There is so much going on in the world right now. Between the COVID-19 pandemic that seems never-ending, the constant political turmoil, upsetting racial injustices, the uncertainty in education, and not to mention any personal losses or difficulties these past many months have brought, we could all use a reminder of how to cope with the stress and distress plaguing our world right now.
We are extremely grateful for all of the teachers who are on the front lines risking their own health to educate our youth. We admire your strength and adaptability that has been evident over the past year. In an effort to help you, we have put together some tips and resources specifically for those dealing with the anxiety and stress of teaching during this difficult time. Trying to incorporate all of these into your routine may be overwhelming in itself, so we suggest that you pick a few that resonate with you and then gradually add more as desired. This list is not intended to replace speaking to a professional if you think you have a mental health condition or need medical help.
- Find a friend, family member, or colleague you trust to be a confidant through these difficult times. Setting a short meeting each week where you check in with each other to see how you are doing on a more personal level can help ease the burden of everything you are carrying with you. Both parties benefit from knowing someone else understands what they are going through and is there for them. This weekly meeting can also be used as a place to hold each other accountable for self-care goals you set for yourself.
- Work together. In a study published in the journal Social Psychology of Education, researchers Wolgast and Fischer found that “reduced perceived stress was indirectly associated with frequent cooperation in reaching the common goal of planning lessons via colleague support among teachers.” This K-12 based study indicates that when teachers collaborate more, stress is reduced for all. This concept can be applied directly to professors teaching similar courses by having a community that meets to work on lesson plans together. It can be applied indirectly by simply meeting with other faculty members to brainstorm a plan for adapting to the ever changing conditions of teaching. Having a sense of community can greatly help ease your individual burden, even if that community is virtual.
- Build a plan for consistency throughout the semester. While a plan for this semester may seem pointless, having some type of plan is needed for the sanity of both you and your students. Creating as many elements that can stay consistent no matter if you are teaching on campus, online, or somewhere in between can help ease everybody’s stress. A good start can be to establish that any quizzes, tests, and assignments will be handed in virtually on a central LMS system. Our platform Yellowdig, can also assist you with building stability into your class. Creating a Community on Yellowdig from the start of the semester can ensure consistency in student connectedness and engagement with class content.
- Smile! This one might sound a bit crazy and make you feel a bit silly, but simply forcing yourself to smile for 1 minute straight each day can improve your outlook. An article discussing a study on smiling explains, "In our research, we found that when you forcefully practice smiling, it stimulates the amygdala, which releases neurotransmitters to encourage an emotionally positive state." It continued on to say that participants viewed their environment in a more positive way after the exercise. You can do this by holding a pencil in your mouth to stimulate the same muscles as smiling. It only takes a minute, so why not?
- Practice mindfulness. A Harvard News article quotes Suzanne Westbrook, a former, internal-medicine doctor for Harvard students, saying, “Mindfulness teaches you the skill of paying attention to the present by noticing when your mind wanders off. Come back to your breath. It’s a place where we can rest and settle our minds.” Now more than ever, it is easy to allow your mind to wander off to the tragic news of today, but mindfulness is a practice that teaches you to stay present. One resource for learning mindfulness that some of our Yellowdig employees have used is Headspace.
- Try deep breathing. Even though breathing is something we’ve all done since we were born, it’s something we all need to be reminded of sometimes. According to a study published in the Atlantis Press, “[Deep breathing] releases tension from the body and clears the mind, improving both physical and mental wellness. We tend to breathe shallowly or even hold our breath when we are feeling anxious… Shallow breathing limits your oxygen intake and adds further stress to your body. Breathing exercises can help to reduce this stress. The key to deep breathing is to breathe deeply from the abdomen, getting as much air as possible into your lungs. When you take deep breaths from the abdomen, rather than shallow breaths from your upper chest, you inhale more oxygen. The more oxygen you get, the less tense, short of breath, and anxious you feel.”
- Jacobson technique of progressive muscle relaxation. Very simple and surprisingly effective, why not give it a try right now? All you have to do is go through each part of the body and tense your muscles for 5 seconds then relax them. If you have never done it before, you will be impressed with how you feel afterwards. Do this before you go to sleep to help you fall asleep or while sitting at your desk to relieve tension. We found a video that walks you through the simple exercise below:
- Start a gratitude journal. This practice can work wonders for your mental health. Typically the best way to go about this is to write down 3-5 reasons you are grateful either first thing in the morning to set your day off right or before you go to bed to reorient your mind for better sleep. Your list doesn’t have to be huge wins like getting an amazing job, it can be little things like getting to talk to a friend. Reminding yourself to find reasons to be thankful daily can help you to reframe your inner dialogue from being one of distress and worry to one of peace and positivity. It definitely won’t happen overnight, but each day you work to build your foundation of gratitude that can withstand difficult circumstances.
- Go for a walk. Choi, a researcher at Harvard shares that "any kind of movement can add up to keep depression at bay. I think that's why our study findings were especially appealing. It didn't say you have to run a marathon, do hours of aerobics, or be a CrossFit master just to see benefits on depression." This is great news for COVID times! Even if you don't feel comfortable going to the gym to get in a hard workout (if it's open), your simple walk around the block, around campus or in the park can have significant benefits for your mental health.
- Don’t expect yourself to be perfect. Give yourself some slack! As long as you are doing your best and acting with your students' best interests in mind, you can’t expect any more of yourself. Let yourself laugh if your pet decides to hijack your Zoom and don’t beat yourself up if your first attempts at virtual/hybrid learning don't go as planned. Learn from your mistakes, but don’t let yourself dwell on them (see #4 mindfulness for more help with that).
We hope that you take some time to try out some of these practices and that they make a positive difference in your life.
If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide, please call the National Hotline for Suicide Prevention that is available 24/7 at 800-273-8255. Help is Available.
If you have any questions about Yellowdig please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org. We'd love to meet you! Schedule a Demo of Yellowdig below: