Self-Care and Setting Boundaries for Teachers During the COVID-19 Pandemic
In a matter of a week or two, your day-to-day life has been turned upside down. School has now gone online for the foreseeable future, everyone is sheltering in place, and social distancing is the new norm. As an educator, you’re now tasked with developing brand new lesson plans suited for online teaching (after a crash course in online course development) while juggling your own childcare or children’s schooling, working from home, and taking care of yourself and your family.
Many educators I know have shared how challenging it is to try to master an online format and keep your students motivated and engaged in such a short amount of time. These new changes also bring with them a host of challenges that you might be struggling to navigate, including the fact that working from home is harder in many ways, your own reaction to what’s happening in our communities and the world, and grieving the loss of the remainder of the school year and the fun activities you had planned.
If you are finding yourself struggling to cope with these changes and your own emotions surrounding them, you’re not alone. These are challenging times, and it’s very normal to experience mixed emotions and stress during times like these. The key to thriving rather than just surviving is to make self-care a priority.
Here are a few tips for practicing self-care during this unprecedented time.
Shift Your Expectations
It can be tempting to compare your life right now to how it was before. Teaching online might be “harder,” juggling everyone’s schedules might be “more complicated,” and running out for a quick errand might have been “so much easier before.” However, this kind of mindset can trap you into a “the grass is greener” approach.
Instead, it might be more helpful to frame your experience right now not as “better” or “worse,” but as “different.” Instead of comparing your circumstances now to those of just a few weeks ago, recognize the uniqueness of the times we are in. Give yourself the space to figure out a new normal instead of pressuring yourself to feel and act the same way in which you did pre-COVID-19.
Working from home and with a new teaching format can make it much more difficult to maintain a work/life balance. When you were teaching at school, you had a physical boundary in place, which made it easier to separate your personal life and your work life. Teaching from home means that work and your personal life is happening in the same space.
To help bring some balance back, consider setting time boundaries for yourself. For example, you could:
- Designate “office hours” for yourself from 9 to 3 and then close your email and computer for the rest of the day.
- Consider setting up a workspace that is out of the way from where you spend most of your time.
- Only discuss work with fellow educators, parents, and students during your working hours.
Whatever boundaries you choose, select ones that will help keep work and your personal life as separate as possible. This will help keep stress levels and burnout at bay.
Lean on Your Support Network
You are not the only educator struggling to adjust to this new normal. Don’t be afraid to be honest about your struggles with your trusted fellow educators, your family, and your friends. Feeling isolated and unsupported only makes stress worse, so it’s important to make sure you are connecting with others. Here are some ideas for connecting with others:
- Schedule a weekly support call with your peers.
- Set up a virtual happy hour on Friday afternoon.
- Join a social network community to share ideas with one another that can make virtual teaching easier.
You’re not alone, and you don’t have to struggle alone. Reach out and support one another.
Cultivate Emotional Awareness
If you find yourself angry or upset over the challenges of working from home or over the loss of your old schedule and activities, don’t try to push those feelings away. It is normal to experience these emotions, and it’s important to give yourself the time to grieve the loss of your normal life. It can be very helpful to acknowledge your emotions and process them. Exercises that may help include:
- Journaling each day.
- Talking about it with family and friends.
- Channeling your emotions into an activity, such as working out.
Instead of pressuring yourself to feel a certain way, simply check in with yourself to see how you are feeling and make time in your day to reflect on how all of this is impacting you.
Don’t Forget the Basics
During times of uncertainty, it’s helpful to make sure you are keeping up with the basics of self-care. Make sure you are:
- Getting enough sleep (7 to 8 hours).
- Eating nutritious meals.
Even if you just focus on accomplishing these three things each day, you will be much better equipped to manage stress and tackle the day’s challenges than if you were sleep-deprived, hungry, and sluggish. Forget about cleaning out every closet, pressuring yourself to design amazing activities for your students every single day, and putting together a perfectly engaging online lesson. By simply focusing on being present for yourself, your family, and your students in a way that feels authentic to you, you’ll be much more empowered and able to thrive during this time of crisis.
Julia Marie Hogan is a counselor in Chicago and owner of Vita Optimum Counseling & Consulting, LLC. She also leads workshops and writes on topics related to self-care, relationships, and mental health. Her book “It’s OK to Start With You” is all about the power of embracing your authentic self through self-care. She is passionate about empowering individuals to be their most authentic selves. You can find more of her writing online at juliamariehogan.com.
The opinions, representations, and statements made within this guest article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of One in Five Minds or Clarity Child Guidance Center. Any copyright remains with the author, and any liability with regard to infringement of intellectual property rights remain with them. One in Five Minds and Clarity Child Guidance Center accepts no liability for any errors, omissions, or representations.