Self-Care to Overcome Trauma: 7 Simple Wellness Activities for Teachers
It’s been a tough couple of years. For educators, taking the time to engage in wellness activities can make all the difference—even just a little.
If teaching wasn’t already hard enough on its own, then came the pandemic. Teachers had to shift from traditional in-person schooling to an online version practically overnight. They had to learn new programs, new classroom management techniques, follow new policies, and try to reach kids through a computer screen.
The pandemic then eased, and some schools went back to the classroom, while others remained online. For those who went back into the classroom, they had the additional task of enforcing that students wear their masks and maintain a safe distance from one another. In my son’s high school, students were given the option to attend in person or online, so teachers were teaching in the classroom while carrying around a laptop for the students learning at home.
Now, there are teacher shortages, burnout, and resignation. An article in The Christian Science Monitor gets to the potential crisis we could be facing in the title, “What happens to US education if there’s no one to teach?” The article shares examples of parents getting certified to be substitute teachers to address shortages and the National Guard driving school buses because there simply aren’t enough people to fill the roles needed to properly run a school.
Of course, the pandemic only exacerbated an existing high turning over and declining enrollments in teacher preparation programs. “Teachers are reporting higher level of stress and more are considering leaving the profession than in pre-pandemic years,” says authors Chelsea Sheasley and Sarah Matusek. “In Michigan, 44% more teachers retired midyear in the 2020-2021 school year than in the year prior.”
Jennifer Wolfe, a 25-year veteran teacher and New York state’s Teacher of the Year in 2021, says that even she’s exhausted. “Teachers need time to rejuvenate and are not given that time,” she says. “They don’t need more and different responsibilities.”
Teachers have been so focused on the social and emotional well-being of their students that they’ve forgotten (or haven’t had time for) their own. It’s important that teachers prioritize personal wellness so they can alleviate stress, feel more rejuvenated in their work, and avoid burnout. Here are a few wellness activities that you can easily incorporate into your day. Dedicating a small amount of time to yourself can have a big effect on your overall wellbeing.
7 Wellness Activities for Teachers
The simple act of sitting and doing nothing has amazing health benefits. I think there are a lot of misconceptions about what meditation is and the time commitment that is involved, but the truth is if you have five free minutes in your day, you can make meditation part of your routine. To meditate, all you need is a quiet(ish) place. Close your eyes, clear your head, and just sit in the stillness. If that seems a little intimidating, there are apps, such as Calm and Headspace, that have guided meditations. The health benefits include an increased sense of self-awareness; an improved attention span; reduced stress, pain, and anxiety; and increased focus.
Similar to the mental health benefits of meditation, yoga is known for helping people focus and set intentions on how they want to live their life. Yoga reminds me to slow down, to do what I have time for in a day without rushing through my actions, and to be present and not worry about things that are not in my control. Because you are moving through postures, yoga has physical benefits as well. A regular practice can increase your flexibility, increase your muscle tone, improve your respiration, and overall improve your cardio and circulatory health. There are of courses classes that require a substantial time commitment, but YouTube has many class options, like Yoga With Adriene, that are free and a quick 20 minutes. All you really need is a wifi connection, a yoga mat, and 20 minutes of time. Do what you can and don’t fault yourself if it’s not as much as the next person. Adriene did a 30-day yoga challenge for the month of January, and it took me January and February to work through the 30 classes. I still felt better from adding it to my evenings when my schedule allowed.
3. Five-Minute Journal
You can buy a five-minute journal and make this part of your daily practice. Much like the name, you only need five minutes of time. Each page in the journal has an uplifting quote and five prompts that guide you to reflect on your day–what you are grateful for, what would make the day great, affirmations, highlights, and what you learned. There are three questions on the page geared towards morning reflection and two for the evening, but if journaling twice a day seems too daunting, setting your intention for the upcoming day the night before might make this practice more feasible.
4. Gratitude List
I love making lists, especially ones that make me reflect on all the good things that happen over the course of a day. There are many ways to create a gratitude list. You can create a gratitude jar with slips of paper that you keep nearby. At the end of the day, write something down, fold it, and slip it into the bottle. Then if you’re having a bad day, you can pull out a few to read. There are also daily happiness journals where you log something that made you happy over the course of the day. I once did a 100-day happiness project on Instagram. I posted one picture every day of something that made me happy. Knowing that I had to take a photo at some point in my day, forced me to pay attention to all the things that brought me joy that I might have otherwise overlooked.
5. Keep Student Notes in a File (and Read Them)
When I was a high school teacher, I kept a file in my desk where I put any note or nice message I received from my students. I pulled these out when I was having a bad day or was struggling with the workload. It served as a nice (and many times, needed) reminder on why I did the work.
6. Daily Walks
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that people walk 150 minutes a week. Walking is a great way to clear your head, get some fresh air, and get moving. If you have 10 to 15 minutes in your day, take a walk around the school. If it’s cold, walk the hallways. If you have a meeting, suggest making it a walking meeting when it’s possible. Recently, I began meeting friends for walks with coffee instead of lunch, which is also a great way to save money.
7. Allow Yourself to Take Time for Yourself
When you’re feeling overworked, taking time for yourself is hard to do, but that’s when it’s most important for your well-being. I have a friend who reads from 9-10 p.m. every night. That is her time. Perhaps, it’s a weekly hike, a Sunday visit to a local coffeeshop, or a Tuesday night volleyball game. It doesn’t matter the activity; the important thing is that you create space for it without feeling guilty about your other obligations.
The activities mentioned are only suggestions. The important thing for teachers to do is to prioritize themselves and take time to incorporate wellness activities in their daily lives. It will make the demands of the school day a little more manageable.