Does this sound familiar? You have had a long and stressful day at school. The kids were bouncing off the walls, a lesson you had spent a lot of time planning and had been excited about completely flopped, there were tons of tech glitches with the Chromebooks, and you had to attend a mostly useless staff meeting after school that ran way too long. Your own kids struggled with their homework (there were tears), and dinner was a somber affair.
It’s 8:00, the kids watching Netflix and your husband is working on his laptop. You decide that what you really need is a hot bath. You fill up the tub with hot water, dim the lights, and even toss in a lavender-scented bath-balm you won at a baby shower eons ago. You slip into the steamy water, and it feels oh-so-wonderful. You feel your body start to relax, the tension flowing out of you and into the water. But it doesn’t last. Within minutes, the thoughts start coming:
“How can I be wasting time in the tub when there is a mountain of laundry to do?”
“I really should be correcting papers.”
“Darnit, I forgot to answer that email from Kaitlyn’s mom. I need to do that tonight”
Not only is the tension back, but you find yourself feeling so guilty that you cut your bath short. The papers get corrected, the laundry gets (partially) done. The next day, you feel tired and irritable, even a little resentful. And you wonder, what on Earth is wrong with me?
The problem isn’t that you cut your bath short. That is just a symptom of a much bigger issue. The problem is how you felt about taking the bath in the first place, and if you are ever truly going to enjoy a bath (or lunch with a girlfriend, curling up with a good book, or whatever you do to feed your soul) you need to change how you think and how you feel about self-care.
Every feeling you have is preceded by a thought. In the tub example, it was all of those thoughts that lead to the feeling of guilt, which in turn, lead to cutting the bath short. In order to change the feeling, you need to change the thought.
While it is possible to change a thought without changing your beliefs about that thought first (if you repeat it enough times, your brain will believe whatever you tell it), it will feel more authentic if you first change your beliefs. In this case, we want to change our beliefs about self-care. The belief that self-care is selfish is not serving you and it is not even true. Here is why
Self-Care isn't Selfish
Even though doing something that you enjoy may seem selfish – especially when so many other people are depending on you, it isn’t. In the same way that brushing your teeth is not selfish. You probably don’t feel guilty about brushing your teeth and you do that two times every day! Brushing your teeth helps to keep you physically healthy. Doing something you enjoy is helps to keep you emotionally and mentally healthy.
In fact, it can even be argued that not making time for self-care is selfish because you can’t authentically give to others when your own needs are not met. If your candle is out, you can’t light any more candles and if your cup is empty, you can’t fill any more cups (and just in case you missed it because you are so tired that your brain is not working properly, your students and your family are the other candles and cups).
It’s easy to think that you are serving the needs of your students by working extra hard to make sure their classroom (whether in person or online) is a Pinterest-worthy learning environment, complete with color-coordinated, adorably themed components, all labeled and perfectly placed. In reality, your students will benefit far more if you are feeling cheerful, patient, and ready to meet whatever challenges the day brings because you spent some quality time with your spouse and then got a good night’s sleep, rather than staying up half the night creating a stunning classroom.
Truly, self-care is not selfish. It is a gift you give to yourself and to everyone else around you.
The first step to creating healthy self-care habits is to change your mindset so that you won’t be overwhelmed (or even mildly irritated) by feelings of guilt. To do this you need to change your thoughts. You probably know from teaching mindset to your students that thoughts are like pathways. The more you think a thought, the more ingrained it becomes and the more likely you are to continue to think it. By thinking new thoughts, you are building new pathways. Here are some suggestions to try:
- Write down the most common negative thoughts that pop up when you are doing something for yourself. Then write down more positive responses to each one. Use the negative thought as a trigger. Whenever you catch yourself thinking it, pause, and replace it with your positive thought. Do this again and again and again (and again, and then some more). Eventually, the positive thought will become the default.
- When you are engaged in your self-care activity, focus on being present, and really enjoying it. Try not to think about the past or the future. When those thoughts come up, just tell them they can wait and that you are focusing on something else now.
- Give yourself kudos for taking care of yourself. Intentionally tell yourself, “Good job! You made yourself a priority! Way to rock the self-care today!” You can even make a star chart (or use the grown-up version: a habit tracker) This is another way to reinforce to yourself that self-care is a good thing.
- Don’t let self-care be another thing that you “have to do” and then start worrying about how long you should be doing it, if you are doing it right, and what you could be doing better. Just choose something that feels nourishing and do it. If just thinking about doing something for yourself brings on waves of anxiety, start very small. Treat yourself to your favorite latte. Take 5 minutes to thumb through a magazine or even one minute to just breathe.
- And finally, be patient. It takes a long time to change a thought and the feelings that go with it. Just keep at it and eventually, self-care will become a natural part of your day that you would not consider skipping – just like brushing your teeth!
A Better Bath
Back to that bath example. Imagine that instead of cutting your bath short, you dismissed those thoughts and focused on how good it felt to be surrounded by warm, lavender-scented water. Your muscles relaxed. You felt calm and peaceful. Maybe you were even able to quiet your mind for a few minutes. Maybe, as sometimes happens in quiet moments, an idea popped into your head about how to solve a problem or a new way to teach a difficult skill.
When your bath time feels complete, you can tell your level of stress has decreased. Maybe you do some laundry or correct some papers, but you don’t feel resentful about it. Maybe you just go straight to bed.
The next morning you wake up ready to face the day. Nothing has really changed in the outside world, you took a bath, you weren’t visited by a magical fairy godmother. Your students have not magically become masters of long division. There is still way more to do than time to do it. But you have a little more energy, a little more patience, and you know that you have planned a little time just for yourself to look forward to.
If you thought this post was worth your time, you could help this sprouting blog and earn my eternal thanks by:
- Sharing this post on social media.
- Leaving a comment.
- Subscribing to the Teach YourSelf Care email at the top of this page so you’ll never miss a post.
Thanks so much for stopping by!