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Let’s face it, we’ve all had “one of those days” where things seem to go from bad to worse to completely overwhelming in a matter of minutes. If you are a teacher, you definitely know what I’m talking about, especially now. What defines a day like this is different for everyone. There are so many contributing factors that can chip away at your patience, energy, and emotional bandwidth. Maybe little annoyances start piling up, pushed to the side to deal with later. Maybe your work environment feels constantly demanding with minimal support. Maybe you have needs or expectations that aren’t being met. For those in caring professions (especially teachers), having to consistently make space for others to help them manage their emotions can have an impact on your own emotional and mental well-being.
So… when it feels like there is always going to be something that can turn a regular day into a rough, unmanageable one, what do we do? How do we cope during those times and make space for ourselves?
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. Everyone is different and has different things that work for them. For me, after years of bad days, sad days, anxious days, or a mix of all three in my classroom, I’ve learned a few things as a begin to ECSEL educator that help me to cope whenever those days come along. Here are the things I try to keep in the forefront:
1. You are human, and you have emotions. Allow yourself to feel them. Acknowledge that you have emotions and that they are valid, especially when they are overwhelming. Emotions are our first universal language, and we experience them for a reason. They are physiological messages that let us know when it is time to stop, breathe, set boundaries, celebrate, or take some space. Recognizing and permitting those feelings is the first step towards managing them. Utilizing begin to ECSEL tools like Our Emotions Board in my classroom not only helps my students with recognizing and identifying their own emotions, but helps me with being honest about how I am feeling at any given moment of the day. Through the use of Our Emotions Board, we teach children that emotions are fluid; we can start the day feeling sad, and by the afternoon we could be feeling excited. As adults, recognizing when we feel sad, angry, or anxious and allowing ourselves to experience these emotions can make us feel vulnerable, but it is such an important step to take towards being able to manage those feelings when they get overwhelming.
2. Know that it is okay to not always be okay. Once again, we are human. As easy as it is to respond with “I’m fine!” or “I’m okay,” when someone asks how you are doing, that doesn’t always feel like the right answer. And that’s okay! Normalizing this for yourself can take away the pressure of needing to come across as happy or put together all the time. Odds are, other people in your circle, or even the children in your classroom, are feeling similarly to you. For me, saying out loud to my students “Friends, I’m not feeling great today. In fact, I’m having kind of a sad morning. Would anyone else like to share how they are feeling?” is just what I need to start feeling better. And the best part is, by doing that I’m allowing them to feel safe in expressing their own emotions with me and their peers, no matter what they are feeling.
3. Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries. As a teacher, setting boundaries is important. Boundaries create an environment of structure and safety for both your students and yourself. The same concept can be applied to your emotional well-being. Setting boundaries can feel uncomfortable, and at times might not feel easy to do. But at the end of the day, you matter, you are valuable, and you deserve to feel safe and sound. Boundaries can sound like “I know there is more to do, but I need time for me right now” the night before work, or “I’m not in an emotional space to have this conversation right now” when you are feeling overwhelmed. You know yourself best, and it’s okay to put yourself first.
In a time where mental and emotional health and well-being are just starting to shift to the forefront as a priority, there is still so much work to be done in supporting teachers both in and out of the classroom. We all need support from time to time, and finding it within our community is important for anyone’s emotional well-being. When it comes to having “one of those days,” those seemingly small things like permitting yourself to feel what you are feeling, admitting when you are not having a good day, asking for help, and setting emotional boundaries when you are able can make all the difference.