Special education teachers love what they do. They teach because it is in their hearts and soul. But it’s important that we fill our cups as special education teachers so we don’t get too run down. Here are 4 self care secrets for special education teachers.
The Self-Care Continuum
Does self-care equal, “Treat yourself,” in your head? Be honest. It’s OK if that’s what you’ve been thinking. That’s what tons of messaging is about everywhere we look. “Treat yourself! you deserve it!” And that’s not wrong. But it’s only a part of the self-care continuum.
Let’s unpack what this means in the next few sections.
4 Self Care Secrets
Self care activities make your brain and body healthier. Often, they aren’t the activities we get super excited about (though they absolutely can bring you joy). Self care is everything from the life skills you might teach in your classroom like washing hands, personal hygiene, and teeth brushing. It includes things we teach in health and science class about how to care for our bodies through proper nutrition. Plus, it includes learning how to exercise and move your body to stay fit, just like students learn in P.E. Self care also crucially includes taking time for yourself for quiet and reflection. This can look like meditation or prayer. It can look like a quiet walk in silence. Care might include affirmations and visualizations to help you realize your goals. It can include reading to fill your mind with positive ideas for your classroom or personal life.
I have an elaborate self-care routine I do almost every morning. It’s not for everybody, because not everybody has the time to spend an hour a day on self-care. Knowing that teachers are crunched for time, I am working on a solution made just for special education teachers to increase their mindful self-care practice at home and incorporate it into an easy to follow program that you can even use with students. If you join the waitlist now you’ll get free ideas to get you started on your self-care journey. I know just how tough special education can be on our body and minds, and I want to be part of your support system. This upcoming school year, it will be more important than ever before to make sure we are taking care of our bodies and minds.
Self-soothing activities help us calm down when we are stressed. For our students with autism, often stimming behaviors are intended to be self-soothing. Everybody needs healthy ways to self-sooth, and that includes us special education teachers. At some point, life will throw you unexpected curve balls. Sometimes, those unexpected curve balls come in the form of spit balls to the side of the head while teaching class. For me, in the last month, they’ve included two unexpected deaths and the possibility of cancer for my cat. When thrown a curve ball, we need soothing to help us cope. The idea is not to squash down the emotion or to pretend it doesn’t exist. It’s OK to feel whatever you are feeling. It’s how we react to our feelings that makes a big difference.
Some self soothing activities might be coloring a beautiful coloring page or taking a nice long bubble bath. Neither of those activities necessarily helps your body or mind be healthier specifically, but for you, if they reduce stress in your body it will help you be mentally and physically healthier. I have a whole list on my phone with things that sooth me. When I’m in an emotional state that needs soothing, I sometimes have difficulty thinking of what to do. My list gives me some concrete options to choose from. Since I planned them in a good mental state, I know they don’t get me into indulgence or sabotage land.
Self soothing blends in to self care and self indulgence at its edges. Life is messy and there are no clean lines here. You will know in your heart if an activity is care, soothing, or an indulgence for you.
Self indulgence is important to allow yourself. The trick with self indulgence is that we need to make sure that indulgent activities don’t get out of hand. When self-indulgence activities go too far, they become self-sabotage. For example, maybe you like to splurge on getting massage once a month. That might be a great self-indulgence that helps you feel better. But…if that expenditure wrecks your family’s budget, now it’s self-sabotage. It’s going to harm your future security and your relationships. At that point, it’s not worth it because it comes at too high a cost.
It’s OK to have moments of self indulgence. If it is your birthday, have that slice of cake if it won’t cause you damage. I have celiac disease so for me, it would be self-sabotage to eat cake, but for most people, they will be just fine! If your beliefs permit, it’s OK to enjoy a glass of wine at dinner on occasion. Just don’t drink and drive. It’s OK to get ice cream with the kids on a hot summer day as a special treat.
The key with indulgence is to keep these items to occasional treats. In excess, indulgences turn to self sabotage by hurting your body, mind, relationships, or finances.
I know this sounds kind of scary. And honestly, I’d been living in self-sabotage land for a long time. I used food for comfort and instead of care, soothing, or indulgence, I wound up in self-sabotage land. Bad. Over time, I gained 100 lbs. Gulp.
Through implementing proper self-care and self-soothing strategies as well as allowing myself the occasional indulgence, I’m down 35 lbs and counting. It’s a process to undo the damage I’ve done to myself, but I’ve finally learned from it and am conquering it. If you know in your heart there is something that you are going down the road of self-sabotage, know that you are capable of making incredible change in your life.
If you are dealing with addictions that fall into the real of self-sabotage, I recommend that you seek professional support with your doctor. You are worth healing. You are worthy of being well.
Release the Shame
Do I like admitting that I myself was engaging in behaviors that are squarely in self-sabotage land? No. But I’ve decided to release the shame and silence around it. Allowing myself to recognize the truth has allowed me to take the steps to fix it. Even though with my body I’m only about a 1/3 through my weight loss journey, I’ve already moved miles and miles on what was going on in my head that got me there.
This past fall I hit rock, rock bottom. I had a full on emotional breakdown. I had dangerous suicidal thoughts. It wasn’t about my weight, but my weight should have clued me in that I was headed for a cliff. I had had no idea I was. I was driving along just fine until wham. Mental breakdown.
Through the help of my amazing doctor, a wonderful psychiatric nurse practitioner, and understanding therapist, I’m doing much better. With their help and the help of many books, I’ve developed my own self-care plan. It’s working. As a team, we are working on reducing the medication that I need. I need my as needed medication less and less. I rely on my self-care routine to help me heal my mind and body. Maybe I won’t need medication at all one day, but there is no shame in needing it. But it shouldn’t be the only thing we do to manage our stress and emotions.
Use these 4 self care secrets for special education teachers to understand your own behaviors. You probably have some awesome practices that are already firmly established and in the self-care realm. You might have some self-indulgence practices you need to monitor. There is not a perfect person on this earth, and this continuum isn’t about being perfect, it’s about progress to becoming a healthier, happier version of ourselves.
Teaching special education is a high stress job. There is a reason it has a high turnover rate. I’ve been part of that statistic. Now I am committed to helping other special education teachers avoid that fate. My life mission is to help people with special needs reach their full potential. I refuse to let my struggles stop me from my mission. Since I am not currently in the classroom, one of the best ways to help special education teachers fulfill their potential and manage stress so great teachers like you stay in the classroom. When teachers do well, students excel. I’m here to help you make it happen.
Don’t keep these 4 self care secrets for special education teachers a secret anymore. Let your friends know their is hope.