Working with early learners is an important and rewarding career. ECE professionals have opportunities to form relationships with families and watch children grow and learn every day. But, it is also no secret that the work of early learning professionals is not easy. It requires long days, lots of energy and, most of all, patience. When the stress of the job becomes overwhelming, it can have an impact on mental health and personal wellbeing. To combat stress, it is important to take time to practice self-care.
Simple Tips to De-Stress and Reset
Harvard Ed. Magazine shares the following five tips for de-stressing as recommended by former preschool teacher, Emily Wiklund.
Acknowledge the challenges: Because the teaching profession “sits right at the intersection of high demand and low professional support,” the job can be especially stressful. Allow yourself to reflect on the challenges of your job to find ways to reduce stress. Being aware of the physical, emotional, and mental demands of your career makes it easier to be in tune with your stress levels and helps you recognize when you are starting to feel burned out. In those moments, have conversations with your team or director to see if there are any places that you might be able to get some extra help. Incorporate mindful breathing into your day (see exercise below). Or take an occasional personal day to decompress so that you can return feeling re-energized.
Check-in on your team: You might see signs of teachers dealing with burnout or fatigue, such as “difficulty concentrating or attending to tasks, edginess and irritability, sadness, or detachment and isolation.” Check in on your teammates often to see how they’re doing and if there’s anywhere you can offer extra support. You might go for a walk together on your lunch break, listen to them vent about the challenges of the classroom, or maybe even bring them a cup of coffee or tea in the morning. Small acts of kindness can help to feel your co-teachers to feel affirmed, supported, and cared for.
Find community: Whether you connect with teachers you work with, or find a community outside of your classroom, it helps to have someone to talk to after a stressful day. This can help to “get ideas about how to respond next time or simply some positive acknowledgment that things will be okay.” To meet with members of your community, check Nextdoor, Facebook, and community centers to see if there is a local social group or book club that meets regularly. If you can’t find one, you might consider starting a regular walking date or coffee get-together with some of your co-teachers or local friends and neighbors!
Reconnect to intention: Remind yourself why you do the important work you do. “Ask yourself why you wanted to become a teacher in the first place. What have you always loved about working with young children and their families?” When you think about what parts of your job that you especially enjoy, is it interacting with families? Is it setting up your classroom? Or maybe you find particular excitement in creating new and exciting curriculum for the children. Whatever it is that brings joy to your work, try to incorporate more of that particular task into each day to re-ignite your passion and love of your work!
Take time for yourself: Self-care habits can help you to stay calm and keep your mind at ease during stressful days. “This can include yoga, mindful walking, or even mindful eating, which includes noticing and savoring textures and flavors. During the school day, which can feel hectic, teachers can find quiet spots during breaks, engaging socially with colleagues over lunch or at the end of the day. Self-care and strong community bonds aren’t luxuries; they’re essential components in providing quality experiences for children.”
Mindful Breathing Exercise
Mindful breathing can help in a moment of stress, during a break, while the children nap, or in the morning before starting the day. Zero to Three shares a simple breathing exercise to help calm your mind and body in less than 20 seconds. This technique can be done once, as a quick reset, or it can be done several times in a row as a longer meditation when time allows.