Hello there! Welcome back again! I’m really going to make sure I get more of these posted up more often!
Today I wanted to address TEACHER MENTAL HEALTH and I want to tell you my story! This is such a big topic, but I want to put my two cents in, too, because well honestly, I think that we need to continue talking about this. We cannot get complacent and ignore this and not discuss these tricky issues. This has been laying heavily on me with the crazy time and the distance learning that so many of us have experienced (luckily I have not yet- fingers crossed).
As teachers, most of us would choose others over ourselves. I mean that’s basically what it means to be a teacher, amiright? We give up so much of ourselves every year to parents and families who need us (reminder here to stay away from the idea of seeing yourself as a savior to your students and more like partner in caring for them). It is so easy to put yourself on the backburner right now especially. I want to use this post as a reminder for you to not think to treat yourself but to really TAKE CARE of yourself. The goal with mental health for me is to be PROACTIVE instead of reactive. I’m going to tell a little more about that…
The problem with the idea of “treat yo self” or “self-care” is that beneficial self-care typically looks SO different from what instagram/social media shows you. While I love a good nail salon trip, facial, blowout, etc. as much as the next person, there is something to be said about recognizing that is usually a band-aid on the main problem or emotion you are feeling. Another problem is that everyone is so different. What works for me may not work for you, and vice versa. To try and preach that we need to be practicing “self-care” without being honest about what that looks like hides the actual problem and doesn’t encourage solving those problems.
**Hear me out now… I’m not saying DON'T treat yourself. I’m not saying it doesn’t feel good to have a “self care” day where you go to the salon, etc. I’m just saying that we cannot intertwine treat yourself-mentality with mental health.**
There are so many teachers right now out there feeling useless or like less-than because of the situation they are in. While I may not be experiencing the school closures and quarantines here in Taiwan, I have been experiencing other pieces of the trauma that covid-19 have brought to the world. Yes, this is a TRAUMA. Don’t feel like you are less than because you are facing a global pandemic and it is traumatic. I want to talk to these teachers going through it, but I also want to address all teachers just trying to get through regardless of a pandemic. I don’t have all the answers, but I think what I do have to say could help you in some way.
So here’s my story…
I suffer from Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I bet there are many of you out there who are like me. My GAD isn’t me, but it is a piece of me. I am multifaceted and so that’s how my life should be. That being said, I have suffered for years… really as long as I can remember. As a child, it was undiagnosed and often my emotional outbursts or inability to stop crying/hyperventilating were attributed to me being “emotional.” Is there a student in your class or that you have had in the past that you are thinking of now? If the answer is yes, you’re not alone. Even as a GAD sufferer, I can think of multiple students I had that showed similar symptoms. Our minds immediately wander to “Did I do enough as their teacher to support them?” “Was I too hard on them when they were showing anxiety and outbreaks?” Don’t let it. Remember that you can’t pour from an empty cup. You can’t fix something you don’t know about or understand. Learning to take care of yourself automatically puts you in a better place to support others.
In college, I started seeing a therapist and got put on medication to help me control my anxiety attacks. I felt like I had control over my disorder and I felt strong in my choices. I was confident in taking the medication the doctor gave me, and relied heavily on that. I felt like this medicine was all I needed to be a healthy, “normal” person. I was ignoring physical symptoms like migraines, exhaustion, stomach issues, etc. because I didn’t think they were related… and I mean, I was under control, right? I learned after college that I still had a lot to learn.
My first year teaching was rough. I had students who tested me to my wits end and sent me home crying almost everyday. These were 5 year olds and some of them were breaking me….these were not your normal 5 year olds. I felt out of control, but I was coping well.
In my second year teaching, I moved abroad and had to make new decisions about my anxiety treatment. I started seeing a doctor here still continued to feel like I had things under control. I was still on medicine, but also made the choice to attempt to get off of the medicine and started using other methods to help me cope.
It was in my third year teaching (still abroad) that I learned how WRONG I was. I had a panic attack that resembled a stroke at the young age of 24 and the doctor told me I needed to get my anxiety under control. I lost feeling in my left arm and my face was swollen and numb. I spent 3 days in the hospital and four WEEKS going back to the doctor every few days asking for new medicine or with some other symptoms. I missed almost a full month of school because of something only I could see and feel. My husband was very supportive, but it was a scary time. I had felt like things were in control, but my body was CLEARLY telling me something different.
After that, I really learned how to make better choices in my treatment. I discovered more about my anxiety in that short time than I had my whole life. I learned how to recognize symptoms in my body so that I would understand what I was feeling and how to fix it. Things like exhaustion, migraines, and stomach cramping/IBS are the first warning signs for me before my body takes drastic measures. These things tell me to take a break and reevaluate what I’m doing to help cope. You can’t remove the anxiety from life… that’s ideal but just not possible, so what can you do to support yourself through rough seas?
There are tons of ways to help your body and mind cope… lets start with the easiest three that everyone can do.
Exercise!!!!!! Lifting weights is great for my muscle goals, but running is my mind savior. Running changes how I feel almost instantly, even if it’s not a good run. Also, a nice walk is a good for relaxing your mind. I like to put on an audiobook and take my dogs and just walk!
SLEEP!!! Seriously, get some sleep. We are in a world of constant go-go-go, anyone can reach us at any time and we can spend the whole night working, watching tv, etc. Sleeping is easily one of the best ways to allow your body to rest and repair. If you’re not getting at least 6 hours a night, your body is not repairing itself enough and it makes dealing with external stressors harder.
Drink water. Sounds dumb, right? But your body needs water. You are water. Without replenishing your body, you will have trouble coping, as your body and brain will not have the same strength, as they should.
If you’re doing all of these but still need more…
Try talking to a friend. Getting it off your chest. Ask a friend that you TRUST to just let you get it all off your chest. Don’t ask for advice, don’t ask for opinions (unless you want it) and just tell them what your feeling and why. You will feel better just sharing it.
Try yoga, meditation and mindful breathing. There are TONS of resources for free out there (check out youtube. I really like Yoga with Adriene) to help you try this out and build it into a practice that works for you. Once you master the idea of mindful breathing, you can do this ANYWHERE at ANYTIME when you need it!
Do something you enjoy, BUT be mindful about what you are doing it. “I want to do this because it makes me happy. I know it won’t change everything instantly, but it will make me happy. I will choose to be happy about this and enjoy it.” Instead of thinking “After I do this I will be better immediately,” because chances are that you won’t. Instant gratification is a huge problem for humans right now, with so much opportunity for gratification at our fingertips.
Step away from your work for the night/weekend. Put the phone, computer away, set an away email so parents know that you aren’t being rude but just need a break.
These next two may not work for everyone, because of multiple factors (financial, time, etc.) but I want to talk about the usefulness of them…
Go see a therapist. If you can afford it, seriously go. Don’t expect to find your perfect therapist the first time you see someone (although if you do, great job!). It is okay to shop around and find someone you really mesh well with. I saw therapists in both America and Taiwan, and during the time of seeing them, I was able to open up without judgment and gain more insight into how I can support myself. It is not weird to see a therapist. Honestly, everyone should go to therapy at least once in their lives.
If you are feeling physical reactions to your anxiety, getting a massage can help. I get massages here in Taiwan every 2-3 weeks because they are so helpful for my physical reactions. Now, massages in America are typically very expensive, so I understand why you may think “uh no way” but if you can afford it… massage therapy is a great anxiety treatment.
Okay, y'all so that's what I have for you today! What do you think? How do you deal with anxiety? What are some tips you have for others? Leave some in the comments below so we can all learn and grow from each other!!