Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers, school counselors, and school employees have remained acutely focused on supporting their students and continuing to do their jobs at this time. In some cases, this may mean teaching, care-taking (whether for children or other loved ones), and continuing to work through the same challenges that anyone else is. While resources related to mental health have been (rightfully) front and center for supporting students, parents, and others– less focus has been paid on the mental health needs of the educators who are also trying to find balance in our new way of living and learning.
Control the controllables: There are certain things that you simply cannot control right now– who will be impacted by COVID-19, whether it will be you, how things will evolve. But there are some things that you can control: how you spend some of your time, what you choose to prioritize, what types of media you consume (and how frequently) and your mindset, to name a few. By focusing on the things that you can control and prioritizing the ones that are healthy, you can help to put your mental wellness front and center.
Carve out time for self care: Now, more than ever, we are acutely focused on physical health and preventing illness– washing hands, distancing, and engaging in healthy practices. But it is just as important to try to carve out some time to prioritize the other things that help us feel balanced: for some it is exercise, for others it is reading, journaling, meditation, or spending time doing a hobby. And, if you are someone who isn’t sure what you can do for your self care, simply the act of doing something can make a difference.
Move around: One of the biggest challenges for many educators during this time is how hard it is to be sedentary– you may be used to moving around, physical transitions from one room to another, or even your usual lunchtime walk with a colleague. As you work around your schedule, set a timer or create breaks for you specifically to move around– this might mean moving around your house, or taking a walk around your building or neighborhood– obeying physical distancing recommendations, of course. Anything to get your body moving.
Model self-compassion: Now, more than ever, we need to be incredibly kind to ourselves. We teach students this all of the time– the basics of self-compassion, kind self-talk, and growth mindset. Now is the time to also turn it inwards. In doing so, you’ll benefit your own mental wellness and also be able to model it for others in your life.
Set reasonable expectations (for yourself and others). Collectively, we need to acknowledge that we are in the midst of a pandemic– and that it is not business as usual. Things are going to be different, and that is okay. We can’t expect to be as productive, or on top of it, or together as we once could. If you are one of those, like many, who is trying to balance educating with care-taking or educating your students on top of your own kids, there is no possible way that you can be all things to all people all of the time. By setting small, realistic goals and expectations around what you actually could be capable of, you will be setting yourself up to feel much more fulfilled.
Communicate, communicate, communicate: Let people know what is going on– especially colleagues and supervisors. By being transparent about what you are experiencing, and with what things may be helpful, you can bring them in and potentially expand your own net of resources and support. You may also be modeling healthy communication for other colleagues to follow suit.
Be unapologetic: We live in an “I’m sorry” culture. During this time, consider how often you apologize, and ways in which you can stop. Be unapologetic about taking time for yourself, setting realistic goals, setting boundaries, and being clear and transparent about what you are capable of (and what you need). This is one of the hardest things to do for many, but oh so important.
Create a dedicated work space: This is a psychological trick that helps you to both be more productive, and to disconnect from work more easily. When working from home, we can quickly fall into an unhealthy balance between work and life– especially if you are working in the areas of your home in which you’re also living. By creating a dedicated workspace: even if it is just one corner of your home that you designate as “work only”, you can do two things: you can send an outward message to those in your life that when you are in that space you are working, and also an internal message to your own brain that signals when it is work mode and when it is time to disconnect.
Set “office hours”: By controlling and identifying specific times in which students or colleagues can reach, you will be able to both set boundaries, and will also provide a designated time in which students know that they can reach you. Some districts have done this work for us, but for others it may need to be something that we do ourselves.
Reach out: If you feel like you are having a tough time, and are struggling in any way with enjoying things, balancing your mood, or finding time to take care of yourself– or if you have any thoughts of hurting yourself– please reach out to a counselor. All of the resources that we shared for students can also be utilized by educators. Psychology Today has a fantastic therapist directory, and your health insurance can also help you locate a counselor — most of whom have switched to offering telehealth services. What we are experiencing right now is hard– and trained professionals across the globe continue to mobilize to serve as front line responders for our minds in the same ways doctors have for our bodies, and you have for your students.
Crisis Text Line: Text SHARE to 741741
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK
SAMHSA National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP
NAMI HelpLine (M-F 10am – 6pm EST): 1-800-950-6264
Disaster Distress Hotline: 1-800-985-5990 or Text TALKWITHUS to 66746