As I write this, I’m on a plane – another work trip away from home. But in these moments of reflection, I’m always gifted with a solid gold nugget of truth. Maybe it’s because I’m not pulled in a million directions by a two-year-old or the fact I’m not literally praying that my child won’t be the one screaming the entire flight. Today’s came as the flight attendant prepared us to leave. I was unusually attentive to the safety preparation instructions. He went through the usual instructions for the seat belt, safety information card, and life preserver. Then he got to the oxygen mask…
I happened to be sitting next to a small child (almost 3 – made me miss my own little one so much!) and his father. After instructing all of us in how to put on the oxygen mask, the flight attendant specifically came to our row to repeat it. “Sir, make sure you secure your mask before assisting your son.” There it was. We’ve heard this a million times, and yet it’s important enough to come over and remind parents individually. Why? Because it’s so counter-intuitive for parents. And it’s counter-intuitive for teachers.
We hardly ever ‘secure our oxygen mask’ before we attend to our students.
It’s important to secure our own oxygen mask before those who depend on us because we are of no use to those around us if we’re passed out. If we are ‘passed out’ from exhaustion, overwhelm, stress, and resentment, we literally work against ourselves and ultimately accomplish less! We get tired and negative. We spend more time complaining in the nearby teachers’ rooms instead of actually working efficiently and getting out of school at a reasonable time. We work longer hours, spend more time away from our loved ones, feel guilt, and ultimately get burned out. (Or a variation on that theme)
The truth is – we must fulfill our responsibility to ourselves in order to serve others. I believe we all have a responsibility to each other – to lookout for, serve, and care for each other as fellow journeyers. As teachers, we have found our outlet for serving our communities and we just so happen to get paid for it (albeit meagerly in some cases). Therefore, since we are called to this profession, we need to steward our resources including our time and energy in the best way possible so we can remain wholehearted and engaged in our role. We must protect this duty diligently so we can carry out this important job.
That means it’s critically important to focus on taking care of yourself as a teacher. We must protect our spirits, our emotions and our bodies. We must learn to care for ourselves so we can care for others with a joyful heart. Some people wrongly confuse this for selfishness. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Think of it as stewardship not selfishness.
We must learn to care for ourselves so we can care for others with a joyful heart. ~A Teacher’s Best Friend
How do you self-care?
For me, it’s time alone with no responsibilities and either taking a bath, journaling, breaking a sweat, having quiet time with the Lord, or reading. That’s why plane trips for business actually work out quite nicely for a post on self-care (wink).
Self-care is different for everyone.
Reflect on this: What is your oxygen mask? What helps breathe life into your day or week?
One word of caution here… If TV time or social media are the first to come to mind, be careful. Are those activities that fuel you, or are they just interesting and fun? Self-care isn’t about having fun (necessarily). It’s about refueling your gas tank – breathing from your oxygen mask. TV and social media can be things used to numb (not wanting to “deal with” the overwhelm and stress). They can also be minefields for comparison – the thief of joy and contentment. Think about why you like those things. If you get community and validation and that really does fuel you, then that may be a fine version of self-care within moderation. But if you are using them to numb, try again. Keep brainstorming.
By contrast, self-care is intentional, scheduled, and protected. Only then is it truly nourishing to the mind, heart, body, and soul.
I had a client once who planned to use her 2 allotted personal days allowed through her school district to plan something fun and caring for herself. She didn’t just decide that morning to take the day off to watch reality TV reruns all day. No, she planned them into key parts of the school year when she knew she would need a break. She chose the sub and prepared quality lessons so the students wouldn’t suffer. Then she used the day for rejevenating her spirit – a long weekend trip to the lake with her boyfriend, a spa day, or a day to lounge at a coffee shop with a good book.
You don’t have to self-care that way. Many of us need those personal days in order to take our (biological) kids to appointments or heaven forbid use them because we are sick. It’s also important to know that this wasn’t the only self-care this client did. She regularly exercised and spent time on the weekends rejuvenating. But I tell you her story as an example to give you some ideas for ways to self-care and to also drive home the point that self-care is intentional and scheduled.
Self-care is also protected. It must be. Because you and I both know that it will be the last thing we put on the to-do list if it isn’t given special priority.
Tips for Getting Started with Self-Care:
1. Brainstorm: Brainstorm or list activities you do that rejuvenate your spirit and reconnect you to your self.
2. Determine the Time You Need for Self-Care: Determine how much time each day or week you need for these activities. Don’t miss this – not how much time you have for self-care – how much time you need for self-care in order to stay wholehearted and joyful at work and home.
3. Schedule it: Budget that time into your weekly schedule. Determine what that means you have to say ‘no’ to if necessary.
4. Move Around Your Schedule if Necessary: Align your schedule and figure out how to get what you need. This is a process that may take time, and that’s okay. But stay committed. If right now you only get 1 hour of self-care time a week, and you decide that you really need 4, then increase the time you devote to self-care by 30 minutes each week for the next 6 weeks. It’s okay to get there slowly – but don’t loose sight of the goal. Make sure you get the “oxygen” you need.
5. Stay committed: Inevitably other priorities will compete for that time, and week-to-week you will have to decide what your priority must be. But fight for the time you need as often as you can. If you can’t get much time in for self-care one week, make sure you get to it the next week.
When you prioritize self-care and stay committed to intentional, scheduled, protected time each week, you will see multiplied rewards! You will be happier, less resentful, more balanced, and well…more wholehearted. Give it a try and let me know how it goes!
~Alison, A Teacher’s Best Friend