Photo Credit: Teacher Troubles

‘Tis the season to be jolly. Well, it’s hard to be jolly when you’re super stressed.

People in my school building often comment that I’m always smiling and in a good mood.  Little do they know just how stressed I am.  For starters, being responsible for educating 20 plus children is a huge weight on your shoulders.  I know there are people who say, “You only teach kindergarten.”  (Typing the word “only” just now made me cringe).  Kindergarten, like all other grades is super important, so again, it’s a huge weight.  But, that’s not where most of my stress is stemming from these days because I’ve finally accepted that contrary to the number I may get on an evaluation, I’m good at my job.  Unfortunately, teaching doesn’t make up most my job.  I think my most accurate title these days would be a data collector.  I feel like I’m drowning in assessments and paperwork.  And my time to complete the paperwork is being taken up by meetings about the paperwork.  It’s a vicious cycle.

So I guess for me, ‘tis the season to be stressed.  It’s ironic because I was told by multiple sources that my name came up in a meeting saying that I’m not stressed enough.  Not sure why the goal is for teachers to be stressed, but I digress.  I’m plenty stressed but I often get the message that when you walk in the building, you’re no longer a person, and your feelings don’t really matter.  Your sole purpose is to be present for the kids.

Please don’t get me wrong, I love the kids. But how can I be expected to care for and provide for them if I’m not taking care of myself?  You must put your oxygen mask on before helping others.  So yes, I may be physically present for the kids but these days I’m finding it difficult to be mentally present for them, and for myself.

Unfortunately, we live in a society where being busy is cool. Where people brag about being at work for 12 hours a day.  Why do I need to spend half of my day at work to be productive? Some people are more productive in different settings.  But if you don’t meet that minimum you’re seen as not doing your job.  In fact, I was once told that I need to stay late at least 2 days a week.  When I replied that I work from home, the response was, well you need to be seen here.

All this to say, that I’m stressed.  But if you’re still reading this, I’m sure you already knew that.  I have been fortunate enough over the years to have a close friend who is a clinical psychologist. Just talking to her in and of itself has been a huge relief.  She has shared some very helpful tips with me to help me cope with stress.  Over time I’ve been able to develop some of my own.  Below are some tips that represent a combination of the help I’ve received from her, and some strategies I’ve developed on my own.

1. Take a few minutes for yourself

For me, this usually comes in the morning.  I arrive at work early, but I find that I often sit in my car for at least ten minutes before going into the building.  When I’m especially stressed, the time in my car is greater.  In the past, I was listening to a playlist I’d created, but in my effort to be fiscally fit I canceled my Spotify premium, so I have to settle for whatever comes on the radio.  For those few minutes, my Nissan Sentra is my sanctuary.

2. Phone a friend. In my case, g-chat a friend.

Last week was an especially rough one for me, but it made me realize how super thankful I am for my friends and family who listen to my stories, and offer words of encouragement, after they get over the initial shock.  Though your friends and family may not be able to relate, they can be there for you.  Try not to vent all the time, though.  A little at a time is healthy, but doing so constantly just reinforces the stress. I have to check myself with this one, because I have stories for days.  But I’m sure my friends appreciate a break from those stories and it’s good for me to think about other things, not related to work.

3. Follow a mental health blog.

My friend, the clinical psychologist, also has a blog full of helpful daily advice, which you can visit here. She provides great tips, though I must say that some of them are easier said than done, like take a real lunch break.  It sounds simple.  In fact, I told her I was going to do it.  But, unfortunately, I have yet to take an actual lunch break.  In my defense, my lunch is more of a breakfast since it’s at 10:30 every morning.  And, I have to plan for four different subjects after lunch with no transition time in between. So my lunch usually turns into planning, and my planning is consumed by meetings.  One day I will take a lunch break, speaking it into existence.

4. Make plans

In the past, I was good about making plans so I’d have something to look forward to, something to get me through the week.  I’d write the dates on a white board and write down dates, outings, massages, trips.  These days, I don’t have the time or energy to write stuff on a white board; it sounds like a lot of work right about now.  Still, making plans is an effective way to relieve, or at least manage, stress.  Now if you’re like me, you might make plans then unintentionally break them by falling asleep.  Sorry to all my friends who have been a victim of my naps that turn into a deep sleep.  But, getting some sleep is not to be underrated, especially when one is trying to get rid of stress.

5. Take a mental health day.

Unfortunately, there is still a stigma around mental health so I know this is easier said than done.  I’m the worst at taking sick days.  In my nearly decade of working, I’ve probably taken a total of 20 days.  Just typing that I realize how ridiculous and unhealthy that sounds.  Work can be physically, emotionally, and mentally draining, so it’s important to take time for self-care.  I’m officially committing to making time for me.

That’s all I have for now.  Seven school days left before winter break (not that I’m counting).  My goal is to achieve a healthy work-life balance.  These days it’s been work and more work, little life in the equation.  What about you?  Any tips to stay mentally healthy?  Please share below.

~ Marissa’s Teachable Moments

6 thoughts on “‘Tis The Season”

  1. Yes! Self-care is incredibly important. I sit in my car when I get home for a while before going inside. That has become an unwinding time for me.
    Physical activity helps as well. I went to the gym and just danced a week or so ago and it felt so good. I’ve been trying to work the physical activity beck into my life as a regular occurrence, but it is very easy to just go home and do nothing (or keep working) after a long day of working with/for others.

    Miss you! Take care! <3

  2. OK so I’m not a teacher but these suggestions are relevant no matter what you do for a living, I think. What most resonates with me about this one is the (predominantly Western, particularly American) value placed on the act of busy-ness. One of the reasons why I like to travel out of the US for vacations is not just to see a new place, but because the more I travel, the more I realize how warped our sense of happiness and success is in this country especially. We’re part of the problem because we think of health and wellness as something extra on the to-do list (go to the gym, get a yoga or massage Groupon, etc.) and not part and parcel of our daily lives. Sitting somewhere doing nothing or eating lunch for two hours isn’t out of the ordinary in other countries. That doesn’t mean these people don’t have their own challenges when it comes to health and happiness, but there is certainly better acceptance of these lifestyles abroad than here. We very consciously have to UN-LEARN a lot of what we’ve been taught by family, friends, media, etc. about the sheer concept of happiness to get to that place where we no longer feel guilty for doing any of the things you’ve listed here. Thank you for keeping this much-needed energy going for yourself and for me. 🙂

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