Committee for Children Blog

3 Self-Care Tips for Teachers and Educators

We’ve all felt professional slumps. It might be post-vacation low, perhaps a pre-summer desire to wrap up lessons or projects. Students might squirm in their own seats after enjoying a taste of freedom during summer, winter, or spring breaks. You feel like you’re running on fumes—the day-to-day challenges that didn’t faze you before now leave you perpetually stressed.

Teachers and Educators Influence School and Class Climate

Several studies have found significant relationships between teachers’ well-being and classroom climate, says Mylien Duong, a senior research scientist at Committee for Children. “Teaching is ranked as one of the most stressful professions, year after year, and the level of stress among teachers is increasing. The research shows that teachers’ emotions, both positive and negative, are contagious to their students. To support students, we need to first support teachers.”

Administrators and counselors can experience similar stress. Educators who are disengaged and emotionally exhausted are less likely to model positive, prosocial behaviors and coping strategies, which can directly affect a classroom environment or even a school community at large.

Research-Based Tips for Educator Self Care

Instead of just powering through and leaving your mental health on the back burner—something we know dedicated educators can be guilty of—why not employ self-care strategies to help you start, get through, or finish the school year strong? Here are a few research-based self-care tips for teachers to sustain social-emotional well-being all year:

1. Don’t Sacrifice Sleep

Getting a full eight hours seldom wins out when other activities compete for your time in the evening, whether it’s grading papers or bingeing a new show on Netflix. But those few extra hours make all the difference when it comes your ability to function, both physically and mentally. In a 2010 study,1 nearly 25 percent of teachers and administrators reported that their daily activities were impaired by lack of sleep. This same study notes that 43 percent of school personnel slept less than six hours per night, about an hour less than the average American adult.

Physically, lack of sleep disrupts basic functions, such as immune regulation, metabolic control, learning and memory. It’s associated with a wide variety of health problems. And the evidence for sleep’s effect on emotion regulation is mounting. In a 2007 experiment, sleep-deprived individuals showed 60 percent greater activation in the amygdala (the part of the brain responsible for “fight or flight”) in response to negative emotional stimuli. What does that mean, exactly? If you’re not getting enough sleep, you won’t be nearly as cool, calm, and collected when facing a disruptive student or an issue with a colleague.

Pro tip: Avoid blue light from phones and computers 30 minutes before heading to bed (it doesn’t hurt to keep tech out of the bedroom altogether).

2. Practice Mindfulness

Quieting the constant noise of everyday life and being present in the moment is easier said than done. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to work mindfulness into your schedule, whether it’s awareness of your surroundings while on your lunch break, intentionality about your eating, gratitude journaling, or just focusing on deep breathing when you’re feeling tense.  

Stay especially mindful of your time. If you’re feeling stretched too thin, consider reassessing your boundaries when it comes to your schedule. Make relaxing a priority by dedicating specific time to recharging your mental batteries.

When was the last time you took a slow, deep breath? Diaphragmatic breathing can help reduce stress at any point in your day: breathe in slowly through your nose, feel your stomach move out, and then breathe out slowly through your mouth.

Pro tip: Learn more about mindfulness and practice it with your students through Committee for Children’s digital mindfulness library, Mind Yeti.

3. Get Your Steps In

When done regularly, aerobic exercise buffers against depression, anxiety, and sensitivity to stress—more endorphins equal less likelihood of burnout. Healthy, emotionally resilient educators are likely to maintain composure during challenging student encounters, actively monitor the classroom, positively engage students in learning, demonstrate patience, and engage in mindful listening. 

Try to work movement into your commute, take a walk at lunch, or make plans to exercise with colleagues for extra accountability. On weeks where squeezing in a workout just isn’t doable, schedule a movement-based activity into your weekend plans.


Reference

  1. Amschler, D. H., & McKenzie, J. F. (2010). Perceived sleepiness, sleep habits and sleep concerns of public school teachers, administrators and other personnel. American Journal of Health Education, 41(2), 102-109.