It seems to me that the global pandemics of COVID-19 and racial injustice have launched us into a heightened awareness of a self-care. Particularly in the world of education, there has been much talk about the importance of taking care of our inner and outer selves because, if we allow the weight of these societal ills to rest on us, then we will most certainly not be able to fully engage in the important work of lifting up our most vulnerable, our students. We can build our resilience as an educators by recognizing that we need to practice self care, responding to that reckoning, and then actually relaxing so that we can rest.
Going “above and beyond” is one of the unwritten, often unstated expectations of educators, teachers and administrators alike. It is often very difficult for educators to establish boundaries on our time professionally and personally because we are expected to be available at the drop of a dime. We can even judged as not being committed or dedicated enough when we set limits for ourselves. Then the guilt kicks in and we go ahead and answer that email, respond to the text and squeeze the meeting in when there is little for us to even squeeze out of ourselves.
Have you ever had a week? You know that week when although there was a lot to do, things are going fine, you’re in your groove, doing what needs to be done as best you can and it feels all good and then that voice in your spirit tells you “I’m tired”? I had that week. What was interesting about that week is that this time, I somewhat planned for that point when I would be ready to slow it down. I knew that I had a lot to do during that week so I planned for that down time. I was so glad that I did because little did I know that I would wake up on the last day of that week and legitimately feel mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted. I had not planned what I would do in that down time. Somehow my inner goddess just knew that would need to lay low that day. I have learned that if I don’t listen to my body and my spirit, they will find a way to shut me down if I don’t! So, I decided to listen to her. And I feel so much better for it.
In education, especially during this turbulent time in which we are navigating the start of a school year unlike any other that we have ever seen before, it is more important than ever before to engage in self-care. Although the self-care and wellness industry has exploded onto the scene of our lives, what I think is sometime omitted from the conversation is that idea that we first have to acknowledge that we need to take care of our selves in order to build up our resilience as educators.
Enter the first ‘R’ of Resilience – Recognize. I can’t engage in self-care unless I recognize that I need to do it. This means that I have to pay attention to the little signs, the flickers, the small voices that tell me that I need to slow down, breathe, pay attention, or just stop. We need to be able to recognize when our emotions are high or when our bodies experience discomfort. During one intensely stressful season of my life recently, I woke up one morning with inexplicable pain in my midsection. The pain was so excruciating that it was hard to walk, sit, lay, stand or breathe. Hours shortly thereafter, I started feeling nauseated. Then came the headache. Then came the worst part. Extreme dizziness. Dizziness that caused me to fall on my kitchen floor. Dizziness that sent me to ER twice in one week where I was diagnosed with vertigo. It wasn’t until I had been in bed for a week that I recognized that my body was now holding onto stress in a way that forces me to stop and pay attention. As educators, we are trained to recognize strengths, flaws, areas for growth in our students and in our own practice. But we also need to recognize when we need to step away from our professional selves and step back into our whole human selves so that then we can decide how to do the next ‘R.’ Respond.
Once we have recognized that we need to do some self-care surgery, we can decide how to Respond. Because each of us is a unique human being, how we respond will look different. Each of us will have a response timing that will be different. The thing I love the most about self-care is that there are no rules! I literally can decide to respond to my need for self-care however, whenever, even wherever I choose. My preferred methods may not seem too exciting to some–reading, walking, taking a nap, mani/pedi, writing/journaling, singing and listening to music, playing with my children, talking with a friend, laughing and debating at my two book clubs, spending time on Martha’s Vineyard. All of these things provide me a response to my need for self-care that serves to restore whatever aspect of me is crying out for it in that moment. The key here is to make sure that I actually respond, that I take some action to proverbially “fill my cup.”
The last two ‘r’s of resilience are commonly referred to as r & r, rest and Relaxation. I often wonder why the rest comes before the relaxation because I find that I need to get myself into a state of relaxation before I can truly get to rest. Relaxing my mind, my body, my spirit has its own set of steps to take that can take some time depending on how hectic things are. Go big on relaxation and get a facial, spa treatment, or a massage if that does it for you. Listening to meditations on my phone, sitting on the couch with no tv on, drink in hand, music playing, very simply and smoothly, usher me in to relaxation mode.
Next enter Rest. Honestly, this is the part that I continue to struggle with. Even though I recognize the importance of sleep, it is still hard for me to go lie down to rest at the same time consistently every night. I am much better than I used to be, when I tried to operate on 4 hours of sleep! When I do get over 6 hours of sleep, I can all but guarantee that I will feel better and do better throughout the day. While physical rest is so incredibly important, mental/emotional rest is also important. Educators in particular need to be careful not to carrying the weight of our students’ pain, which can induce secondary traumatic stress and burnout. The weekends are my time to get “extra” sleep (afternoon naps rock!) and focus on releasing any emotional heaviness experienced during the week.
The 4 R’s of Resilience, Recognize, Respond, Relax and Rest, put the building up of resilience in your hands. You got this.