SIP 12.10 Prioritizing Self-Care

Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?

A person riding a bike on a trail.Educators and students adjusting to remote learning are encouraged to prioritize new ways to incorporate self-care into their daily routine. Teaching is an intensive job, and especially during the pandemic, prioritizing self-care to become a habit is increasingly important for all teachers. Working and learning from home can be challenging, as school time blends into personal time. School may become “being on call 24/7” to answer questions and requests from learners at any time. We are seeing more student need for basics of living, which makes it feel more urgent, increasing teachers’ feeling of needing to “be on.”

Self-care includes setting boundaries that separate work time from personal time and finding a balance between home and work life. Self-care is taking time to prioritize your own emotional, physical, spiritual, social and psychological health. Prioritizing self-care is especially important in the current pandemic, as we are likely to become exhausted and overtired and lack energy.

Self-care and Zoom fatigue

The transition to virtual learning has created “Zoom fatigue” that has multiple negative effects, including on our eyes, by the physical demands that too much screen time places on our eyes. If not taken seriously, this can lead to chronic discomfort and vision problems. One simple method to combat this issue is to force our eyes to take a much-needed break, which can be accomplished using the 20-20-20 method. For every 20 minutes you stare at a screen, stare at something else 20 feet away for a total of 20 seconds. This forces our eyes to readjust and relax, giving our vision a moment to recover before focusing back on the computer. Teach your students and use the 20-20-20 technique during your classes.

Another sign of Zoom fatigue is having difficulty focusing on what is being discussed. To help your students as well as yourself, share the agenda with your class ahead of time to allow students time to process the info that will be discussed. Zoom fatigue is compounded if there are technical problems, bandwidth concerns or computer glitches.

Video calls also make us communicate in unusual ways – with prolonged eye contact, a lack of body gestures and an increased need for facial expressions – all while forcing us to stay in relatively the same spot. Even making a simple change of standing up to teach: Raise your laptop onto a cardboard box and you now have a standing desk. Virtual teaching does require more brain power because it is a different form of communication than what we are used to. Nonverbal cues and body language make up a huge portion of communication, and video calls make it significantly more difficult to pick up on these things. To combat the lack of nonverbal cues, include your feelings or body language in text. For example, “As I opened my email this morning, I could feel my shoulders slump,” or, “Since you can’t see me, imagine my voice jumping up and down, excited at your news.”

Our brains will adapt to this new way of teaching and learning, but it will take a while to rewire our brains. When you or your students are exhausted, be honest about the situation, support them and be patient. Encourage students as well as your colleagues to participate in self-care techniques. We risk a complete shutdown mentally or physically. It is about taking care of your health so that you’re prepared to be the best teacher you can be for yourself and your students. As the saying goes, we must secure our own oxygen mask first before we can assist others.

Take a SIP of This: Prioritizing Self-care

Self-care is about taking care of your physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, and social health. Without taking care of yourself, you won’t have the energy to help your students, and you may risk professional burnout. To get started, brainstorm a few self-care activities that work for you; the next step is putting them on your calendar. Create a plan to take the time to take time for yourself every day. Make a choice to survive and thrive. Commit to taking care of yourself.

Suggestions for implementing self-care:

  • Set aside time in your daily schedule to prioritize self-care.
  • Get outside and breathe the fresh air deeply, go for a walk, hike a new trail, get on your bike and find a new route, exercise.
  • Experiment with different types of yoga and stretching routines.
  • Listen to music – crank up the tunes, and change the radio station, genre or time signature of the music.
  • Cook a delicious meal that you’ve always wanted to try.
  • Limit the time spent to grade papers and respond to email – truly set reasonable working hours.
  • Be able to say “No” and don’t have a guilt trip over it.
  • One-minute meditations – close your eyes, take a deep breath and try not to think. Listen to your breathing; relax your body; release the tension, especially from your shoulders and lower back.
  • Disconnect from tech and spend time with the people you love the most.
  • Turn your brain off and let it be quiet multiple times during the day.
  • Give yourself time to be creative.
  • Read a book, take a nap, drink enough water.
  • Perform random acts of kindness.
  • Say statements of affirmation each day.
  • Pray or otherwise take quiet time for yourself.
  • Look through old pictures and call friends and family from the pictures and have a hearty laugh.
  • Rearrange your office so you see it from a different view.
  • Have a self-care “emergency pack” with things you enjoy close by so you can de-stress during your break if needed.
  • Look at your upcoming assignments/tasks coming due and examine whether one of them can be cut to lighten the load for students and faculty grading that work.
  • Continue to be flexible with grading, the amount of reading we assign and the timeline of upcoming assignments.
  • Prioritize the high-impact instructor presence and be OK to let go of less impactful tactics.
  • Take a poll of your students’ stress level and that of yourself. Decide whether it is time to take a “self-care” day, then do something fun and encourage your students to do the same.

Resources that Metropolitan State University of Denver offers:

MSU Denver Campus Rec – opportunities to stay active and engaged through social-media channels (FacebookInstagramTwitterYouTube)

MSU Denver Counseling Center   – remote counseling services are available

Health Center at Auraria – Medical and mental-health services designed to keep students, faculty and staff healthy so that they can thrive personally and professionally.

Still Thirsty? Take a SIP of this:

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