Teachers have been working harder than ever during the ongoing pandemic: learning new technologies, covering classes due to staffing shortages, and so much more. So it comes as no surprise that the increase in demands on teachers is taking a toll on teacher morale and mental health.
According to the State of Education Report by TpT, 48% of teachers surveyed are considering a job-related change. Relatedly, a study from early 2021 found that 27% of teachers have experienced symptoms consistent with depression, while 37% have experienced symptoms consistent with generalized anxiety.
Of course, many of the issues affecting teachers are systemic and will require time and support from school leaders to remedy. In terms of what can be done today, one way educators can protect their mental health is by prioritizing self-care.
As hard as it might seem, prioritizing yourself and your own needs can help you recharge your batteries and prevent burning out. Here are some tips and ideas from other teachers on how you can practice self-care during the pandemic.
Finding the Time for Yourself
Recognizing that your time is a valuable — but limited — resource is the first step to keeping burnout at bay. To do this, evaluate which tasks have the most impact on your students, focus on those high-impact areas, and keep some time from low-impact tasks as your time for yourself. Even though it may make you feel uncomfortable (or a little guilty), saying “no” will help you create space for more balance.
READ MORE: Strategies for Work-Life Balance
5 Tips from Teachers on Practicing Self-Care
Here are five tips — along with some words of encouragement — from other teachers on how you can practice self-care during the pandemic. Just like every student is different, every teacher is also different. Focus on the things that will work best for you, and discard the rest.
1. Take a break.
- “If you can, take time off. You are no good to anyone else if you don’t care for yourself. If you find yourself stressed in the middle of a work day, it is okay to communicate that to your students.”
— The Fancy Counselor
- “Schedule in time for yourself. It may take some reworking of your schedule, but it’s SO important to create boundaries since work and home are the same place.” — Allie Szczecinski With Miss Behavior
- “Stop spending too much time on the computer, and do something that feeds your soul. There are several factors completely out of our control: just do your best, and then let go of the rest.” — Forkin4th
- “Teachers are not used to sitting in front of a screen all day. During this time of remote learning, take frequent breaks, go outside for short periods of time to get fresh air, eat healthy meals, and hydrate.” — Loving Math
2. Talk to other teachers.
- “Utilize your school community, you may find that you are not alone plus it can be a great support system.”— Upper Elementary Antics
- “Talk to other teachers, whether they are your coworkers or teachers in online teacher groups. It’s just nice to hear what others are doing. It has been amazing for me to meet so many teachers from across the country going through the same thing and having the same struggles. As a teacher author, I have also been inspired to create resources based on new needs [. . .] Simply talking to other teachers can make such a big difference.”— Mr Maults Marketplace
3. Practice giving yourself grace.
- “It’s ok to not have all of the answers. We are all trying to maneuver through uncharted waters right now. You are going to have situations arise where we don’t know what the right decision is and that’s ok. When you get to that place stop, take a breath, and think about what is best for kids. If It’s best for [your] kids, then it’s the right decision.” — Simpson Superstars
- “One of my favorite sayings is: ‘Guilt is only legitimate when you have done something wrong.’ Don’t feel guilty for not being able to do ALL the things during this time. Practice setting boundaries, letting go, and feeling at peace with your decisions!” — Edukate And Inspire
- “This is an unprecedented time and you are doing the best you can. Try not to worry about your lack of technology skills or digital resources. Instead, focus on showing up for your students and being a consistent, positive presence in their lives during this time of uncertainty.” — Bright Futures Counseling
- “You don’t have to do it all and be it all for your students. Setting boundaries for yourself will allow you to do more in the long run and not burn out.” — Natalie Lynn Kindergarten
4. Maintain a routine.
- “With distance learning in full swing, one small way I practice self-care is simply getting up, getting showered and getting dressed. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but it is so easy to just want to hang around in PJs or sweats all day long. Getting ready for the day, makes me ready to take on the world. It gives me a sense of calm and makes me feel good.” — Carol Miller the Middle School Counselor
5. Celebrate the small things.
- “Take notice of all the new skills you are learning when it comes to distance learning — you are amazing!” — StudentSavvy
- “Everything feels heavy right now. I’ve been taking time each day to notice #SmallJoys in my day — from kid mail to a tree blooming to perfectly-timed couch naps. These #SmallJoys make my world feel a little lighter. (I have a collection of #SmallJoys of mine saved on my Instagram stories. If you need a smile, “meet” Julie, my new Jade plant, or see the best set of notepads ever.)— Catherine Reed The Brown Bag Teacher
15 Ideas for Teachers to Reduce Stress
Self-care looks different for everyone, so we asked teachers what they do to reduce stress and decompress after a busy day, week, month, year. Here are a few ideas on how you can take care of you:
- Take a long hot bath
- Read a good novel
- Take a nap when your body tells you to
- Have a cozy movie night
- Leave school at 3 pm
- Put away the laptop
- Go to sleep early!
- Get yourself a coffee that you don’t have to make
- Spend time with friends
- Go for a walk alone
- Listen to music
- Go on a hike
- Drink lots of water
- Practice mindful breathing
With everything you’re doing to support your students during the ongoing pandemic, it’s important to make time for yourself, too. These self-care ideas for teachers are just a few ways you can manage stress and prevent burnout. Remember, self-care is not an indulgence! To take care of your students, you need to take care of yourself first.
This blog, originally published in 2020, has been updated for 2022.