As a teacher and a mom, burnout is a real thing. It is officially that time of year. First was the lull between Halloween and Winter Break, which is a special kind of crazy for teachers. Currently, we’re in the stage where Spring Break feels like an upcoming rest stop on a cross-country road trip that we all know will soon be in our rear view mirror leaving us dreading the upcoming testing season and ultimately desperate to be at the finish line.
At this point in the year, the new fresh-from-summer excitement has worn off, Winter Break rejuvenation has long-since passed, and we’re all questioning our life choices to become teachers. Most of our time is spent trying to keep students focused and ourselves pepped up enough to deliver a lesson that doesn’t fall totally flat on its face. What little time is left, is spent attempting to scrape together something that resembles a legitimate meal and clean laundry.
If you are a first year teacher, congratulations. You have officially hit the “burnout” stage of the school year. We’ve all been there. You will come out the other side, possibly a little battered and bruised, but you’ll survive it.
And ya know…self-care is still a thing. [Insert maniacal laughter here.] We’re white-knuckling it until the next break. That’s the dirty little secret that nobody tells you before your first year teaching. Every teacher experiences this. If someone says they never have, shout, “Liar! Liar! Pants on fire!” and run as fast as you can in the opposite direction. It’s obviously a hostile cyborg takeover.
Here are 10 tips to battling the burnout.
1. Carve out some time to read something non-academic.
This was a tip shared with me during my first year teaching and I didn’t think much on it until I had taught for a couple of years. As teachers, we always spend so much time digging into academic reads that we often neglect reading for pleasure. I gave up academic reading during the school year outside of school hours and it’s been life-changing. My most recent reads have been The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds, The Alice Network by Kate Quinn, and American Gods by Neil Gaiman.
What’s in your To Be Read pile?
2. Eat real food.
We should do this all the time right? As the year moves on and we get into busier seasons, my meals go from well-thought and expertly-executed to a mash-up of thrown together things I find in my fridge at the last second. I may or may not be known to snack over the kitchen sink after children have gone to bed. My Tiny Humans don’t totally hate this time of the year. It typically means they get more fast food- so at least they’re happy about it.
Even if it’s just a couple of times a week, try to throw some healthy options into the rotation of mac and cheese and freezer chicken nuggets. Your waistline will thank you later.
3. Get active.
This one goes with #2. To quote Elle Woods, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy.”
I’m the first to admit, that I’m not the world’s biggest exercise fan. It’s not that I don’t actually like exercising, I’m just lazy and easily talk myself out of getting up and getting it done. It’s easier for me to talk myself into staying curled up in a ball on my sofa and binge-watching Netflix or reading one more chapter.
The best advice I ever received on this front was to find an activity that you enjoy and don’t view as exercise or punishment. Running = death to me. Swimming laps = fun. See where I’m going with this? I’m also a sucker for a good dance workout like Zumba.
4. Go outside.
Cooling temperatures. Daylight Savings Time. Snuggly puppies. There are so many reasons we tend to find to stay indoors, particularly as the season moves from the latter part of fall and into winter. Add in that we typically work indoors and have precious little exposure to sunlight, it’s no wonder so many people suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Fight this off with getting more active and heading outside for a workout on those crisp, yet sunny days. Take a walk. Sit outside and read. Blow bubbles and watch your kids go completely bonkers. (Seriously, I wish I was as amused by anything as much as my kids are amused by bubbles.)
Bundle up and get some sunshine. Soak up as much Vitamin D.
If you are adamant that you’re not going outside, at the very least, open a window shade to let some light in.
5. Pamper yourself.
This could mean many things to many different people. But take some time out just for yourself. I know it can be difficult, particularly when so many of us have a long list of responsibilities- work, family, spouses or significant others, kids, laundry, etc. It’s insane how overextended we all are.
That said, find some time to take care of you. We’ve all heard the empty cup analogy, and I usually roll my eyes. Hard. But it holds some credence.
There are days when my “me time” involves a nice bubble bath with essential oils and Epsom salts. Dimmed lights. Candles. Music. And nobody demanding fruit snacks. I may even throw in my favorite face mask for good measure.
Other days, taking a shower and brushing my hair counts. You do you.
The Man Candy totally considers garage projects pampering himself. Particularly when he gets the chance to work on his “toys.”
6. Do something nice for somebody.
Don’t think too hard about this one. Random acts of kindness never hurt anybody. There is an immense amount of joy and satisfaction that comes from doing something nice for somebody, not for the accolades.
It could be baking cookies or a favorite treat for a coworker or neighbor. Offering to babysit a friend’s kiddos so she can enjoy a night out with her S/O. Taking out the garbage without being asked and without expecting praise.
Seriously, small random acts are all it takes. It could be as simple as holding open a door. ‘Tis the season, folks.
7. Get creative.
For me, this looks like cooking and writing. I may try a few new recipes or draft a new poem or short story. Successfully completing a creative project always leaves me feeling content.
Maybe there is a creative outlet you’ve let fall by the wayside in all of the melee that is this crazy life. Block out some time and get back to it. You enjoy that creative outlet for a reason.
8. Unplug from your devices.
This may seem obvious and over-suggested, but think about how plugged in we all are to our technology. There are even studies that prove we are not more productive when we multitask, which then leads to greater amounts of stress.
I have students that twitch when I take up their phones, but they can’t seem to focus when they have a task and are in possession of said phone. I find myself often distracted by social media and the news on my phone in addition to a never-ending stream of emails.
All of those things will still be there the next day. It won’t actually kill us to disconnect and enjoy some time spent with loved ones or simply alone. There are even apps designed to help! (The irony of using technology to unplug from said technology is not lost on me.) We aim for a tech-free table at our house and keep the phones out of the area. The Tiny Humans are only 3 and 6, but even they are distracted by technology. (Don’t judge; they love cartoons.)
The constant bombardment of stuff makes it too easy for us to get sucked in and lose out on quality time that could be spent on other endeavors.
9. Try a new hobby.
I’m not saying go all out here and suddenly invest in a kiln because you’ve always wanted to try your hand at pottery. What I am saying is maybe check out a local class and take a stab at it.
This is a great opportunity to revisit projects you’ve put on hold until you had time to master the new technique or buy the supplies. I’m no painter, but I would totally check out a one-time class in my local community center.
10. Get some rest.
I know. I know. Don’t roll your eyes just yet.
Getting a good night’s rest is so powerful. On those rare occasions that it actually does happen, I feel like an entirely new person and my family and students all benefit from it.
It is so easy to justify staying up way too late while trying to be all the things to all the people. Leave the dirty dishes in the sink for one night. Absolutely nothing bad will happen.
Grab some cozy jammies, a fuzzy blanket, and your favorite pillow. Set a bedtime alarm. (Not actually crazy. Sometimes my binge-watching needs to be interrupted before Netflix asks me if I’m doing anything with my life at 2am.) Catch some Zs, friend. You’ll be glad you did.
At the end of the day, self-care is a necessary part of being the best version of yourself. That may mean scheduling the time for it on a weekend or even just taking a mental health day. [Insert groaning and cringing at the thought of sub-plans] Again, it may not be convenient to craft substitute plans, but your mental health does not deserve to be sidelined.
If you’re a teacher reading this, take the time to take care of yourself even if that means postponing some grading or chores around the house. If you love a teacher, remind them (aka force them as if the fate of the world depends on it) to take a breather. Even if it doesn’t show and even if they deny it, they need a break.
We’ll get there guys. There may be some ugly crying along the way, but we can do this.