Teachers: Self-care tips to recharge this summer

What does teacher burnout look like?

Stress. Impatience. Low energy for creativity or humor. Exhaustion.

If the last few weeks of school have you feeling on the brink of burnout, you’re certainly not alone. Seventy-eight percent of teachers say they are often physically and emotionally exhausted at the end of each school day. While it’s a rewarding profession, it’s certainly a stressful one, too. And this time of year, teachers are ready for a break.

Summer provides much-needed time to let go of the chaos and recharge. It’s time to breathe.

Even if you’re working this summer, the change of seasons provides a good excuse to step back, take stock, and consider ways you can “fill the well” when it comes to your well-being, even if — especially if — you’re busy.

So give yourself permission to invest in yourself this summer, and maybe even establish a few healthy habits to carry through to the rest of the year.

Here are some ideas to help you recharge this summer:

Be near the water.

Humans crave the peaceful, healing tranquility of water. That may seem overly general, but it’s true- it’s science! Marine biologist and author Wallace J. Nichols says that when we’re in or near water, our brains get access to “a mildly meditative state characterized by calm, peacefulness, unity, and a sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment.” Nichols calls it the “blue mind,” and it can make us feel more connected, calmed, inspired, and even healed. So whether it’s sitting on a dock, walking on a beach, hiking along a creek, or being in the pool, let water give your brain a rest.

Listen to audiobooks or podcasts.

Listening to stories is a simple way to give your mind a break from problem-solving and stress management. An audiobook or podcast doesn’t just provide entertainment; it can be a 30-minute portal to transportive joy, inspiration, and even a chance to learn something new. And you can do it while you’re cleaning, driving, or just relaxing on the porch.

Write.

Teachers are smart, creative thinkers who devote much of their mental energy during the school year to their students. Summer is a great opportunity to reclaim some of that creativity for your own personal project, like getting back to that short story you’ve been dreaming up.

Even if you’re not working on the next Great American Novel, taking the time to do something as simple and unstructured as journaling can help reduce stress and anxiety by enabling you to explore ideas, prioritize concerns, track emotions, and embrace an opportunity for positive self-talk.

An even simpler idea? Write thank you notes. Expressing thankful thoughts and taking a break from your computer screen by hand-writing a note is an easy task that fosters gratitude and positivity (not to mention stronger relationships with the recipients of your notes).

Start a new habit.

Long days and busy schedules can make it difficult to start healthy habits during the school year. But if you’ve been meaning to floss more, walk more, cook more, try yoga, or do a couple pushups each morning, summer is the time to start. Once the habits are ingrained, they’ll be easier to keep up when things get hectic in September.

But we all know habits are hard to start. That’s where habit-stacking comes in. Habit-stacking means you add your new habit — which should be small, simple, and easy to accomplish — onto an existing habit in order to integrate it into your routine. If you want to start journaling, you could plan to do it for five minutes while your coffee brews. Because your current habit — making coffee — is already part of your routine, it’s easier to connect a new habit to that behavior. Pretty genius, no?

Reconnect to your body.

Work days are longer than ever, making it a real challenge to find time to mindfully move our bodies. But it’s so important — for our mental and physical health — to be in motion and to pay attention to our muscles and joints. Use June to restart your wellness routine or begin a new one. Begin each day by walking and stretching. Spend fifteen minutes doing yoga or just seven minutes on a workout. If guided workouts aren’t your jam, do what we do: turn up Beyoncé and shake what your mama gave you all around your living room. If you’re craving the great outdoors, try kayaking or rock climbing. Relieve tension and bring new energy to your muscles by going to get a massage. Ready to relax? Spend 5 minutes breathing and focusing on how each part of your body feels, starting with your toes. Whatever you choose to do, start small, and make it fun!

Spend money on experiences, not things.

We know it to be true, and yet it isn’t always the way we operate: experiences are infinitely more valuable to us than material things. And research says if we want to be happy, the key is to do stuff, not buy stuff. That’s because the happiness we get from the things we buy wears off. “Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods,” says Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University who studies money and happiness. In an interview with FastCo, he says: “You can really like your material stuff. You can even think that part of your identity is connected to those things, but nonetheless they remain separate from you. In contrast, your experiences really are part of you. We are the sum total of our experiences.” This summer, think about the experiences you want to have that will leave you feeling energized, refreshed, and happier. Then go do them!

Embrace your stress.

You might be feeling a lot of pressure to relax and unwind and “chill out.” Sometimes that’s easy, and sometimes it’s not. That’s okay. The reality is that stress is a normal part of life, and when we embrace the concept of stress and are patient and gentle with ourselves, it goes a long way. Kelly McGonigal, program developer for the Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, says something we don’t often hear: stress isn’t always bad. What’s damaging is our thinking that stress is harming us. If, instead, we can come to view stress positively, we can cope with it in more productive ways. Watch her fascinating TED talk to hear how.

Whatever you do this summer, don’t be afraid to make it about you. You’ve given so much of yourself to your students this school year, and your happiness and well-being deserve your focus. Be kind and gentle with yourself, and take time to enjoy this season in ways that feel good to you.

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