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[Educator Network] The Trouble with Self-Care

[Educator Network] The Trouble with Self-Care

In our recent Edmentum Podcast miniseries, Summer of Reflection, host David Cicero and his guests discuss the importance of mindfulness and being present for educators. The content fringes on the concept of self-care, something that teachers often put on the back burner in favor of grading papers and planning. The theory of self-care refers to taking ownership for our physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual health. Practicing self-care is preventative, not selfish, or so it is said.

Be present.

I have trouble with this. It is not something that comes easy to me. It is something that I can work on. I am going to start a list, and this is going to the top.

Wait, doesn’t that defeat the purpose of being present? It sounds wonderful, especially if it is going to lower my stress and anxiety but adding it to a list of things to do has made my list longer and that is stressing me out. Science tells us that when emotions become inflated, the parts of the brain that manage executive function tend to stop working with other parts of my brain. I need to keep all the parts of my brain working in harmony. Now I am worried that I have broken my brain.

Ok, I am going to calm my mind.

A calm mind helps me think more clearly. However, usually when I need to think more clearly it is because something is going on that has rocketed me into chaos. Maybe I cannot see the big picture because a monster is standing on my head?

Managing monsters is going on my list.

What is keeping me from being present? There are some concrete issues, like Zoom fatigue, the pandemic and the health and safety of my loved ones. What can I manage? What is in my control?

Zoom fatigue; this is a real thing. In February 2021 while we were in the height of the third wave of the pandemic, this study from the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab was released, which found that video chat platforms have design flaws that exhaust the human mind and body. But there are easy ways to mitigate their effects. In the research, there were a number of identified stressors that meeting virtually has brought into our house. For example, Professor Jeremy Bailensen, founding director of the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab stated in their journal article Nonverbal Overload: A Theoretical Argument for the Causes of Zoom Fatigue, “Both the amount of eye contact we engage in on video chats, as well as the size of faces on screens is unnatural.”

I have never in my life worried about the size of my face being unnatural. This is now on my list of things to worry about. Video conferencing is like having someone follow you around with a mirror, which over time can result in negative emotional consequences.

Ya think? All those years of acceptance and personal growth shot down. I can now tell my 13-year-old critical self, she might have been right. I know she wasn’t, but there is science behind this. A solution is that I can hide that image of myself on Zoom, but then I have to worry about everyone else seeing my unnaturally giant face. Add it to the list.

Another issue Stanford researchers identified was how movement is limited in ways that are not natural, and nonverbal communication takes up more mental energy when video conferencing.

I have been there, sitting still so I have the right profile or best angel is not easy. This doesn’t’ go on my list of things to worry about because I just gave that up a long time ago. However, there is the mental fatigue of making sure that I am not speaking over others, that I am watching for discord. I understand the “side eye” online is completely different than in a face-to-face meeting. When sitting across from someone who gives me that look, the ‘you can’t be serious’ look, tells me I am on the wrong track, but in the Zoom room, it might mean we are about to see a kid or pet.

The result is that after a day of meetings and conversations, I am confident I have a ginormous head; I know this because my 13-year-old self has been following me around with a mirror; my body is sore from holding a pose and I am pretty sure that was a legit side eye in the last meeting.

Forget today, I am going to be in the moment. I am going to calm my brain.

I am not going to focus on the list.          

I have read that it is completely natural for this disruption and uncertainty to lead to anxiety and stress. I have been working from home for years, but this feels different. My brain has have fogged over into perpetual ennui. I find it extremely difficult to get things done.

Walking, stretching, planks or jumping jacks—whatever exercise pushes your button, can reduce or alleviate stress and increase endorphins.

Taking a minute to be creative.

Science is telling me that it is ok to be frantic. It is perfectly normal.

It may be normal, but not how I want to live.

I am shifting my lens. I have decided that these are not things I have to do, but an open challenge to do these things. I am looking at it to boost my resilience. I am looking to the moment. I am aware of my surroundings. I will strive to NOT make a mental to do list when sitting in the garden.

I know it is not easy and I will not always be successful, but adding mindfulness to my list, moving it up that list will, by its nature, will shrink my list. I am looking at this list not as challenges to overcome, but as an opportunity to build my toy box. Thanks to The Edmentum Podcast with David Cicero and Edmentum's SEL Learning Designer Jen Perry, I am now looking at my tools as toys. I am going to learn some new things. I am going to work on appreciating what is happening now. I am going lean into the sounds of chopping veg for dinner, not what I am going to do after dinner. I will get the laundry done and the garden weeded and enjoy the process when it happens. I am going to revel in the smiling faces kids bring to my classroom, and the accomplishment of teaching.

Listen to The Edmentum Podcast Summer of Reflection miniseries here, or where ever you listen to podacats!

winnie.oleary's picture
Winnie O'Leary

Winnie O’Leary has spent over 25 years in education, as a classroom teacher, school board member, a family advocate, special education teacher, curriculum writer and currently a Curriculum Manager for Edmentum. Her experiences have allowed her to work with districts all over the country where she finds something new and exciting every day.