A mental health professional talks about ways educators can find balance during such unprecedented times.
March 19, 2020
Teachers across the country have been faced with the daunting and heroic task of radically revising their plans and designing send-home and online lessons while dealing with their own anxieties around COVID-19.
We spoke with clinical psychologist Dr. Richard Shadick, who is Teach For America’s national mental health consultant, to gain insight into what educators can do to preserve their mental health during such unprecedented times.
What are tactics that educators can use to ease anxious minds?
Top of mind is to limit one's diet of news and social media to a couple of times a day. Don't overdo it. It just leads to prolonging or increasing anxiety. The more times that you look at anxiety-producing news, the more anxious you become. Here at Teach For America, corps members are lucky to have free access to mindfulness apps like Headspace. Practicing one's mindfulness techniques and trying to stay in the present rather than ruminating about the future is always a good tactic.
Uncertainty and the unknown can be a big source of dread. During uncertain times, what are the ways we can address such feelings?
Hopefully, all of our corps members have a self-care plan that they can revisit and revise. A self-care plan could include three things you can do to manage your thoughts or feeling and three activities that you find particularly relaxing. It could also include a section on resources available for you in times of need. Resources could be the apps that we have access to; therapy that's nearby, or a list of parks, yoga studios, or meditation centers [if that is an option in your location].
It's also helpful to focus on things that we can control. We can't control the spread of the virus, the markets, or the government's reactions, but we can focus on things like our diet, sleep, exercise, thoughts, and feelings.
What are some ways to stay positive during tough times?
First, be aware of your environment. If you're now at home full-time, and the place is a mess, that's not going to help you to stay positive. Spend some time organizing your space. Another suggestion is spending time with people who are positive rather than folks who are “Doomsday Sayers.” Focus on the present and avoid worrying about things that may never come to pass. Helping others is also a great way to feel positive.
What are some things you can do for your mental health when you’re at home in quarantine or practicing social distancing?
Being home alone doesn't mean that you have to remain alone. You can leverage your technology, connect via social media. Just avoid those news feeds. FaceTime during a meal, play online games, watch a movie with friends. Social distancing doesn't necessarily mean that you have to be in all the time. Go outside, exercise, walk, run, or bike. Enjoy the fresh air. Just make sure you're six feet away from others.
How can you maintain a sense of calm or balance when so many people have been thrown out of their everyday routines and practices?
Many are feeling thrown out-of-balance because they’re getting into cognitive traps, and believing in the vivid and extreme examples that they're hearing, which aren’t the norm for everyone. Avoid those cognitive traps. Get your news from trusted sources, and don't scour the web. Remember, the odds that for most of us, this is not life-threatening if you practice social distancing. You're not only taking care of your own health but others as well.
Many educators are having to quickly adjust their classroom to a virtual setting. What are some ways to cope with these sudden adjustments or when maddening technical issues arise?
Now is not the time to strive for perfection. For many of us, this is all new, or largely new. Remind yourself that it is new and uncharted territory, and be forgiving of mistakes that take place, or challenges that come up. Focus on what you can control rather than what you cannot.
How do you support students when you might be very anxious?
It's important that we all know our limits and what we're capable of doing. If we feel like we're unable to help students because we are very anxious, we might want to get a colleague to help out. No one's asking us to be different than who we are. If we can't do it, that's fine. Get some help.
Eventually, this is going to pass. We're going to learn a lot of lessons. Just remember that this isn't going to continue forever. If your feelings become overwhelming and impact your ability to function, consult with a mental health professional.