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Social emotional learning (SEL) is a hot topic this year. The global pandemic has sent ripples of sadness and stress across the world, and our educational system has been impacted heavily. Even now as the 2021 school year comes to an end, I am still physically separated from many of my students, making it difficult to check on the emotional wellbeing of our students.  As teachers, we cannot help but feel their pain,  to worry about them. Yet we still continue to teach them while keeping up with our everyday responsibilities, which have vastly increased with our virtual/hybrid teaching requirements. That’s right: we do it all, every day, over and over again.

The more I look around, the more I see that it’s not just my students who are looking worried, tired, anxious and overwhelmed. My teacher friends look like they are in need of some emotional support and rest as well. We spend our days making sure everyone around us is ok (and, not to sound selfish), but what about us?  When was the last time someone stopped to check in on you? Maybe a better question is…when was the last time YOU took the time to check in with you?

I am seriously asking, have you checked in with your teacher friends? They may not be OK!  Many of us are leaving our beloved profession, often naming the reason why as not being able to continue working what feels like 24 hours a day. We are exhausted from serving others, while forgetting to, or not having time to take care of ourselves. Teachers, we are pouring daily from our cups without ever taking the time to fill our cups back up!

As summer approaches, we need to set time aside for ourselves to regroup, relax and reset our minds and bodies. As you close the school year, make sure to set time aside for yourself with activities that calm, soothe, and relax. While scheduled breaks and summer are excellent opportunities for this, we really can’t depend solely on these times. We will burn out- and we are burning out.  What good are we to others if we ourselves are falling apart? It’s like the familiar airplane emergency protocol: “put the mask on yourself before you help the person next to you,” So let’s get that…ummmm… mask…on. Here are a few suggestions to help you get started.

  1. Try to get some fresh air every day. Take a walk or just sit in the sunshine and breathe deeply. Get in the car and drive (not to work) to the beach or the park. Close your eyes and listen to the waves or to the birds. Even if you are coming from work, open the windows and let the air wash in.  Drive a different way home just to disrupt the monotony of your everyday routine. Whenever you get outside for a few minutes, close your eyes, breathe deep, and think about the positive things in your life- no problem solving here- just think about how lucky you are to be alive, to have a job, to have children or friends, to be enjoying the sunshine. Name as many positive things you can for as long as these blissful little moments can continue.

 

  1. Get a little exercising and moving in. OK- this one isn’t big on my list of ways to feel better!  But, did you know that exercise can produce changes in the parts of the brain that regulate stress and anxiety?  It can also increase brain sensitivity for the hormones serotonin and norepinephrine, which relieve feelings of depression. This is why one way to treat anxiety and depression is through an exercise routine. Exercise also can increase the production of endorphins, which help produce positive feelings. Interestingly, in studies the intensity of the workout or exercise didn’t seem to matter for these benefits (although, if your goal is weight loss, then it does matter- but the idea of weight loss makes me feel stressed- so let’s just end this now!)

 

  1. Relax a little. Take a bath or a long shower just because you want to. Schedule a massage or get your nails or hair done. Curl up in the recliner with a book and your cat or dog. Get in your PJS and watch a movie that YOU pick. Tell your mind (and everyone else), “I am taking a little time for myself.” We are a type of people that moves constantly, and for others. However, we need to stop occasionally for ourselves, and be okay with that. So relax: everything will still be there waiting for you on the other side, but you will feel better and more ready to get things done and able to help others.

 

  1. Close those eyes and sleep. Lack of sleep is dangerous to your health, your mood, and everyone around you! A good night’s sleep helps boost your immune system, attack germs, viruses, and bacteria in your body, as well as heal you. Proper amounts of sleep help maintain a healthy weight and lowers your risk for serious health problems, like diabetes and heart disease. After a good night’s sleep, you feel better, which helps you to focus, think clearly, and leaves you in a better mood. Don’t forget those power naps, too- sometimes a few minutes of shut eye at midday is exactly what you need to finish the day strong!

 

  1. Go someplace besides work and home. I know I often want to crawl into my bed after a long week of work, or get my computer out and get some of next week out of the way. Instead, make plans with your friends! Plan something fun, and talk. Even in stressful situations and times, it’s just not as bad when you’re with your friends. Give yourself the opportunity to share your week, your stresses, and laugh with people who are able to help fill you up.

 

  1. Laughter is a scientifically proven stress-reducer! It increases oxygen intake and stimulates your heart, lungs, and circulatory system, which releases endorphins and soothes muscle tension. Laughter truly is the best medicine. Laugh with your friends, laugh with your kids, be silly and let loose. Put the comedy movie on, or play a silly game, and laugh your stressful day away.

 

  1. Get some alone time in. If you teach, have kids, and are married, then almost all of your time is filled with the noise of your loved ones, and their constant adorable little needs- ALL OF THE TIME. I love them all so much, but I find myself wishing for small pockets of time where no one is calling my name. Pursue your peace and quiet. I find mine first thing in the morning, before the day has even begun. Some find this late at night, after everyone has gone to sleep. Some days, I am even able to escape the routine a little and slip in a walk in the woods, or at the beach. It doesn’t matter when- but fit some time in where you enjoy a break from the noise and demands of the day.

 

  1. Unplug from it all! Did you know that too much computer and cell phone use often correlates with sleep disorders, mental illness, and wake time stress? TVs, computers, and phones wake us up and interrupt our natural circadian rhythm. Try turning them all off about an hour before bedtime, charge your phone outside of your bedroom or away from your bed, or turn it off completely at night.

 

  1. Let someone else do it for once. Let them plan the night, let them pick the movie or restaurant. We plan so much of our days and experiences as teachers and as parents. It is so freeing and relaxing to just ask someone else to give you a night off from planning the details. Enjoy the mental break!

 

  1. Take the time to mentally check on how you feel with “mindfulness” practices. Slow your breathing. Check your emotions. Pause to choose what the best plan of action is at any moment. Negative thoughts can manifest into chemical reactions in your body that will bring more stress into your system and decrease your immunity, while positive thoughts can actually release neuropeptides that help fight stress and illnesses. So think positively, and see if things look different around you- at least you can feel different about what’s around you.
Author

Jessica Cicalese-Kurtz, MA, k-12 Teaching and Technology; BA, k-8 Education; BS, Biology, Science and Engineering, is a middle school teacher at Toms River Schools. Jess is also a K-8 science curriculum writer for Toms River Schools and Ocean County, as well as an independent science workshop creator and presenter. She is a freelance writer, wife, and budgeting mom of four who loves to travel, enjoy nature, connect with animals, and read.

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