Chance are if you are reading this, you are a teacher. I mean even if you aren't, you are still a human, which is something some people seem to forget. Teachers are humans.
If you have ever felt like there was never enough time to get it all done, or broken out in a sweat when admin added yet another thing to your never-ending to do list, then this post is for you.
Trying to do all the things and also striving for perfectionism is the quickest way to burnout. How do I know this? Because I was that teacher, and as I recently discovered, now that business owner.
As a young new teacher I felt I had something to prove. I would often work really late and on the weekends because I added things to my plate intentionally.
The bulletin board I spent hours on (I legit stayed until 11:30PM to work on a bulletin board…ok huge wall) had to be perfect.
Those hand-crafted signs for the fall festival that I made with a cutting machine had to have just the right amount of spray glitter on them.
Not only that, but I often planned for the year ahead and would color code, organize, and make copies for the entire year.
The Cost of Doing It All
On paper I was every admin's dream teacher. My classroom was always organized and clean, I planned lots of school events, and worked hard to make my students feel like they could be safe in my classroom. I'll be honest though, after everything done for perfectionism's sake, when it came time to actually implement a lesson, I was exhausted.
I liked staying busy, but by my final year teaching, it was starting to show. I was more stressed that year because not only was I teaching at a new school, but my grandpa had recently passed and I was planning a wedding. It was still in my nature to show I could do it all.
The anxiety I had tucked away as best I could started creeping up. I would cry at the littlest setbacks. It was made worse by a principal who claimed she didn't want me to be stressed, yet caused me more anxiety by not supporting me. If a parent was being a legit bully, I had to endure it and “suck it up”. I started feeling physically sick and DREADED going to work. Eventually, I quit…or should I say, was bullied into quitting. (More on that another time).
Perfectionism Haunts Again
Years passed after I quit. I eventually started my business on Teachers Pay Teachers which was much more my speed than teaching, but not without it's own set of challenges. I will be frank. Running a business online is not as easy as it sounds. It takes a LOT of hard work. I still do late nights and weekends because as the only person as of now, I do it all.
The blogging, the marketing, the creating, the emailing, the picture taking, etc. It can be a lot like teaching in some ways because I often feel the need to do things perfectly. And if you are trying to do all the things perfectly, it's going to be an even worse outcome.
I managed my anxiety with medication and therapy and thought I was handling my stress well. But the truth of the matter is, I forgot that one important thing. Self-care.
How I Knew I Needed to Implement More Self Care Time
True I relaxed when I could. I would read books, go out on the weekends, and do other things such as knitting. But I didn't realize I had forgone all of this until recently. Now I will admit I do have personal things on my plate as well, but that is all the more reason I should've taken my self care more seriously.
One evening I began to feel very out of it, like I was super drunk (but I don't drink). I brushed it off slightly and went on watching Frozen 2 and organizing my desktop. Mind you, it was past 11:00 at night so that's probably not what I should have been doing. I eventually stopped the movie right when (spoiler alert) Olaf flurries away and Anna is left all alone.
By noon the next day I had called 911.
I thought I was having a stroke or something because I still felt very disoriented almost as if I was in a dream and couldn't wake up. They told me it was a panic attack and I scoffed at that idea. I had had little panic attacks over the years, but nothing this intense. I called my husband who had to go into work that day.
By 2PM I was in the ER.
After several hours of scans, labs, talking with the doctor, I was released and told the same thing. I had had a severe panic attack. Unfortunately, I learned that with first panic attacks, it is not uncommon for someone to land up in the ER. You truly feel as if you are dying.
I was still feeling very out of it and was experiencing what I think was dissociation. It was a very scary experience that even hindered my ability to drive. Being the anxious person I am, I still was experiencing this feeling almost two weeks later. I went to an ENT and a neurologist as well and they also had their theories. Panic attack.
Eventually, along with lots of self-care, no working at all, and appointments with my therapist and psychiatrist, I slowly felt better. However, it was only when I looked around at the things in my life, did I truly believe it was a panic attack.
I hadn't finished a book in months (where I used to read 5 in a month). Knitting projects were piling up barely started. I looked pale, despite living in Arizona. My wedding anniversary took place during that scary time but I barely remember what we did to celebrate. I had let go of what little self-care I had actually done prior to this.
