In a short time, life as we knew it changed. We went from carefree days of going to work, joking with colleagues and students, visiting friends and family, having a meal out, and leisurely shopping, to a life of stay at home orders, social distancing, lines to get into a grocery store, and having to quickly learn how to continue education through virtual platforms. Some of us are comfortable with being at home, looking at this as a minor inconvenience. Others have loved ones with jobs deemed as “essential” and are afraid they will catch and bring home COVID-19. Still others have family members losing jobs and are worried about paying the bills and putting food on the table. Then, there are the students and families. As educators, we cannot help but think of what life is like for them. We know some are homeless, do not have internet access at home, do not have food and are surrounded by trauma. As caring, compassionate people, we are worried and stressed for them too.
Stress can be a normal part of life and can help us rise to challenges. Unfortunately, when stress interferes with our ability to perform our jobs and engage productively in our home lives, it can create a self-defeating cycle and the potential for serious mental health issues. As professionals who listen to the stories of anxiety, fear, pain and suffering of others, we may start experiencing similar feelings. We can lose our sense of self and experience what is known “compassion fatigue.”
Compassion fatigue is the gradual lessening of compassion for self and/or others. It can be the result of working with students who are surrounded by trauma. As educators, we can absorb that trauma and take it into our own lives. Combined with our present stresses and anxieties over COVID-19, we can experience physical, emotional and psychological pain that deeply affects our personal and professional lives. This is why we must take time, now perhaps more than ever, for ourselves. In order to help others, we need to be healthy both mentally and physically. We need to practice self-care, strive for a balance in life and make a commitment to helping ourselves.
Here are some suggested ways to deal with stress, anxiety and compassion fatigue:
Make self-care a priority
- Schedule time to care for yourself mentally and physically. If you find it hard to remember, put breaks and self-care into your calendar.
- Commit to making time to unwind and enjoy activities. Music, art, hobbies, reading, playing games, and time with family are all examples of things you can do.
- Practice mindfulness. Focus on the here and now. Relax and just be in the present.
Take care of your body, mind and spirit
- Make healthy eating choices and avoid the junk food whenever possible. Limit caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol intake.
- Limit snacking
- Get some exercise. Walk, bike, practice yoga; whatever gets your body moving.
- Get plenty of sleep. Even though you may not have to get up early, try not to get in just one more late-night episode of that show you are binge watching.
Make time for your friends, family, co-workers, and pets
- Stay connected with people you love and trust.
- Reach out by phone, text or video chat platform.
- Talk to others about how you are feeling.
- Listen to how they are feeling.
- Remember, they are experiencing similar things to what you are experiencing.
- Pets can be a calming influence.
Re-frame your work, set boundaries and stick to schedules
- Remember why you went into education and what you like most about it.
- Set your work schedule and stick to that schedule as best you can. There may be times when you can only reach a parent at 5 pm. You may need to be flexible, but do not make long days the norm. Adjust your schedule accordingly.
- Take a lunch break
- Get up from your chair and move periodically.
- Set up a workspace that is your “office.” Organize your space so it productive. When your workday is over, leave that space, leave that computer and fully unplug from work.
- Be confident and know that you did your best for the students, families, and staff.
- If things are getting too heavy, take a day off. It may seem weird to call in sick when you are at home, but if you need time for yourself, it is okay to call in sick.
Limit exposure to the news and social media
- News of the pandemic can be repetitive, heavy and stressful. Take breaks from the continuous stream of news and social media.
- Tell yourself that it is okay to put down your phone or turn off the computer or television.
Make time to laugh
- Laughter is good for your mental and physical health. It can relieve stress, help your immune system and improve your mood.
- Fill your life with things that give you a chuckle.
- Take time to help others laugh.
- Remember, laughter is contagious.
If you find that the stress, anxiety, and fear is too much, reach out for help. You can talk to someone at the New Mexico Crisis and Access line anytime at 1-855-NMCRISIS (662-7474). Call your doctor and make an appointment. If you believe you are experiencing an emergency, call 911. Some school districts have employee assistance programs (EAP) that can be very beneficial. Get help when you need it.
Most of all, remember you are not alone!
Guest post by Heather Fried, Elementary Resource Counselor for Albuquerque Public Schools