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8 Things Teachers Can Do For Their Mental Health

 The state of our mental health is an often overlooked yet crucial part of being successful in and out of the classroom. The American Federation of Teachers’ 2017 Educator Quality of Work Life Survey found that 61% of teachers said their jobs were always or often stressful. Many teachers may turn to unhealthy coping strategies such as consuming media heavily, self-isolating or using drugs or alcohol. Abusing alcohol or other substances can lead to mental health illnesses, such as depression and alcohol addiction, and ignoring your problems or overworking yourself can leave you feeling drained and burnt out. Thankfully, it doesn't have to be this way! Here are eight ways you can start prioritizing your mental health. 


One of the benefits of teaching is that you have access to many co-workers you can talk to. Trading techniques on how to get through rough days, letting off some steam, and relating to past experiences will help you feel connected and not alone. By confiding in your fellow teachers, you will also be of service to their mental health, which helps you get out of your own stress for a little while. You can also set up a fun hang-out with some of these ways to spend more quality time with your friends and family to get connected and relieve pent-up stress. 


The repetitiveness of our schedules and what we choose to do with our downtime can be a cause of worsening mental health. It’s easy to fall into comfortable ways of relaxation whenever we get the chance to unwind. Usually, we use the weekends or evenings to drink or eat, binge-watch a guilty pleasure TV show, or otherwise disengage from life. Instead of disconnecting from life to unwind from the stresses of your day, use your free time to find new passions and connect with yourself. Learning a new skill can help boost your self-confidence, build a sense of purpose, and connect with people. 


It may seem hard to spend your time giving, especially since we usually feel like we don’t have enough time for our own work, side passions, and social life. This leads us to fly through days with only personal worries on our minds. But this rush through life and hyperfocus on negative issues can lead to anxiety and depression. Research indicates that there are big benefits to giving your time away to others. This can look like a number of things, including offering to help someone with a small or large task, volunteering at a local food bank, or simply calling a family member and asking how they are doing and really listening. Giving time creates a sense of purpose and boosts mood. 


Studies have shown that what we eat has correlations with how we feel. As a teacher, it may be hard to fix yourself healthy meals. Quick prep junk food, foods with loads of sugar in them, or simply not eating at all to save time are tempting. However, high-fat foods and sugary beverages are linked to symptoms of depression and can have a major impact on your mental health. When you eat foods rich in vitamins and nutrients — such as fish, fresh vegetables, and fruits — you’re lowering your risk of mental health issues like depression. 


Coffee and power drinks are synonymous with high-stress jobs, and teaching is no exception. These drinks contain high levels of caffeine, which supplies the body with a short amount of adrenaline but leaves you fatigued later on. Alcohol is also a common end-of-the-day drink for many professionals, which might feel relaxing temporarily, but can cause more mental health issues if it becomes a regular habit. Try drinking less alcohol, and switching out coffee and power drinks with water and all-natural drinks. Drinking lots of water keeps you hydrated and won’t lead to fatigue, which can result in anxiety and depression. 


Staying in the present moment can help you find joy every day, even in the most mundane tasks. Practicing mindfulness means paying more attention to whatever it is you are currently doing, and being grateful for every moment. It’s easy to focus on the negative aspects of life and take for granted the things we have been allowed to explore. Stopping for a moment to appreciate your job, home, students, and colleagues can help you to find the positive in almost any situation. 


While teaching, we often forget the personal passions and hobbies we enjoyed when we had fewer responsibilities. Delving back into an old hobby (whether it be photography, singing, playing a sport, or something else you love) and doing something that you genuinely enjoy helps combat stress. Concentrating on the process of a hobby can help you to leave life’s stressors on the shelf for a few hours and can change your mood. 


Exercising is great for two reasons: it improves your body's health and your mental health. The mind and body work together, and if one is in bad condition, it can make the other feel worse. Physical activity raises your-self esteem, causes chemical changes in your brain that can positively affect your mood, and helps you learn how to achieve goals. And your level of activity does not have to be rigorous. There are easy activities to get a sweat going, such as walking, swimming, or dancing. 


The process of improving your mental health can seem daunting, but don’t be intimidated. You can start small — a moment of gratitude, a short walk, or a conversation with a friend — and find activities and practices that make you feel good.

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