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When people talk about burnout in the mental health community, they generally refer to psychologists and counselors who spend their days listening to their patient’s problems. People pay little attention to teacher mental health. However, they must also often adopt a therapist’s role — along with that of an instructor, trusted caregiver and confidante.
Teachers do all this without much appreciation from parents or the general public, who seem ripe to criticize everything they do without realizing they’re already doing all they can within the scope of their abilities and department budgets. To say this profession needs self-care the most is an understatement.
What can you do to support and nurture psychological well-being so that you can give your best to your students day after day? Here are eight mental health activities for teachers — please incorporate at least one into your daily routine.
1. Mindfulness Walk Break
Teachers deal with noise. A lot of it. Sometimes, you need to escape and listen to the sound of nature’s perfect silence to restore your inner calm and balance.
Mindfulness walking is a fantastic teacher mental health activity because it gently unites mind and body. It calms your mental state while drawing your awareness to the simple miracles all around that so often get lost in the clamor of daily life. How glorious it is to have the ability to walk, to stroll on this beautiful planet while listening to the birds and the breeze as the sun caresses your skin — what a gift!
Best of all, you don’t need a single spare dime to do this activity, which is helpful for teachers with financial stress. All you need is a quiet area, preferably outdoors, where you can stroll in relative silence, paying attention to your feet as they strike the earth and marveling at your connection to all things.
For even deeper effects, try a barefoot mindful walk. Some believe grounding or earthing helps your body absorb the earth’s electrons and connect with its currents through your skin, improving health outcomes. Recent research has found a positive association between this practice and better sleep and chronic pain outcomes.
2. The Infamous Chocolate
Have you heard of the mindfulness exercise where you slowly savor a piece of chocolate, observing, sniffing and nibbling it before indulging? While rare, believe it or not, some folks don’t have much of a sweet tooth, and others with sensory sensitivities dislike the sensation of ooey gooey brown stuff all over their teeth.
You don’t have to overcome your preferences — simply choose a snack you prefer. Then, follow these steps:
- Observe and give thanks: What does your snack look and feel like? What are the ingredients, and what do they do for your overall health? What anticipation do you feel? Now’s a perfect time to sneak in a bit of gratitude as you give thanks for having food.
- Engage your senses: Even the sound of a potato chip bag opening can be a melody when you have a craving. What does your treat smell like? The color, the texture? Is it visually appealing, or could you have done a better job of plating?
- Employ those taste buds: Begin by sniffing and nibbling your treat, as your senses of taste and smell share a close link. Take a small bite and explore the flavor. Finally, take a larger bite and let your treat dissolve in your mouth as you mindfully tune into your bodily sensations. Can you hear your stomach say “thank you?”
3. Gratitude Journal
Gratitude is the perfect antidote to the seemingly endless negativity teachers wallow through each day. It’s also real, making it the polar opposite of toxic positivity that’s, quite honestly, more akin to gaslighting than self-help. Thankfulness for the little things is genuine, forming from your heart center when you reflect upon the many blessings you have but often fail to recognize.
Best of all, this teacher mental health activity doesn’t require penning a novel to raise your vibration. However, you should dedicate a pretty place to it, investing in a gorgeous print journal or decorating your online space however you like it.
Spend two to five minutes each day writing down two or three things that genuinely made you smile over the past 24 hours. It could be that “aha” moment when a struggling student finally “got it” or even a beautiful sunrise as you prepared for class in the morning.
4. Adult Coloring Books
You don’t have to be in elementary school to find coloring a peaceful, mindful activity that benefits your mental health. You might have employed this trick with your class when they got too unruly — it’s the perfect way to let your HPA axis settle after something activates it, leading to erratic behavior.
Best of all, you might not even have to invest in coloring books. You might have a ready supply in your classroom — but if not, there are some fun, adult-themed ones.
Dancing is one of the best forms of exercise, and any workout improves your mental health. How? It does so in several ways, most notably by helping your body produce endorphins, natural opioid-like substances that reduce pain and increase elation. It also activates your body’s endocannabinoid system and rebuilds dopamine receptors.
If you had to choose one activity to preserve your cognitive function as you age, dance is it. Researchers investigated the impact of several activities on reducing dementia risk, and putting on your boogie shoes emerged as the clear winner. There’s something about the combination of the neuroplasticity involved in following the steps with physical movement that boosts brain power.
6. Explore Aromatherapy
Aromatherapy may sound like new-age mysticism. However, there’s evidence that it works. How? When you inhale certain fragrances, the scent molecules travel from your olfactory nerves to your amygdala, your emotional center.
What should you use? Citrusy scents often uplift and give you energy, while relaxing lavender helps you calm down after a stressful day. Scents like frankincense may help ease chronic aches and pains, and eucalyptus and pine could boost immune function.
7. Take a Hike
The great outdoors is perhaps the most healing therapist. Multiple studies attest to the mental health benefits of spending time in nature, and doing so also improves your physical health. It inspires exercise, boosts immunity and increases your body’s natural production of vitamin D, in reality, a hormone with integral roles to play in multiple systems.
It’s best if you have a nature preserve near you, but you can reap many of the same benefits as a weekend warrior. Pick somewhere new to explore each outing. You can bring the entire family or use this time as a solo retreat to turn inwards and reflect.
8. Practice Yoga
Yoga unites deep breathing with physical movement. It’s perhaps the ultimate way to quell panic and calm anxious feelings by incorporating multiple methods to tap into your body’s parasympathetic nervous system all at once. For example, you might focus on uniting your breath and body while doing cat-cows, simultaneously massaging your vagus nerve and inducing calm by elongating your exhales.
Best of all, there’s a style of practice for everyone. Athletic types who enjoy challenges might gravitate towards Ashtanga or vinyasa styles, whereas those who want deep relaxation and introspection while moving gently may get more from a yin or restorative class.
Mental Health Activities for Teachers
It’s challenging to maintain your mental health as a teacher. You face enormous pressure every day and rarely receive thanks for your efforts.
Reward yourself by engaging in one of these teacher mental health activities each day. You’ll bring your best to the classroom when you care for yourself outside of it.