As you know well, working with young children involves a host of diverse and complex skills. A day in the life of providing care and education for young children includes helping them with basic needs like eating and ensuring their safety and comfort, while at the same time introducing them to academic domains as well as supporting them to build essential social and emotional skills. Being an effective early childhood educator can be immensely satisfying, but also the intensive days can be stressful! How, then, can we find that critical balance needed to take care of others and also take care of ourselves?
The Stress You Feel is Real
Let’s first think about what we know about teacher stress. While all of us experience some stress as a normal part of life, challenges arise when teachers experience prolonged work-related stress. On-going stress can lead to “Burnout:” a series of symptoms such as emotional frustration, fatigue, strain, and a negative perception of others. Recent research [article link or full brief link] shows that forty-six percent of teachers report high daily stress. This might be especially true during certain times of the year, like when holidays bring additional stressors, professional and personal. On-going stress can compromise health, sleep, quality of life, and even teaching performance. Teachers experiencing this high level of stress report difficulty focusing, planning effectively, and more conflict with students. As a result, burnout contributes to teachers’ lack of well-being and negatively impacts the children they are aiming to support.
What to do? Take care of YOU!
“The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.” Sydney Harris
Don’t let the news about teacher stress stress you out! The good news is: evidence-based self-care routines exist and can support you in taking care of yourself right now, so you can feel better and continue to positively impact the lives of the young children in your classroom.
As you review your holiday to-do list, consider adding some of these strategies – just for you!
- Breathe: Breathing exercises and mindfulness techniques can be very
powerful. Calming the body and mind through breathing and movement can lead to reductions in physiological stress, including lower levels of cortisol and blood pressure, and positive effects on sleep quality! See UVA researcher Tish Jennings demonstrating mindfulness techniques here (link to video) that you also can use in the classroom!
- Move: Being physically active allows stress to naturally exit your body while also producing endorphins to improve your mood. For an added bonus, go outside! Nature provides the sights and sounds to enable your body to return to a more peaceful state.
- Sleep: Your body heals and recharges when you sleep, so creating routines that will allow you a time of relaxation and rest are key. Consider:
- Setting up a bedtime: people tend to sleep and rest better when they have a consistent time to go to bed. Try, as much as possible, to respect this time every night and aim for 8 hours of sleep.
- To bed, and nothing else: Avoid activities that are sleep-incompatible when going to bed, such as reading, watching TV, eating, problem-solving, among others. Protect your bedroom environment from these distractors and allow yourself to fully rest.
- Avoid stimulants before bed: (e.g., caffeine, nicotine) and active exercise late evening; ventilate your bedroom before sleep, in order to have fresh air; and set up your room temperature to be comfortable, not too hot or too cold!
- Socialize: Spend time with others, laughing, connecting, and just having fun! The holidays are a time to connect with others and enjoy. Being with others, and laughing in particular, reduces tension and improves heart health.
- Be thankful: And, when you can, pause to reflect on the things in your life for which you are grateful. You can take this one even further by sharing what you are thankful for with others. Feeling and expressing gratitude can help you savor the positive and put into perspective the other things in your life, enabling a more balanced and bright outlook.
Reducing stress feels good for you and helps the children you work with! Just one more way you can make a difference in the lives of others while also promoting your well-being too!
As 2018 comes to a close, we, here at VKRP, are thankful for you and your partnership! Sending you and yours our best wishes for a smooth conclusion of the fall school term, a wonderful winter break (with time to take care of YOU), and a dynamic beginning to the new year!
More questions? VKRP provides support via the online chat feature when you are in the system, via email firstname.lastname@example.org, and via toll free 866-301-8278 ext. 1.