Prioritizing self-care this fall

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By John George and Rachael George

Fall is here and that means the honeymoon is over.  For some, that feeling may have set in after the first hour or the first week of school.  For many, October is the time when new challenges arise at the same time that the gloss of the new school year is wearing off.

It is during these moments of realization that it’s vital we slow down and look to ourselves. How are we taking care of ourselves? How are we ensuring that we are bringing our best selves to the classroom or building on a daily basis?  How are we making sure our lives are balanced so our work doesn’t consume us? These are all really powerful questions to reflect on and brings us back to self-care. Here are some strategies to help put self-care back at the top of your priority list.

Start small

Changing your habits and routines, especially when it comes to self-care, is hard so instead of trying to change five things, start small.  Pick one area that you are going to hone in on and really develop.  What do you think would make the most difference in your life?   For some, exercise and sleep are the cornerstone habits that impacts all areas of their life so many start there.  Others are significantly impacted by what they eat so they target that area first.  Whatever it might be, know that you don’t have to be perfect in all areas, just start with one and go from there.

Master your Morning

Ever have a bad morning and you just can’t seem to shake it?  That’s because your morning sets the stage for your entire day.  Take some time to reflect upon what your morning looks like.  Are you getting up in the morning with enough time to reflect, exercise, learn, and create? If you find yourself answering no, it might mean that you want to rethink your morning routine.  Authors such as Rachel Hollis, Mel Robbins, and Hal Elrod all swear by the importance of starting your day right.

Get Moving

Exercising does wonders for your stress level and your health. Whether you like walking, running, yoga, or weight training, make time to do whatever kind of exercise that you like. For some, working out in the morning helps start their day off right, while others like to finish their day off with it as they decompress from everything that occurred. 

Set Limits

When you care so deeply about your work, as educators do, it is all too easy to spend all of your waking — and even your non-waking minutes — on work or thinking about work.  While some of us make the argument that we are getting ahead by doing this, in reality, this always-on approach causes burnout.  You might not feel the burnout this month, this year, or even in five years but come retirement, you will feel this in your body and it will impact your health. Take the time to set firm boundaries now.

Take time to process

Being an educator is hard and often emotional.  Knowing this, it is vital that each and every person has someone that they can process things with. Whether that is with a spouse, friend, or a counselor, we all need a listening ear and someone there that can help us process things in a productive manner so that we can work through what we experience on a day-to-day basis.

Make sleep a priority

A good night of sleep goes a long way.  One of the shortcuts many of us take when things get stressful is to go to bed later or get up earlier to get more done. While this might be a useful hack in the short term, it’s a habit that you don’t want to continue long-term. We owe it to ourselves to get enough rest at night so we feel awake and refreshed.  Whether you need six hours to feel refreshed or a solid eight, make sure that you get what you need.

Nutrition

Oftentimes, when we are grinding to get ahead or stay ahead, we aren’t always making the best food choices.  Maybe your food is on point when the day starts but it quickly takes a detour when an angry parent comes in or you’ve had to do two room clears and it’s only the first hour of school.  To help keep your nutrition on track as the year progresses make sure you have lots of healthy snacks on hand for when you go into beast mode. Have them out and visible so when you find yourself reaching for something, it by default is healthy. 

Schedule It

Many of us live and die by our calendars but yet we still can’t find time for ourselves as we are consumed by our jobs, families, and taking care of others. If you find yourself in this position and you can’t seem to find the time to get your body moving, to process things with a listening ear, or to take care of yourself, you might try scheduling it in your calendar.  Think of this as setting a date with yourself.  By planning ahead, scheduling it, and communicating with others about your time commitment, it allows for that time to be reserved and for all the other things that need to get done to be planned around this time, rather than on top of it. 

Finally, give yourself grace.  Taking care of yourself and making self-care a priority is much harder than what it seems.  If you mess up one day, that’s OK. But make sure to try again tomorrow.  We are all human and we all have our moments.  The challenge is in how you respond to them. So before October gets the best of you, stop for a moment and check in with yourself.  How are you doing? Could your self-care use a fall refresh?


About the authors

John George currently serves as the principal of Dexter McCarty Middle School in the Gresham Barlow School District. He was the Oregon Middle School Principal of the Year in 2014. Prior to serving as a middle school principal, he was a turnaround principal and a district office administrator. George specializes in instructional improvement and turning around struggling schools and districts. Connect with George on Twitter @duckfan66

Rachael George is a member of the ASCD Emerging Leaders Class of 2015 and is currently the principal of Sandy Grade School in the Oregon Trail School District. Prior to serving as an elementary school principal, George was a middle school principal of an “outstanding” and two-time “Level 5: Model School,” as recognized by the Oregon Department of Education. She specializes in curriculum development, instructional improvement, working with at-risk students, and closing the achievement gap. Connect with George on Twitter @runnin26.

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