By: Jenny Howe | Mental Health Counselor
Anxiety lives and breathes in uncertainty.
And as a teacher in the year 2020, the uncertainty has been paramount. I dare say more so for you, than any other profession.
I spent about fourteen years of my career working closely with teachers inside our schools. I witnessed the hours spent not only planning and preparing for lessons daily, but I was privy to the late evening tear-stained worries of students struggling with problems larger than their little bodies and brains should have to. I sat alongside many teachers as they problem solved with parents, as they were sometimes unfairly targeted as a projection of anger. I’ve seen your world, and I see the passion and love and devotion that is poured into each day with your students.
This year, as our nation and world have been blindsided by a pandemic, one of the most important discussions has centered around education. How do we teach? How do we ensure our children receive adequate exposure to their teachers? Suddenly, the value of teachers—which I have never wavered in—has been thrusted to the forefront of our American dialogue. On one hand, I can see how validating that may feel. On the other hand, I can only imagine how much pressure it must feel like there is to bear the weight of a brand-new way of creating and delivering education, especially with no roadmap or guidelines as to how it “should” work.
You’ve been left with the largest responsibility; caring for our children.
And you’ve done it. You’ve spent hours and weekends learning how to shift an entire curriculum to a format unfamiliar and unexpected. You’ve opened your “office hours” to extend and allow for students who have working parents and shared computers. You’ve taught your own children, as well.
You’ve done it.
And I can only imagine that has carried within itself its own bag of issues.
All the stress and burden must land somewhere, and as you’ve done your best to survive, I can only assume it has found its home inside your body. The constant “edgy” feeling, exhaustion, irritability and maybe even an increase in panic, lack of sleep due to racing thoughts, and a tenancy to “zone out” intermittently. If you are feeling any of these symptoms, you are not alone. Your body has been operating in “fight or flight;” using its adrenaline reserves to preserve your survival. When the nervous system is aroused, we can function, but it is not without its negative side effects. It takes a toll, and you may be feeling the brunt of it.
So, what do we do?
Label Your Feelings
It begins by labeling our feelings. It sounds so simple, but it is the step we most often skip. We forget to label our anxiety (or any feeling) and its origin, which incidentally keeps the arousal system activated. When our brain doesn’t know what we are dealing with, it stays active to protect us. If we can label how we are feeling, it helps our brain feel a sense of control, which helps to deactivate our nervous system response.
Process Your Feelings
Once we label our feelings, we work to notice them and process them. We have to make intentional time to process these feelings, which can happen in many ways. Some examples are cathartic journaling, creative arts, physical activity, dialogue with a loved one, a hot shower and good cry (or maybe that last one is just me). Whatever you chose, when you intentionally label your feeling and engage in activity with the purpose of processing, you give your nervous system permission to slow down and deactivate; lessening the physical symptoms of anxiety that are so bothersome (racing thoughts, an “on edge” feeling, lack of sleep, restlessness etc.).
As easy as this sounds in theory, the intention to one’s self is a lot more difficult to practice. It requires that you put your needs at the top of the list, which in my experience with teachers, is not a typical priority. I can promise that as you being to label and process your anxiety and other emotions, your body and physical health will benefit in addition to your emotional health. You will think, feel, and be better for your students. Begin with 5 minutes a day. You carry the hearts of all our children. It is about time you chose to care for yourself, as well.
Written by Jenny Howe, Mental Health Counselor and Owner of Jenny Howe Consulting. Find her at https://www.jennyhoweconsulting.com/
Disclaimer: Blunovus content is not therapy and is not designed to diagnose or treat any condition you may be experiencing. Please contact a medical or mental health professional for treatment that is specific to your needs.