’s that time of year again.
After enjoying a relaxing summer, stress levels skyrocket with the return to a busy school schedule. If you’re like me, you may have enjoyed waking up without an alarm clock, drinking your morning coffee or tea at a leisurely pace, and spending quality time with family and friends. But now that you’re back to work, time is limited for those activities.
It can be difficult to transition to the hectic pace of the school year, so it’s more important than ever to take care of yourself as you return to school. Of course, that’s easier said than done. So, here are a few suggestions for self-care that are reminders as you try to shift back to your school routine.
1. I don’t know about you but because my summer schedule is calmer, I am much better at getting exercise and going to the gym than during the school year. I’ve been taking spin and yoga classes throughout the summer, but once the school year starts and I can’t exercise in the morning, it’s much harder for me to get to the gym. (I’m not a person who can wake up and go to the gym before school.) Although I may miss my workouts at the gym when September returns, I can still get outdoors after school and take long walks. Though they’re not as demanding as my spin classes, these walks refresh me and still burn calories.
If I have a little more time, I may kayak or ride my bike. These activities help improve my energy and provide the added benefit of boosting my vitamin D from the sunshine. Hopefully, you can also find time to stay active. Like me, it can be as simple as an afternoon walk. Consider what activities you can do to stay active that aren’t time-consuming.
2. This is probably the most important lesson I’ve learned in
over 20+ years of teaching. “No” is such a little word, but sometimes it’s tough to say. Administrators, students, parents, and other teachers always make innumerable requests during the school year. Whether it’s attending a school talent show, chaperoning a dance, or teaching an after-school program, people always ask me to do more! No doubt, I enjoy attending some of these events, but I have to limit extra activities to one or two a week. If I don’t say “no,” I won’t have any time left over to take care of myself.
New teachers should especially heed this advice. If you’re a new teacher, you already have too much to handle, and you need to protect your time so you can effectively manage lesson planning, grading, communicating with parents, etc. (The list never ends). You may be inundated with requests for help because the demand for club advisors, coaches, and committee participants is always high. Please set boundaries and empower yourself! Really, it’s only two letters…N-O
3. When switching from my summer schedule back to a school routine, it’s important to make sure I get enough sleep. In the summer when the days are longer, I go to bed later at night. In fact, I do everything later, including waking up, socializing, and eating dinner. But with the early mornings of the school year, I have to make sure I go to bed earlier, so I start winding down right after dinner. This means that I need to turn off my cell phone and walk away from the television. Without those distractions, I can often get to sleep by ten on a school night and get my full eight hours of sleep.
You should try to do the same. Don’t grade papers in bed and don’t bring your laptop into the bedroom. Find relaxing
activities that will help you quiet your brain. Include time before you go to bed to listen to soothing music, take a bath, enjoy a glass of wine, or read a pleasurable book. If those strategies don’t work, and you find yourself struggling to sleep, try deep breathing or meditation. I’ve found an app called Calm that helps me on those nights when I have insomnia.
Continue Summer Hobbies
4. In the summer, I cultivate and tend a small garden of tomatoes, peppers, and herbs. I make sure to water and prune the plants, and I enjoy the reward of fresh vegetables. I also spend more time with my dog, taking him for drives to the beach or park. Unfortunately, with my busy school schedule, I frequently forget to care for the garden, or I neglect my pup. Ultimately, work’s interference with these activities makes me resentful.
To keep from getting irritable and to improve my mood, I consciously devote time to continuing summer activities. Furthermore, maintaining my garden reminds me to cook and eat healthy. And when it’s too cold or dark to keep up with these hobbies, I add new ones that fit the season. (My husband and I compete in Fantasy Football league with friends.) If you have summer hobbies, schedule time to enjoy them even when summer break ends.
5. When I meet my new students and start teaching after summer vacation, it’s easy for me to get consumed with work. I have long work days followed by evening activities such as back-to-school night during the first months back. Work and home responsibilities feel overwhelming. In the past, I’ve neglected to honor my self-worth. A few small indulgences like getting a manicure or massage make me feel better and cheer me up when I’m sad that summer is over. Don’t feel guilty and make sure you pamper yourself, too! In fact, research shows that taking care of your emotional well-being improves your ability to be there for others.
Occasionally, during extra busy weeks, I struggle to practice self-care more than usual weeks. Sometimes, I’m in a bind to find an engaging lesson for a new concept I’m teaching, or I need a good substitute lesson plan for when I don’t feel well.
At these times, I search for teaching resources that I can download for a few dollars. I know that teacher authors have worked hours to make excellent teaching materials so I can take care of myself. It’s not selfish to prioritize our health over work responsibilities.
The truth is that teachers are so generous with their time that they may be inattentive to their own physical and mental health. Overtired and burnt-out teachers are short-tempered, lethargic, and frequently ill. But by sacrificing their health, they end up being able to give less of themselves. If you’re one of those teachers, remember that by helping yourself, you’re also helping your students, colleagues, and others in your community!
I’ve shared ways that I purposefully care for myself. What do you do for yourself? I’m always looking for new ways to live a more balanced life, so please share in the comments below.