Ideas for You (and Me)
I can't say it won't happen again, but in my road to recovery I realized a lot. Teachers are humans and we often forget that. We expect ourselves to do it all, admin piles on more to do, and with the pandemic, teaching has been made even more stressful. I never want this to happen to anyone, and I KNOW burnout is happening A LOT in the past year so I am urging you to take care of yourselves.
Read on for a long list of ways to implement self care, reduce stress and anxiety, and basically take care of your mental health.
Ideas for Self Care
- Take a bath with a calming scent such as lavender, eucalyptus, or frankincense.
- Not a bath person? Take a steam shower. Add some essential oils or steam shower bombs and relax.
- Write an old-fashioned snail mail letter to someone.
- Get some fidget toys, slime, play dough to put those anxious hands to rest. I personally love my new Rubix cube.
- Call a friend who you feel is calming and gives good advice. (Looking at you Jenny and Amanda).
- Do a puzzle.
- Get an adult coloring book and some new colored pencils. Swear words are optional.
- Do a foot peel. I have yet to try this, but apparently, it's fun peeling off layers of dead skin. Who knew?
- Diffuse essential oils made to relieve anxiety, aid sleep, etc. It might just be psychosomatic, but scent really seems to help me.
- Leave your work at school!
- Do a batching day or two every once and awhile. Have tons of papers to grade? Save them all for a certain day and have a timer set. If you don't get them all graded within the time allotted, wait until your next grading time. The same goes for lesson planning. If you have a rhythm and have to turn in weekly lesson plans, try and set aside one day per month to write the lessons for the month. This way you will not have to worry about them every single weekend!
- Get a house plant. Don't have a green thumb? Either get a fake one or a cactus that is hard to kill.
- Read for fun! Find a series you like and try and read each book in the series.
- Learn hand lettering.
- Bake something new.
- Go for a hike, swim, kayak, whatever. Get outside!
- Have a picnic in the living room.
- Make a pillow fort with your own kids if you have them.
- Binge on a funny show. Schitt's Creek is my recommendation!
- Download meditation podcasts.
- Learn about chakras. It sounds funny and I initially thought it was weird, but I was so focused on learning about them I forgot about my stress. Imagine when I actually implement them.
- Sip on some decaffeinated tea. Yes, I said the word decaffeinated. Truly, cutting back on caffeine has already helped my anxiety.
- Curl up with a book or movie and use a weighted blanket.
- Do yoga….or if you are like me, attempt to do yoga.
- Turn off phone notifications during relaxation time and definitely on the weekend! No emails during YOUR time.
- Learn to say no. It's hard at first, but you can't do everything.
- Add some fruit to your water.
- Find a podcast to binge listen to. It doesn't have to be teaching-related!
- Lay on the grass or somewhere outside and just watch the clouds.
- Write a letter to your younger self telling about all you've accomplished.
- Talk it out. A friend or therapist is great. Many therapists are now virtual.. Talkspace and Betterhelp are just two I've heard of.
- This may seem weird, but stay off any sites that might make you feel bad or send you down rabbit holes. Facebook, Zillow (my biggest vice), Instagram.
- The same goes for TV shows and movies. Seriously, I love me some HGTV but it honestly causes me stress since I can't even hang a shelf correctly.
- Walk somewhere. You don't even have to have a destination in mind.
- Meal prep for the week.. This includes lunches.
- Paint something.
- Create something. With yarn, clay, scrapbook stuff, whatever.
- Plan a weekend getaway even if it's close by.
- Plan a summer trip. Hopefully, by then things will be semi back to normal.
- Do a social media unfollow of anyone who makes you feel bad.
- Listen to music that suits the mood. If you need to be pumped up for doing chores, rock on! Or if you need to calm down, classical is always a good choice.
- Order dinner from somewhere you've never tried.
- Try to remember something you liked to do as a kid….and do it. Even if it involves something “silly” like playing in the woods or dressing up.
- Get a massage.
- Get a mani-pedi.
- Try a new hairstyle or color.
- Buy something that isn't teaching related for yourself!
- Grab coffee for yourself and not worry about the cost.
- Basically, treat yourself!
If you have made it all the way to the end you are hopefully on your way to being a more relaxed teacher! Just remember to take care of yourself first and foremost! I am proof that if you continually avoid self-care and try to do all the things, it will eventually lead to a breakdown.
“You can't pour from an empty cup.”
If you would like a printable list to refer to, just click here or below!