Secure Your Own Mask First!

screen-shot-2017-01-02-at-9-14-20-pmThere’s a reason airlines advise their passengers to “Secure your own mask first before helping others.” It may sound harsh, but they know you can’t help others when you are incapacitated. It’s advice we need to take to heart more often.

We’ve just come off some much needed down time from teaching.  For some, spending the holidays with friends and family was restorative and relaxing. For others, the opportunity to travel was exciting and enjoyable. For a few of us, the days may have been hectic and stressful.  But for all of us, it was time to focus on personal needs and choices- we received a little much needed oxygen.

As we transition back into our working lives, it is important to make sure we keep that oxygen mask secure when the pressure changes.  That oxygen mask is teacher self-care that will help us thrive in 2017.

So what can that self-care look like? It looks like kindness. It looks like patience. It looks like nurturing.  It doesn’t look like sh*#%d.  One of my mantras is “Stop “shoulding” all over yourself!” So as I offer some suggestions for self-care, try to avoid turning them into “shoulds”. That just leads to guilt and stress.  Rather, think about the care, nurturing, and advice you would give your child or any child and offer that same kindness to that child you see in the mirror each day!

BREATHE.  Seriously.  Most of us BREATHE shallow breaths that  leads to a poor exchange of oxygen and CO2 in the bloodstream, depriving our bodies of both vital gases. It’s like we are in a constant state of hyperventilation. We sometimes hold our breath when we are stressed or upset.  We are rarely aware of our breathing unless we are ‘out of breath’ or have a cold.  Watch how babies BREATHE, deep relaxing breaths from their abdomens. When you feel stressed, anxious, or tired check in with your BREATHING.   Before the kids walk in the classroom take a few deep, cleansing breaths. Feel the oxygen filling your lungs and nourishing your body. BREATHE out the stress and anxiety. When tension levels peak during a lesson, take a few deep breaths before reacting. When the kids walk out the door take time to BREATHE deep and be grateful for the day. When we take time to focus on our breathing we are present in that moment and focusing on the gift being alive. Isn’t that really the most important gift we have?

SLEEP.  This is a tough one for me.  Life seems so short and there is so much I want to do, (so many books I want to read!) SLEEP sometimes seems like a waste or a luxury.   But researchers are finding an increasing relationship between SLEEP and health; both physical and mental.  Lack of SLEEP is related to weight gain, high blood pressure, heart and kidney disease, memory loss, depression… A more recent study shows a 20% higher risk of car accidents when people don’t get enough SLEEP. There is no lesson plan, no grading, no studying that will offer you the health benefits that SLEEP will.  Think about it!

MOVE.  Most of us aren’t going from Couch to 5K, but we can all MOVE a little more each day.  One of the best things I did to monitor my movement was investing in a FitBit (or pedometer). I notice a huge difference in the way I feel on the days when I get very few steps in.  The health benefits for our bodies are well documented, but our brains also thrive when we MOVE. A recent study involving 120 people found that walking briskly 30-40 minutes a day three times a week helped to “regrow” the structures of the brain linked to cognitive decline in older adults.

If you find yourself sitting a lot at work, try to stand up every 30 minutes.  Walk around your classroom to monitor student work or vary where you address your students. Park further from school, walk to talk instead of sending email, make more trips to your car instead of carrying large loads. Try to get outside and walk before/after school, during lunch, or planning periods.  You can “work and walk” or you can take a brain break and MOVE.  Have walking meetings with colleagues! This isn’t leisure, it isn’t frivolous, it’s serious self-care. Encourage others to join you and think kindly of others who do it. They aren’t slackers-they are nurturers!

EAT.  But do it consciously.  I will never be successful with a restrictive diet-for long.  I EAT for more than nutritional reasons and I get that. It’s social. It’s festive. It’s fun.  If dieting was easy, I’d be Twiggy! What I can start to do, is EAT more mindfully.  I can think about whether a food is ‘calorie-worthy’  or ‘me-worthy’ when I choose to EAT it, and if it makes the ‘cut’,  I want to enjoy it-NO guilt.  Taste it, savor it, sit with it! If I slow down and really notice how it tastes and makes me feel, I’ll probably eat less more naturally. If I decide I really want something,  I can think about portions and pace and stop making myself feel guilty-robbing me of some of the joy that food was intended to give me! Stop thinking about deprivation, and focus more on appreciation!

STOP. We all have had that experience when we are driving someplace and realize we don’t remember going past something. We are on auto-pilot.  We do that during our workday as well.  The day is almost over and we realize we didn’t get everything done, or we feel stress as the day goes on, finding little things setting us off that normally wouldn’t.  If we just STOPped periodically to check in with ourselves we might find we can change the trajectory of our day and choose a direction that is helpful.

Transitions are a great time to STOP.  We can invite the kids to join us. “Ok, before we start (next lesson) let’s stop for a minute and think about (previous lesson) and how that went for you and what you need to be successful next.” Or “Let’s just stop and take a couple deep breaths to get our minds ready for (whatever is next)”

We can just check in with ourselves as well.  Ask yourself, “How am I feeling right now?  What do I need? What’s going well?”  Too often we only reflect on our difficulties and not successes. STOP to notice and then celebrate, too!

LOVE.  Before you find yourself getting bogged down in the minutiae of teaching and working, think about what you LOVE about teaching and try to give that the bulk of your energy and time. Find something to LOVE about each of your students (and colleagues) remember that when the going gets tough.  LOVE what you do. LOVE those you do it with. LOVE yourself and self-care will be a focus of all your actions!  “Where there is LOVE, there is life.” –Gandhi

So grab that oxygen mask, take a deep breath, and then you’ll be ready to help others!  Happy 2017, my friends!

What’s On My Book Radar?


All We Have Left  by Wendy Mills

There have been several wonderful books about the September 11th tragedy on the 15th anniversary (nine, ten: a September 11 Story, Towers Falling, The Memory of Things, Eleven,and  Just a Drop of Water, to name a few.  I’ve just added Wendy Mills’ beautiful novel to my list.

Two girls’ lives intersect 15 years after the terrorist attacks of September 11th. This YA novel tells the story of 16 year old Alia, a Muslim who finds herself in the World Trade Center on that fateful day-she shouldn’t have been there. It also tells the story of Jesse, now 16 years old, whose brother Travis also should not have been in the tower and was trapped with Alia. Wendy Mills weaves these stories together beautiful and surprisingly as we see how hatred and love walk such a fine line in our lives. For older readers. Mills doesn’t hold back on the tragedy of that day as she seeks to share the heroism and humanity that still impact our lives today.

4 thoughts on “Secure Your Own Mask First!

  1. This is a good reminder to take care of myself too! Thank you! Teaching is a career that never feels finished; you can always do more! This can cause anxiety, especially for “A-type” personalities like myself. There are some days I feel that I am performing “educational triage” and just dealing with my students and life events that come up that are more important than the verb tenses lessons planned for that day (for example) or we veer off course to something the students are really interested in learning that is not the EXACT goal of the day. Yes, I need to get those standards covered in the most efficient, creative, engaging way possible, and would like to mark those boxes off, and most days I do, but at the end of the day, our students are people first, and it’s okay to meet those needs before the To Do List.

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