Reigniting the Flame
December 10, 2021
December 10, 2021
By Kitty J. Boitnott
There is no getting around the fact that it has been a rough couple of years for educators, students, families, and communities. The COVID-19 pandemic has spared no one, disrupting lives in unprecedented ways. Many had hoped the new school year would put the pandemic largely behind us but, unfortunately, we are all still coping with its fallout.
Both educators and students continue to feel stressed and overwhelmed. Burnout, frequently an issue toward the end of the school year, is hitting early. A local school board member in the Tidewater area recently described many of her school division’s employees as “June-tired.”
One teacher recently told me that she had submitted her resignation letter already. It was only mid-October, but she said her mental health was “fried” and she couldn’t do it anymore.
Thankfully, many school divisions are starting to recognize the need to provide mental health help to their employees and are making adjustments to their calendars. That’s a very good thing.
Tackle burnout head-on
But it’s important to remember that others can’t give you what you won’t or can’t give yourself. So, it will help if you start taking responsibility for your own mental and physical health while still taking advantage of any help that your school division may offer.
You can start by taking proactive steps and thus owning your self-care, health, and wellness. And it would help if you started sooner rather than later.
You may be feeling chronically stressed and wondering, short of leaving your job, what you can do about it. If that’s the case, hang in there—you can try some relatively simple stress-busting solutions before you do something drastic like quit. And you can start trying them right away. They don’t cost anything, but the payoff may save your health and mental wellbeing, as well as keep your paycheck coming.
Start by challenging how you think about work. Have you started to feel that there are no redeeming parts to your job? Do you catch yourself complaining much of the time? Do you even remember why you chose a career in education in the first place?
To challenge the way you think, you must first become aware of your thoughts. Of course, paying attention to your thoughts isn’t always easy. It takes practice. But you can do it if you set your mind to it. Remind yourself (in writing or electronically, if it helps) to pause regularly and examine the way you’ve been thinking.
Is it possible to find things about your profession for which you are grateful? Are there aspects of what you do every day that outweigh the negative parts of the job? Can you reconnect with what brought you to a school career? The more you can take time to appreciate the good things about the job, the more relief from stress you will feel.
Stress comes directly from your thoughts. Change your thoughts, and you can change your stress level. You’ve heard the adage, “Change your thoughts, change your life.” Well, it became an adage because there is a lot of truth in it. And no one controls your thoughts but you.
You’re the boss of you
You can also learn to take better care of yourself physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Again, it would be best if you started sooner rather than later. There’s no time like now. Taking better care of yourself means practicing consistent, day-to-day self-care measures, all of which can improve your outlook and overall health. You owe it to yourself to take care of yourself in every way.
By this, I mean doing specific, proactive things. For example, one of the easiest things you can do is drink plenty of water every day to stay properly hydrated. There is a clear link between proper hydration and stress reduction. Our brains, like all our organs, need water to function properly and it doesn’t take much dehydration to cause our bodies to release the stress hormone cortisol.
Of course, you also need to eat for good nutrition instead of for convenience or comfort. We all need to eat whole grains, fresh fruits, and vegetables to stay healthy and well. Steer clear of highly processed foods that have too much sugar and salt in them.
Because our bodies are designed for movement, we all benefit from regular exercise. Physical activity impacts your whole body, so try not to forego it, even when you’re most apt to—when you’re feeling busy or tired. Even a short walk will help significantly.
Get the amount of sleep you need every night. And don’t forget to breathe deeply down into the lower half of the lungs several times a day, which will keep your organs oxygenated.
These are all very simple things that you can do to help relieve your stress levels, and they don’t cost an arm and leg to implement. But they are priceless in their impact on your health.
Take control of your work environment to the extent that you can. If you’ve found yourself in a toxic environment, it will take a toll on you, both emotionally and professionally, over time. But there are steps you can take to gain control of how your work situation affects you.
Try to put as many of these tips in place as possible:
Ask for help when you need it. Many teachers hesitate to do this, for fear of anyone finding out they aren’t “Super Woman” or “Super Man.” Teacher stress and burnout may be the result of overextending yourself, however. And that is made worse by not asking for help when you need it. There is no shame in asking for assistance.
If you are struggling in any way, ask for help from the proper source. You don’t want to appear to be helpless, of course, so you need to try to figure some things out on your own. But when you have tried everything else, and you’re still struggling, ask for help!
The cost of doing nothing is damage to your physical and emotional health.
You can try any one of these suggestions or a combination of them. You may not want to try them all at once. You don’t need to stress yourself out while learning to manage your stress, after all.
Any one of these suggestions, however, could go a long way toward helping you feel more grounded and more optimistic about your work. Choose the one you can most easily incorporate into your routine and then work the others in as you can. The bottom line is you need to take care of yourself. No one else can do that for you.
And it may never be more important than it’s been and will be in these pandemic-affected time.
Boitnott, PhD, NBCT, is a longtime educator and former president of the Virginia Education Association. Now a certified life/stress management coach, she runs Boitnott Coaching, which you can learn more about at www.careercoachrichmond.com.
Burnout is a temporary state where individuals have exhausted their personal and organizational resources in fulfilling their professional duties. Although often portrayed as the capacity for individual resilience, burnout can also be the result of unusually demanding school environments that lack appropriate organizational supports or limits.
Teachers face high emotional demands in their daily work that can become increasingly debilitating when rates of student trauma are high and, if they do not feel supported in their work and are not provided with the necessary resources, are more likely to leave the profession.
Studies have found that teacher burnout can contribute to lower-quality instruction and lower student achievement.
Key Strategies to Consider