Self-care is more than face masks, massages, and pedicures. Self-care is a literal term–caring for ourselves.
It’s not a big mystery why teaching and burnout go hand-in-hand. Society heroizes teachers who work several hours over the weekend and spend hundreds of their own dollars on a single day to engage their students. Even when you stay an hour after school and grade your papers at home, you constantly compare yourself to the “good teachers” you see in the media and feel inferior.
However, the research shows that the more you care for yourself, the better teacher you are.
When you take the time to care for yourself, you are able to show up for your students better with more energy, focus, and emotional control.
People throw around self-care quotes all the time, but let’s dig into the facts. Here are five routines backed by research that prove caring for yourself makes you a better teacher.
1. Creating a nighttime routine is essential to having the energy you need to show up for your students. Sounds pretty obvious, right? Yet so many teachers spend the couple hours before going to bed scrolling social media, grading papers, and stressing about the next day’s lesson. Limiting screen time is essential in the hours before you go to bed. Looking at screens lower melatonin production, and melatonin is the hormone that runs our sleep-wake cycle. Try to fill the couple hours before you go to bed with dim lights, off-screen calming hobbies, and rituals that help prepare for the next day. Laying out my outfit for the next day and packing my lunch ahead of time always lowers my anxiety.
2. On a similar note, ensure you have a consistent morning routine that doesn’t make you feel rushed. Without a routine, mornings far more chaotic than they need. One of the best things you can do for yourself is schedule in a few extra minutes you feel you “won’t need.” This not only gives a buffer if you do run behind, but it can give you time to insert another self-care activity–such as taking a quick walk, a five-minute meditation, or even just simply sitting down to eat your breakfast rather than grabbing it to-go. Doing tasks that you can the night before(like packing your lunch and laying out your outfit) will give you a few extra minutes in the morning, too.
3. Have a work-to-home transition routine. Going straight from school to home with no consistent routine to help get your mind out of school mode prevents your body from relaxing. If you have a longer, low stress commute, this in itself is a great transition. Turn on a non-education related podcast or jam out to your favorite album. However, if you have a short commute or stressful traffic-surrounded commute, you need to insert something into your routine to lower your stress levels and signal to your body that work is over. Something as simple as stopping at a store or the gym (my personal favorite) between school and home works. Try it out and notice how much easier it is to relax at home.
4. Schedule in time for fun. I already know you’re probably yelling at me through the screen. It sounds basic, and as teachers, it can feel like we have little-to-no free time. This upcoming week, schedule in at least one activity that makes you truly excited. It can be as short as an hour or two out of your entire week Having fun reduces cortisol (the stress hormone) in our bodies, which also leads to improved concentration, sounder sleep, and strengthens your immune system. Go to a local concert on a Friday night, meet up for margarita flights with a friend, or go on a hike with a loved one. Whatever is fun and adds some spice into your routine qualifies! Also the anticipation of the event truly helps relieve stress, too.
5. Get moving! It can seem intimidating seeing all of the people on social media posting their intense workouts, but even incorporating a walk or a dance break during your day can lower levels of anxiety and depression, improve your ability to think, and increases your sleep quality. Movement releases endorphins, which improves your mood, relieves pain, and lowers stress levels. If you need to physically write it into your planner or tell a friend to hold you accountable, do it. (You can also double this up with creating a work-to-home transition routine, too! I love taking walks in my neighborhood after work.)
I hope you found at least a nugget of a new self-care practice you can add into your life within the next few days. You deserve to be your best self and still be a passionate, energized teacher.