Volume 1: Reimagining Remote Teaching, Issue 11
I am exhausted. I was so exhausted last week that I could not even write this article about being exhausted. I looked at the blank white page and I was at a loss for words, and every time I tried to write a complete sentence, well, it looked like the written equivalency of the Peanut adults talking in the Charlie Brown Halloween special.
Wah, wah, wah, wah, waaaaah.
Nothing made sense.
Here we are, on September 16th, and we are already facing the exhaustion we usually encounter right before Thanksgiving break. I do not know about you all, but I wonder how I’m going to get through the next 10 weeks with the same positive energy our students need and deserve right now.
I took the weekend to really think about this problem and the magical unicorn of “Self-Care”. We keep hearing about it, but how many of us practice it? Here’s the thing: the unicorn needs to become real. It does not need to have rainbows or anything, but we need to figure out ways to provide ourselves with grace. Without it, we might not be able to give our students an exceptional experience while staying mentally, physically, and emotionally healthy. Without it, we will simply burn out.
After a bit of research on Saturday morning and personal reflection over the past few days, I have settled on sharing the following strategies to make sure your own bucket is full so you do not face burn out before the semester ends.
It is crucial we stay connected right now in our physically disconnected world. Most of you have been receiving Teams messages from me every week or so. I started this process because I wanted to make sure everything was going ok, seeing if you needed anything, and, most importantly, wanting to make sure you do not feel alone in this virtual world.
Believe it or not, mental health professionals say this is one of the most important things you can do for self-care right now. They express how it is important to make intentional time to reach out to loved ones via text, phone call, or social media. They even recommend you schedule your time to reach out and say hello! This allows you to look forward to a moment of relaxation and friendship with your loved ones. And for those who are too tired to talk, that’s ok, too. You can still reach out. There is no need to make those connections long conversations. Instead of a conversation, funny meme or GIF is just what the doctor ordered to brighten a day, spread a laugh, and let someone know you are thinking about them.
Letting those in your contact list know they are loved and valued fills your own heart with peace and happiness. Something we all need in these challenging times.
We keep hearing about the “new normal” and how we want things to “get back to normal”. Believe it or not, the phrase often references our need to have structure and routine in our lives. When we do not know what is going on from one day to the next, it causes us stress and anxiety. For the first 4 months of the pandemic, even those with strong coping skills found themselves lost and repeating these phrases. The extended length of time living in the chaos of “what ifs” has left us drained. Establishing a routine helps to put boundaries around the chaos and turn it into order.
One of the most important things you can do right now is settle into a daily routine. Many of you might already be doing this now that our children are back in school (whether virtual or in-person), you have a handle on your remote, synchronous courses, and you are into a consistent work pattern.
Continue to establish more routines. And, on weekends, make it a priority to do something for yourself. It does not matter if your priority is spending time with your family or spending time alone. Just make sure you do it. And, try to carve out specific time for when you will do this each weekend. By creating a consistent weekend plan, you give yourself something to look forward to each week. More importantly, when we prioritize ourselves on weekends, we feel more refreshed and excited for the work week.
Giving back to our community and others is a great way to get you through hard times. It helps remind you that you are not the only one who is struggling, and it allows you to assert a semblance of control over your own environment.
As many of you know, I accidentally started a charity in March 2020. I had just spoken with our Nursing Director, Michele Simms who also works on the frontlines in the UC West Chester ED department on the weekends. I was not doing well that night and I did what I always do when I am having a moment: I offered to help others. I asked, via a FB community group, if anyone wanted to help me provide meals for the ED department to thank Michele and the rest of the ED Team for their work. In less than an hour, my one question turned into 6000+ meals served to regional hospital personnel, police departments, sheriff’s offices, state highway patrols, and firehouses between April 8, 2020 through September 11, 2020.
Now, it is September 16th and I have noticed I need another volunteer opportunity so I can continuously serve others to help keep me grounded and focused.
I know I shared a personal story here – but this is not just my story. Gateway wants us to share all our stories by reaching out and becoming a part of our community as volunteers and those who can be counted on to step up and help when times are tough. They have even made providing this service to the community easier, by providing us with time to serve in our communities during our regular work week.
Take a moment, reflect, and find a cause. Reach out to your community by volunteering and giving back. It will lift your spirits and allow you to know that while this pandemic and the impact on our exhaustion is real, it is not who you are. This pandemic is a fleeting moment in our lives. Focus on who we are, and not the roadblock we are currently driving over.
Exercise / Outside
The final self-care tip I will share is simple: Get Up. Get Out. Go Sweat. Make time to make your muscles tired. Get yourself to the point where your arms and legs shake because you walked up that steep incline, ran 2 miles, or squattend 10 additional pounds. Whatever exercise you do will get your blood flowing and will release healthy endorphins. And, oh boy, those endorphins feel good. When you are consistent with your exercise, you can even regulate your mood. Routine exercise stimulates the release of two brain chemicals: dopamine and serotonin. Both chemicals help balance and regulate your emotions.
Even better, make the time to exercise outside. See your community, smile at those you pass as you are respectfully socially distanced walking in your neighborhood, and breathe deeply.
I know this might seem simplistic and unnecessary, but intentional breathing helps us calm, focus, and complete the biofeedback loop. Special Ops forces are taught special breathing techniques to deal with adrenaline while in the field. Similar techniques are taught to trauma victims to control their PTSD. And therapists use this cognitive behavioral therapy to help clients overcome their panic attacks.
When you are feeling overwhelmed, it is important you take a slow, deep breathe to expand your lungs and your rib cage. Inhale for 4 counts. Then, hold the air in your lungs for four counts. When ready, exhale for a count of 4. All breathing should take place through your nose. Repeat your breathing as you work to calm your nerves and feel more energized and focused.
We are all living a shared traumatic experience right now. Instead of waiting longer to regain control of our chaos, take another breathe. And then another. And another.
In the end, the only way we are going to make it through the mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion we are facing is if we stop and intentionally make ourselves a priority. I know it is cheesy, but “me time” is crucial. We must focus on ourselves and taking care of who we are so we can continue to take care of our students, our families, and each other.
Thank you for being you – and for being such amazing colleagues and educators. There is no way we could do any of this without each other.