"Self-care may be one of the most misused phrases in today's world," says Ginger Welch, PhD, author of How Can I Help: A Teacher’s Guide to Early Childhood Behavioral Health. "It is used to justify everything from overeating to overspending to just-plain-poor-choices. The good news is that self-care--genuine self-care--is critical, so you as a teacher may give yourself permission to make it a habit." In this post, Welch suggests some small ways to slip better self-nurturance into your life.
What was the last thing you looked forward to? Was it something big, such as a day off, a vacation, or a major purpose? Milestones matter in our lives, and we should enjoy the important memories they make. But for most of us, these major events simply do not come along often enough! You would not go a week without eating just so you could enjoy one meal or go a month without sleeping just so you could enjoy one nap. Your emotional health should not depend on few-and-far-between events, either.
Instead of focusing solely on big rewards or vacations, think about the concepts of pleasure, joy, and peace. Now think about finding moments of those emotions in your life every day. Yes, every day! For most of us, that is an incredible goal in our stress-filled lives, and we can only achieve it by working purposefully on it.
Teacher Task #1: Your Simple Joys
The first step in finding daily pleasure, joy, and peace is to spend some time reflecting on what brings you those emotions. For example, I made this list of simple activities that bring me joy:
- Eating dark chocolate
- Playing a game on my phone
- Watching my favorite TV show
- Looking at memes online
- Planning for Christmas
- Organizing art supplies
- Making quilt squares
- Drinking chai
- Meeting friends for coffee
Now make your own list of activities that bring you pleasure, joy, or peace. How many of these do you think you could schedule into your life next week?
Guidelines for Scheduled Joy
As you implement scheduled joy (or pleasure or peace) into your life, remember these guidelines:
- Avoid making plans that depend entirely on other people or their schedules. Do not forego something you want and need just because someone else cancels.
- The simpler the plan, the better. Allowing yourself to savor one delicious chocolate in silence and solitude before leaving school is much more achievable than getting a sitter for your own children, buying supplies, and making chocolate. You can find satisfaction in this big endeavor, but it is harder to pull off because it requires involving other people, having money available, and having leftover energy at the end of the day.
- Time matters, but so does quality. It might take only five minutes to play a word game of enjoy a few sips of tea, but that time only counts as self-care if it is devoted solely to your self-care activity. No multitasking allowed!
- Start low and slow. Many of us do not have time for sixty straight minutes of TV or other self-care every night, but we can sneak in five or ten minutes here and there to pay attention to ourselves. Avoid setting yourself up for failure by over-scheduling your time. Can you secure one hour a week for yourself? If so, great! If not, decide on the smallest unit of meaningful self-care you need and seek for that. For instance, taking an hour a week for a massage is wishful thinking for most of us, but setting aside ten minutes for meditation before bed each night is more achievable (and can be more powerful.)
- It may work better to combat stress in small increments throughout the day than to save everything up for the end. Can you enjoy your favorite drink on your morning break, play a game on your phone over a midday break, and take five minutes at the end of the day to stretch and listen to a favorite song? These things seem small, but unless you schedule them, they will not happen.
- Use a variety of self-care methods. Always choosing to isolate yourself with media or to reward yourself with food or drinks can backfire in the long run. Your small joys need to help you achieve balance and should avoid contributing to social isolation, weight gain, or other problems.
- Be present when you engage in a small joy. If you gobble down your single chocolate while fuming about an interaction with a coworker, you will miss the benefits of your self-care.
Teacher Task #2: Time “Thief”
Your task is to steal back one hour of your life this week… in five-minute increments! That makes twelve opportunities this week to take care of yourself.
Download the chart below. It has twelve rows (one for each five-minute increment). Fill out each row to plan what you will do and when you will do it. Once you complete an item, check it off in the “Done!” Column to celebrate your success!
Material from How Can I Help: A Teacher’s Guide to Early Childhood Behavioral Health by Ginger Welch, PhD (pages 114-116), ISBN 978-0-87659-833-7.