Self-care Takes Practice
What do you think of when you hear the term self-care? Maybe it’s the image of a peaceful spa day or laying on the beach with a good book. While these can be wonderful versions of self-care, there is much more to it than the art of relaxation.
Self-care is defined as the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness. I love this definition so much. If we break it down, there are some gold nuggets in there.
First, the phrase “taking an active role” grabs my attention. That means self-care is not something you wait on or something you do with whatever little time and energy is left at the end of the day. It is an action. It’s intentional. And it is driven by us. Did you notice the word “protecting” is included in there too? That indicates there is a danger in not applying self-care to our lives. We must protect ourselves from stress, imbalance, and exhaustion that come when we don’t stop and acknowledge our own needs. I was also intrigued by the fact that self-care is defined as a “practice.” We might not get it right the first time. It might not come naturally. We must continually work at it to become good at it.
As a teacher, you may be naturally wired to nurture others, so taking care of yourself may not come easy to you. If that’s the case for you, read on to learn about some of the simple ways you can incorporate self-care into your life.
How to practice self-care
Take care of your physical needs
Eat a Healthy Diet
When you assess your physical health, what do you see? Perhaps you need to rethink your diet to incorporate healthier choices into your meals. I went through a period where my breakfast was a cup of coffee (extra sweet) and two cookies every day. While some may argue that could be my own version of self-care by starting my morning with a sugary snack I loved, I wasn’t really protecting my well-being. The caffeine and sugar wore off after a couple hours, and I certainly felt the effects of my poor choices.
Get Enough Exercise
Another way to take care of your physical needs is by getting enough exercise. If you are a coach or elementary teacher, you are probably on your feet and active much of the day anyway and you are exercising without even realizing it. If not, you may need to build habits into your routine to get ample exercise. Consider using a reminder on your watch or phone that prompts you to get active throughout the day. Adding exercise to your schedule doesn’t have to be difficult or time consuming. Park your car farther away or take the long way to the restroom to sneak those extra steps in. Find a friend and do a few laps around the building during your lunch hour. Plus, you’ll have the added benefit of some social connection while you’re at it.
Get Plenty of Sleep
When you need to be on your a-game all the time as an educator, resting well is essential. Having a wind-down routine at the end of the day is helpful. That could include a relaxing bubble bath, 20 minutes of reading, or a cup of chamomile tea. Find whatever it is that helps you switch gears from the busy bustle of the day to a serene and restful evening.
Self-Care includes emotional hygiene
It isn’t too difficult to assess your own physical needs. But it requires a little more introspection to check in with yourself when it comes to emotional well-being. Psychologist, Guy Winch, talks about how we need to focus as much on our emotional self-care as we do our physical self-care.
There are times to sprint and times to cool down. If your life is a constant sprint, you will face burnout quickly and often. Know when you need to step it up so you can have some reserve energy stored up in your tank to do so. Summer break for teachers is a great example. When fall rolls around, you’ll have what it takes to put some extra effort in to get your classroom ready because you took the time you needed to recoup during the summer.
Putting in a few hours a week to prep during the summer can also give you the head start that you need so late August doesn’t feel so chaotic. (Be sure check out our recent post on taking advantage of downtime in the summer to prep for the school year.)
Find your work-life balance
Finding a good work life balance is an important part of self-care. Do you have clear lines between home and work? For many educators, teaching during the pandemic made that very difficult when the lines between home and work were completely blurred. Now that things are getting back to normal, it may be a little easier to separate work and home. Consider using your off period to grade papers instead of taking them home at night so you can better appreciate time at home with loved without feeling like your attention is split.
Self-care means setting boundaries
Setting boundaries is something therapists recommend as a way of protecting your core values and needs. Much like having a fence and gate around our yard, boundaries allow us to choose what we will allow into our life and what we will keep on the outside.
An example of a boundary to protect your time might be that you set specific hours for meeting with parents. You can communicate this ahead of time during orientation and let parents know when they can schedule time to meet with you about their student. If a parent requests a meeting during your personal time, gently remind them of the communication from earlier in the year and reiterate your available times. Learning to assert healthy boundaries is such an important skill in life. For those of us who struggle with people pleasing, this may feel like you are being mean or selfish by not accommodating others. But, when done tactfully and respectfully, setting boundaries is a great way to practice self-care.
Know when to say yes and when to say no
Do you have a hard time saying no to people you care about? Sometimes we feel guilty or we just want to help so we say yes to something before even considering how it might impact our own well-being. Have you ever said, “Sure, I’ll watch your cat for two weeks,” or “Of course, I’ll take you to the airport at 5am,” and then instantly regretted your eagerness to accommodate?
When asked to do something that you are feeling unsure about, take five minutes before you give an answer. Use that short time to ask yourself, “Is this something I want to do or is this something I feel obligated to do.” If obligation or guilt is motivating you to say yes, you may want to reconsider by asking yourself, “What do I need right now?” Considering your own needs is not selfishness. This is self-care! Constantly catering to the needs of others for the wrong reasons and to the detriment of your own well-being will breed resentment. That is not good for you or for others.
So, take a step back and make sure you are saying no to the things that don’t align with your life and values, so you have room for saying yes to the things that do.
Practice self-care by tapping into your gifts and strengths
Tapping into your gifts daily will energize you and help give you life. On the other hand, operating in a way that doesn’t come naturally for you will lead to burn out. Have you ever been in a job that sucked the life out of you because it didn’t utilize your gifts or allow you to do things you were wired to do? For example, if you are extremely artistic and creative, being an accountant may sound like your worst nightmare. Day after day of having to stretch and adapt in a way that is not natural for you can be exhausting.
If you are considering a career change, be sure to factor in your gifts and strengths when you begin your job search. If you are currently in a role that doesn’t quite fit perfectly for who you are, try to find a hobby or another outlet where you can really lean into your talents.
Make time for yourself
One simple way to practice self-care is to set a date with yourself and guard that time. Put it on your calendar and don’t let anything creep up and steal that time. Use this time to do something just for you, something that refuels you and brings you joy. For some, this might be dinner with friends. For others, it might be a hike through the woods with not another soul in sight. Figure out what you need, and then carve out time each week to spend some quality time with yourself.
Daily Self-Care Checklist
Process Street offers a very handy Daily Self-Care Checklist you can print off and start building daily routines. Download, print, and fill it out to start incorporating self-care into your day.
Self-care doesn’t have to be difficult, but it does need to be an intentional practice. It may feel awkward at first doing something just for you, but getting into this habit will create a happier, healthier version of you. That’s something that is good for you and everyone around you!
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