First things first, self care is a privilege. I enjoy much privilege in my life. I am fortunate enough to have my physical and emotional needs met most of the time. I have the luxury of having the time and resources for self care, and I realize that not all people share in that luxury. That being said, here’s what I have to say.
I have a hard job. I’m not saying this to curry sympathy; I’m just being honest. It’s not the technical aspect of teaching (being able to employ a variety of strategies in an effective and efficient way) or the management aspect (being able to maintain a calm and productive environment) or the emotional aspect (helping kids manage the myriad of emotions they experience) that makes teaching hard, it is doing all of these things at the same time for a group of very different children. It’s a lot of balls to keep in the air, and it requires an immense amount of awareness, patience and energy. And personally, I’m an introvert, which makes the interpersonal part of my job extra draining.
I know I’m not the only one with a hard job. Any job can be hard, and many many people go home at the end of the day in need of some rejuvenation. So here’s something I’ve learned that may be helpful to you.
You have to keep filling up your “tank.”
Everything we do takes time and energy. And often, some time to relax at the end of the day and a good night’s sleep charges you up enough to meet the next day head on. But there are those days, and those weeks, and, for most teachers, those years, that take more time and energy out of you than a good night’s sleep puts back. This is where proactive deliberate self care is critical.
Now I thought for awhile that I knew what self care was. I thought it was about treating myself. My main guilty pleasures are food (Torchy’s queso) and video games (Skyrim). So at the end of a hard day or week, I’d make sure to satisfy one of those cravings. And boy would it make me happy; at least for a little while. But over time the satisfaction from these things decreased when I turned to them as a form of self care, because self care isn’t about treating yourself. It’s about taking care of yourself.
Take 30 seconds and make a mental list of the things you do to take care of something (your body, home, kid, car, bike, pet, yard). Okay, now what kinds of things are on that list. Are they chores? Probably. Do you like doing them? Probably not. So why do you do them? Probably because that thing you are taking care of is important to you and you want it to be in good shape. Do you feel a sense of satisfaction when you mow the lawn? Do you feel good when you give your dog a bath? Do you feel good when you fix something that has been broken for awhile? You probably do. So let’s start putting ourselves on this list of things to care for. Find something that makes you feel better, makes you feel proud, makes you feel satisfied. For me, contributing to this blog and going for runs have been two forms of self care. I don’t always want to put on my running shoes or sit down with my computer, but every time I do I feel better afterwards. My tank feels more full.
I’ve also realized that is on the days where I feel most empty that this practice is most important. It used to seem nutty to me to go for a run after a long exhausting day, but I have realized that those are the days when it is most important. Those are the days that I need to fill up my tank, because going back to work the next day on empty isn’t setting myself, or my students, up for success. I tell my students everyday (usually many times a day), “there is only one thing in this world we can control, ourselves.” So take control of yourself and take care of yourself.