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Self-care describes a conscious act one takes in order to promote one’s own physical, mental, and emotional health. In 2020, teachers have had to shelf self-care -- even more so than usual -- in order to dive headfirst into reopening virtual and live classrooms, which has become the focal point of their lives. Even more challenging, is that teachers feel the necessity of doing so with the same level of excitement, encouragement, and creativity that they would during normal times to help ease their students’ anxieties. Practicing self-care is incredibly important for all of us but is especially important for those who take care of others. In the begin to ECSEL program, educators learn how to recognize, identify, understand, regulate and express how they are feeling in healthy and proactive ways, which is essential to all facets of self-care. Begin to ECSEL prioritizes teachers’ understanding of their own emotionality and equips them with the tools and strategies to cope with their stress and anxiety. We recognize that in order for educators to effectively help the children in their care, they must first be able to care for themselves. During times of extraordinary shifts in both the social and the emotional strata, there are many things you can and should do to make all forms of self-care a priority once again.
When it comes to physical self-care, you must ask yourself whether you are getting enough sleep, fueling your body with a healthy diet, and exercising. This year, many of us have been literally restricted to our homes during quarantine, which has limited our access to the outdoors, our gyms, and other activities that fed our physical wellbeing. Physical well-being is a wonderful barometer for not only physical health, but mental health and happiness as well. Your body often signals to us how we are feeling emotionally, whether it’s an increase in heart rate or a stomachache, we must learn to become attuned to these warning signs that an emotion is on the rise. Now is a perfect time to investigate what your body is craving and to form new physical wellness habits. Resting, doing yoga, eating nutritious foods, or engaging in any other form of physical release is essential to physical health.
Just as important as it is to feed your body with healthy nourishment, it is equally important to feed your mind. Intellectual wellness sparks our creativity, elongates our attention span, and expands our knowledge. Ask yourself, when was the last time you learned or read something that wasn’t for work or school? Though much of the media out there right now is consumed by negativity and unrest, do as Fred Rogers suggested and “look for the helpers,” as there are always individuals doing good work in the midst of turmoil. This is a huge moment for civic engagement and cultural curiosity. Invest time in learning about issues you care about, advocating for what you believe in, or teaching yourself a new hobby or craft. Be open-minded and explore topics you might not have before. As stated before, exercises in intellectual exploration not only feed the mind, but also the soul, providing you with feel-good emotions and positivity.
Healthy social relationships are essential to overall well-being. Having a supportive social network is only one piece of the puzzle—being the support for someone else is just as important. If you are feeling drained and out of sorts, helping others may be the last thing on your mind, but studies have proven time and time again that helping others has wonderful effects on our overall well-being. Donate some spare time to a local cause, volunteer at the polls, offer to do an elderly neighbor’s grocery shopping, or organize a social call with your friends. These acts of selflessness and socialization will boost your morale and other positive emotional responses.
Your attitude about the work you do is a critical component of overall self-care. As an educator, your job takes up a majority of your time during the week. If you’re not teaching in a classroom, you’re at home planning for the following week’s activities or even engaging in remote learning right from your home. Take some time away from your never-ending to-do list to map out your work week and block out time during which you can put away your work and engage in some form of self-care. Creating work-life balance is essential to happiness and the prevention of educator stress and burnoutt. Set boundaries for your work and try your best to not bring work home with you, physically nor mentally (this is especially important if you are working from home -- make sure you have a defined space in your home solely for work and when you leave that space, work doesn’t tag along with you). If you are in a reopened school setting, take breaks when you need to. If your administrative team has not supported this in the past, have a conversation with them about your needs and how you can best be supported under new circumstances.
Last, but certainly not least, emotional self-care enables you to effectively implement the lessons taught through the begin to ECSEL program. Once you are able to recognize, identify, understand, regulate, and express your feelings and emotions, you have the power to tune into your emotional health and assess what is making you feel a certain way. This process gives you the power to choose how to respond to various situations in healthy and productive ways. Emotional self-care interacts with all other forms of self-care along with overall mental health, wellbeing, and success. One easy way many ECSEL educators choose to support their emotional self-care is through the use of an emotions journal in which they can track and record their emotional responses and thought processes in various situations. Remind yourself to stay positive whenever possible, to seek help when you need it, and to practice being mindful.