Back to School Burnout is real. This time of the school year can be difficult, stressful, and out of balance…
- Events in the evenings like meet the teacher night, curriculum night, back to school night, etc.
- Lots of emails to parents about your expectations, supplies, new procedures etc.
- Extra prep and planning
- New colleagues or administration to get used to
- LOTS of meetings
- A room to clean/organize/decorate etc.
It’s all a lot to manage!
You may have had all kinds of hopes, dreams and expectations for the school year. But here you are…already exhausted and on the edge of burnout.
It takes time to get in the groove of it all. And in the meantime, you can be left feeling a bit depleted and dry.
It’s a type of teacher burnout I call Back to School Burnout.
What is Back to School Burnout?
Back to school burnout is the exhaustion and burnout symptoms you experience at the beginning of the school year. It’s fueled by:
- increased anxiety due to the unknown of what this school year will entail
- residual burnout being triggered that wasn’t properly managed from the previous school year
- navigating changes – some of which were unanticipated
- lots of time that isn’t your own (meetings, trainings, etc.)
- new colleagues and/or administration (a lot of time with others can be exhausted for introverts)
- an out-of-balance schedule
- putting the back to school to-do list ahead of your personal needs
- unrealistic expectations (for yourself and others)
This burnout is more of a flash – not like the long drawn-out burnout you may have been experiencing as a result of last school year. However, if you didn’t get all the recuperation you needed over the summer, some of the old burnout may also be triggered when you go back to school. If this sounds like you, you will need to manage your burnout in the midst of working. This can be difficult and you may want to seek the support of a coach or other helping professional, especially if you are experiencing physiological symptoms (headaches, stomach aches or any other abnormal bodily functions).
There are things you can do to support yourself if you find yourself experiencing Back to School Burnout.
1- See Balance Like a See-Saw
Work/life balance can sometimes seem like a mythical ideal rather than a reality. That is typically because we view “balance” as a static state where two-sides of a scale are even. However, this model doesn’t work for teaching/education. This idea leaves no room for the seasonal bursts of intense work like back to school, parent conference season, and grading deadlines.
One helpful reframe might be to think of balance like a see-saw: It ebbs and flows, goes up and down, and generally can be maintained with some awareness and intention.
There are seasons in the school year where work is intense. Like back to school season. So, it’s important to balance that out with intentional times of rejuvenation as well as seasons in the school year where you give yourself permission to not do it all.
If we strive for balance like a two-sided scale, we are striving for a life that is static and “perfectly balanced”. Viewing balance as a see-saw allows for the flexibility of different seasons of the school year.
Give yourself permission to be stressed now for a bit. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself to be in a groove yet and have your balance down perfectly. You will be able to get your feet under you and get in a rhythm soon.
In fact, rhythm is exactly the right word for the balance I encourage you to seek.
2- Find Your Rhythm
As human being, we are creatures of cycles and rhythms. We like both routine and novelty. We like certainty and variety. This paradox can create a tension in our lives if we fight to over-control it. Or it can create a rhythm to our lives if we choose to flow with it and respond to it. It becomes a dance!
- How can you flow with this season and create space for the energy (and extra time) this season requires?
- What points in your week do you need to actually move in the other direction – resting, rejuvenating, playing and letting loose?
- What point in the future can you look to where this season will end and you can relax your foot on the gas pedal?
Remember: This too shall pass. The entire school year isn’t as intense as the beginning.
3- Resist the Urge to Skip Self-Care
During difficult seasons, especially when we are overwhelmed with tasks and to-dos, it can be tempting to skip self-care and put ourselves last on the list. But this only hurts you and makes you less productive.
It comes down to a misunderstanding of self-care overall. A lot of people think self-care is bubble baths and trips to the nail salon. But it’s much more than that.
Self-care is any deliberate action you take to address your own mental, physical, and emotional needs. So a walk, a few slow deep breaths, a good sweat, doing something with your hands, or spending some quiet moments alone all count – and these simple things go a really long way! (Check out those links if you want to learn more.)
At its core, self-care is about nurturing a supportive relationship with yourself.
So while you think it takes away time you could be working on your to-do list, self-care actually
- supercharges your energy
- gives you the motivation to work hard
- clears the mental clutter so you can prioritize
- helps you let go of drama and extra emotional energy bogging you down
- makes you more productive
4- Be Kind to Yourself
The new school year can be ripe for comparison, self-doubt, and internal criticism. Become aware of your internal dialogue and notice if it is harsh or critical. If so, remember that
- the internal critic is there because of your stress-level
- it isn’t serving you (rather working against you)
- it’s a waste of time and energy
Notice it, then shift.
Imagine those critical thoughts like clouds passing through – let them go. And then say something kind to yourself that encourages you, celebrate your efforts, and witnesses the difficult moment without getting caught up in it.
An example would be noticing the thought, “I’m just not getting enough done. I’m working so slowly. I just don’t want to be here.” SHIFT to -> “It’s frustrating that I haven’t gotten more done, but I’m doing my best and I’ve gotten XYZ done already which is great! What’s the priority for the rest of the time I have?”
Shifting the energy you extend toward yourself to a kind, compassionate, and supportive attitude can make a tremendous difference in coping with Back to School Burnout.
What’s Your Next Step?
Take a baby step in the direction of the tip that most resonated with you.