It’s common in the world of education.
The long hours, the steep workload, the complex relationships, and the political environment can wear down even the most bright-eyed optimist. Overextending ourselves is an easy trap for educators, generally people who like to give to others. However, the toll of doing too much leads many of us to harm relationships, dread work, or quit our jobs.
I went through a period in the last few months, where I realized that I was beginning to fade. So, I knew I needed to do something. In my goal to come back from the brink of burnout, I found a few practices to be extremely helpful for refreshing my mind. I share them with the hopes that some may benefit you too.
1. Realize you can’t do it all.
It’s OK to say “no” sometimes. Sure, you want to be a team player. You want to take every opportunity to learn something new. You want to look good in front of your administrators, your students, and your colleagues. But, you will eventually crowd out the important aspects of your non-work life. Do you remember your spouse/friends/children/parents/siblings/neighbors? They would like to spend time with you. You could write tons of comments on every student paper for hours, or you could provide one or two focused comments and then catch a movie or read a book. There are Twitter chats you can join every night, and you might miss an awesome lesson idea if you miss one. You know, it’s OK. You can’t do it all. Say “no” sometimes. Take care of yourself. Realize that you will have to take work home, but set a limit on how much of your free time you are willing to commit to it. Stick to the limit.
If you are like me, you fall asleep thinking about a million things, and as soon as you wake up, your mind speeds up again. Our world is a chaotic, fast-paced place. For those of us who work in schools, things can feel like they move even faster when we’re at work. Each second we are confronted with new people, problems, and needs that we have to evaluate and respond to almost immediately. This frenetic pace takes its toll on our minds. Many people have found that practicing mindfulness meditation can alleviate their scattered minds. Some people believe meditation is the act of clearing the mind. That’s actually not true. It’s more of an opportunity to notice your thoughts without judgement, and then let them float away. Finding time to practice meditation is difficult, but I find that even meditating a few times a week enhances my mood, energy, and focus. If you are new to mindfulness meditation, I highly recommend the book, Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World. It explains the process well. In addition, it provides a link for you to download guided meditations in iTunes that can help you if you are a newbie.
3. Recognize Your Cognitive Distortions
Cognitive distortions are tricks that our minds play, which keep us in a negative headspace. For example, I am often guilty of filtering, a distortion where you magnify a small negative event until it eclipses all positive events in my mind. For example, I may have taught an amazing lesson, had no traffic on the way to work, and received a positive e-mail from my boss, but one sarcastic remark from a colleague becomes the only thing I focus on when I go home that evening. That’s a distortion. My day was actually quite good. Check out this list of common cognitive distortions. Almost all of us will see a distortion we often have The key is to consciously recognize that these thoughts are distortions of reality, which enables us to more easily let them go. Once you aren’t listening to your own negative self-talk, you will feel your stress begin to lift.
Seriously, just make yourself do it. When I get busy, exercise if the first thing I cut from my schedule. That is a mistake. Stephen Covey knew that great leaders must “sharpen the saw” in order to keep it working. If we don’t take care of our bodies, it will affect our self-esteem, productivity, and relationships. Every time I dread working out, I have noticed that I feel better once the workout is complete. Right now, I have a goal to work out five days a week. I want to become stronger so I am lifting weights three days a week. When the weather warms up, I plan to integrate running because I like being outdoors, and I find running to be a great stress relief. Find something you enjoy doing, and plan when you will do it at the beginning of each week. Putting exercise on your schedule will make it more likely that you will follow through with doing it.
So, I have found these four strategies helpful for battling burnout. What strategies do you use?