Confucius says, “Respect yourself and others will respect you,” and in the classroom environment, nothing rings more true. If teachers put themselves first, it translates to a happier, more productive classroom culture. By modeling self-care, teachers can teach their students even more critical life skills. Take care of yourself first, and the rest will follow.
“Self-care is any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health,” according to Psych Central. It is not to be confused with being selfish, however. Practicing self-care helps improve relationships with others, uplift moods, mitigate stress and decrease the chance of illness.1
Here are five simple ways to start your self-care journey today:
Say no. You are already saying “yes” to a plethora of students each day and giving it your all. Give yourself some grace and say “no” to extracurriculars in an effort to make time for self-care. Saying “yes” all the time can lead to burnout and irritability. Saying “no” can be empowering.
Keep a box of mementos from students throughout the years to remember why you chose teaching in the first place. Think of it is as a gratitude journal, box, or scrapbook which includes anecdotes, gifts, and compliments from students and parents, student artwork, or maybe even photos of some of their work. Studies show that keeping a gratitude journal helps improve mood, outlook and life satisfaction. If you are having a rough day, you can look back on your journal entries, scrapbook or mementos to remember the good times, the lives you have had an impact on, and the fun teaching memories cultivated throughout the years.2
Treat yourself. Let’s face it – teachers don’t necessarily receive briefcases of cash on the regular. Take advantage of your meager salary by partaking in teacher discounts. From restaurants and clothing to electronics and travel, use your teacher ID at your disposal and treat yourself when you can.3
Develop a support network with other teachers at your school. Everyone needs a social support group. What better way to develop a network than one within your school? Organize a teachers’ night out. Host a book club at your house. Sharing stories, trials, and tribulations of the teaching world is a healthy way to vent, get ideas, and progress in your teaching career.
And, do not forget the obvious – exercise, get a good night’s rest, and eat well. You do not have to be a CrossFit competitor or a marathon distance runner to get in adequate exercise. Exercise can be as quick as gardening for 20 minutes a day, walking, jogging, throwing a ball outside with your child, taking a yoga class, taking the stairs where possible, parking further away, and walking the track at recess. The list is endless.
Exercise creates endorphins. Endorphins interact with the receptors in your brain that trigger a positive feeling in the body. Plus, remember the other physical benefits of exercise – a stronger heart, more energy, muscle tone, fat loss, and lower blood pressure. No one ever regrets a workout. The hardest part is showing up.4
Exercise also translates to better sleep. You tell your students to get a good night’s rest before the big test – practice what you preach. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults (ages 26 to 64) get seven to nine hours of quality sleep per night. To achieve quality sleep, develop a bedtime routine, turn the thermostat down, shut off any electronics 45 minutes prior to going to bed, avoid alcohol, and make sure you have a comfortable pillow and mattress.5
Once you have exercised and gotten a good night’s rest, do not wreck it with a poor diet. A healthy, well-balanced diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and lean proteins. Proper nutrition helps fight disease and infection, fuels energy for productive performance, and wards off fatigue.6
Since you are always on the go and on your feet most of the day, aim for high protein snacks, such as tuna with crackers, hard boiled eggs, Greek yogurt, fruit with peanut butter, protein bars, and nuts. These low-calorie options will keep you full longer and help you sustain your energy levels throughout the day.7
Teacher self-care is important in avoiding burnout and relieving stress. Self-care also looks different for everyone. Maybe yours is taking a hot bath or putting on a face mask. Maybe you appreciate mindless television and a relaxing night on the couch. Maybe it is just enjoying a hot cup of tea. Whatever your strategy may be, take care of yourself first, and your happier classroom culture awaits. You cannot take care of others unless you have taken care of yourself.