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4 Coping Skills That Can Help Teachers With Their Mental Health

Other educators might agree with me when I say I surely did not learn how to teach during a pandemic when I was going to college. I teach middle school, and I have now been teaching for about 17 years. Last year and this year have been the toughest years yet — by far. There are days when I get home, and I literally throw myself on the couch, close my eyes, and release a big sigh. There are other times when I have chocolate or get fast food just to treat myself.  I know the COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for the students, but it affects teachers too.

I can only speak for myself, but my brain has been quite packed during this time. The best way I can describe my brain is as a hamster wheel — I feel like I am tripping over my thoughts because sometimes, I cannot keep up! A lot has been put on my plate, and teaching middle school has its own challenges. I prepare for two subjects (health and physical education), and usually my class sizes are rather large (They can range from 30-45 students.)

Here is what my typical day looks like. I start out my day with an advisory class then teach three classes of sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders. I have about a 20-minute lunch, and then depending on the day, I  either have a full planning period or a half planning period. I also have to do homework boards, lesson planning, and grading and make sure I meet my students’ accommodations. The list goes on and on. Naturally, my brain is often overloaded. At times, I find myself not being able to keep up, and I feel burnt out. Moreover, I must manage my own mental health condition (bipolar disorder) and cope with extreme stress and lack of sleep. I am not sure if any other teachers are going through this, but I feel my anxiety is at a high when it has not been like this before. I want to share some coping skills I use to help my mental health.

1. Learn how to say “no” to help your mental health as a teacher.

I have always been — and most likely always will be — a “type A” person. I have high expectations of myself, and not being able to “do it all” can be hard for me. Trust me, it has been hard to make small changes, but for my own sake, I had to make some. I have always been the one to volunteer to help run an event or help someone with anything they need, but I finally have learned to say the one word that has always been the toughest for me to say: “no.” To be honest with you, having to say “no” has helped me out. I now limit myself when helping others in my professional and personal lives, so this way, I am not completely saying “no” all the time.

2. Take things off your plate to cope with mental health stress.

I have coached several sports throughout my teaching career. I have coached softball at both the junior varsity and varsity levels for several years, and I’ve been an assistant coach for boys’ soccer at the middle school level. This year, I was the boys’ soccer assistant coach again, but I decided this is my last year coaching because I need more time for myself. As I get older, I realize I need time to do the things I enjoy. So I am ending my time coaching to give myself more time to live life.

3. Try not to bring grading, lesson plans, or other work home with you to improve your mental health.

This one is a tough one — no matter how far ahead I think I may be on lesson plans or grading, something always must get done. I then decide if I can wait until the next day to get these tasks accomplished and do it then. If so, then I might keep my computer bag closed for that evening and do something I enjoy instead. If this is not possible, then I will set a timer for myself. I will get as much done as I can in that time slot and then allow myself some “me time.”

4. Use the weekends to refresh your mental health.

I now put work aside until Sunday because I allow my weekends to be a “no work” time. I do not care if I do not have any plans on the weekend. I will use that time to binge-watch my favorite shows, go for a walk, or read. I just need that downtime to practice self-care before a busy week.

These are a few things I now do to help me get through the chaotic world of teaching. Even though teaching has been overwhelming, and at times I think, “Can I keep doing this?” I get that one letter, email, or drawing from a student that reminds me I can. To all the educators out there, please remember you are making a difference in someone’s life — but you can live your own life too.

Getty image by AndreaObzerova.

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