- Instructors often de-prioritize self care, which can lead to burnout
- Prioritizing sleep, exercise, nutrition, social support, creativity, occupational wellness and gratitude can help instructors care for themselves
- Instructors should consider at least two ways in which they can incorporate self-care strategies into their lives
Kiersten Baughman is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Valley City State University
Self-care should never be put on the back burner, especially for educators. It can often feel as though all your responsibilities begin the moment our alarms go off, then continue nonstop. But the adage that you can’t pour from an empty cup is all too real. That’s why it’s essential to make time for self-care, so you can be fully present for your family, friends, work and students.
What Does “Self-Care” Mean, Anyways?
The organization Parents LEAD for Professionals notes that there are eight different dimensions of wellness, ranging from emotional, to physical, to occupational. Self-care is rooted in pursing all these dimensions of well-rounded wellness.
This can feel overwhelming. But when you take small steps toward promoting each dimension, the task no longer seems insurmountable. Here are my thoughts on how to prioritize self-care in your daily life.
How many educators sacrifice sleep because they simply “don’t have the time” in the day? Research in psychology consistently reveals how damaging the effects of a mere few hours of lost sleep can be.
One of the most important ways we can engage in self-care is by prioritizing proper sleep. Avoid electronic devices for preferably two hours before heading in. Experts also recommend only sleeping (rather than watching TV, eating or working) in bed. This way, our brains associate our beds with sleep rather than work.
Exercise and Nutrition
Exercise can be critical to teaching, as the profession can sometimes lead to an increasingly sedentary lifestyle. Whether you wake up early or carve out time after work to exercise, those 20-30 minutes of activity can make a huge difference in your ability to teach effectively.
Eating healthy can also be easier said than done for educators. Experts advise that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, yet educators often find themselves skipping it. A protein shake or hard-boiled eggs can give your body the boost it needs to tackle your teaching. Skipping meals rather than fueling your body with something healthy can be detrimental to physical and mental health.
We encourage our students to maintain important bonds with friends and family. By that same measure, it’s important for instructors to schedule in check-ins with our own loved ones.
Research shows that the key is having three to five close ones who are there for us no matter what. Even a five to ten-minute call on your commute can help maintain these connections and satisfy this important dimension of self-care.
As educators, intellectual self-care can seem easily satisfied. However, it’s important to remember that teaching alone sometimes cannot provide this sense of fulfillment.
For example: an art professor spends many hours teaching others to create and might seem like their sense of creativity is satisfied. However, it’s also important for artists to be able to create their own work, or else they can feel creatively stifled. As you consider your own specialization, think about how you could spend even a few minutes each day doing what drove you to your field—and make that a priority!
I believe that people rarely leave workplaces; rather, they leave when others make them uncomfortable. Too often, we as educators prioritize getting to work early and staying as late as possible—and can even encourage these unhealthy habits in colleagues.
A healthy workplace environment is one that celebrates your strengths and provides opportunities for you to grow and thrive. When we feel stifled, we can begin to suffer in a variety of ways and not perform at our best in the classroom. Students can tell when we’re “off,” so it’s critical that we do our best to do little things each day to be our best selves.
Consider some ways you can not only ensure you are in a healthy work environment, but how you can contribute to the occupational wellness of your colleagues.
Gratitude and Happiness
All too often, teaching can feel like a thankless job. But, focusing on the positive aspects of each day can go a long way to making us feel good, too.
One of the best ways to stay on your A-game is to build in little reminders every day of why you teach. For me, it’s the students. I love when I see their gears turning as they work out difficult problems or consider different perspectives that can rock their worlds in the best way possible. I have found that ending my day with gratitude helps put my mind at ease. The best part? I end up with so much to celebrate.
I also try to incorporate some little moments of “me time” into my day when possible. Whether it’s carving out a few minutes to read, calling a friend or playing with my dogs, I know the little things in my daily routine help me refresh and reset. That way, I come to class with a smile on my face, ready to be the best educator I can be.
Find the Importance of Self-Care in Your Life
Now that I’ve laid out my thoughts, it’s your turn. Consider two ways you can incorporate self-care into your daily routine. Whether it’s sleeping better, eating right or just practicing gratitude, taking care of yourself helps you become a more present instructor, partner and friend.
To read more about instructor wellness, check out our “How to Combat Instructor Burnout” ebook.