My Superhero Cape is a Bathrobe
This school year, more than ever, teachers have been labeled by many as superheroes. According to Wikipedia, “a superhero or superheroine is a stock character that possesses abilities beyond those of ordinary people, who typically uses his or her powers to help the world become a better place, or is dedicated to protecting the public, and fighting crime.” But as a 7th and 8th grade teacher, I rarely ever feel like a superhero. I do not possess abilities beyond those of ordinary people, nor do I have any “powers” to help the world become a better place. I do have the skills and talents to be a successful classroom teacher, but these were developed and honed from years of practice and experience. In fact, there are many days this year that I actually do not feel I have the energy nor the motivation to keep going. I am working harder this year than I ever have in my 27 years as an educator.
I’ll let you in on a secret: my superhero cape is actually my bathrobe.
Completing the Stress Response Cycle
Teachers are often thought of as selfless people, and so we might experience some guilt about practicing self-care when we have so many others relying on us to take care of them. But understanding the importance of completing the stress response cycle can help to take that guilt away, and instead make taking care of yourself a top priority.
In Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, authors Ameila and Emily Nagoski suggest that we can help to minimize the damaging effects of stress by completing the “stress response cycle.” This is when our bodies learn that, after facing a stressor, we are now safe. Unfortunately, we usually do not complete this biological cycle, and we instead jump from stressor to stressor, unable to find the closure and the rest that we need.
What Works for Me
I have to be honest and admit that like many superheroes, I don’t always take the time to recharge because I am pulled on every side to perform heroic tasks, from connecting virtually with students who are in quarantine to planning the next week’s lessons based on my students’ emotional and academic needs. But I know that if I don’t take the time to recharge, these intentions will crash and burn.
So, once a week, I take a moment to complete my own stress response cycle. Every Saturday morning, when all is quiet, I put on my bathrobe. Just like a cape on the back of a superhero tells everyone that this person is here to help you, my bathrobe signals to everyone, including myself, that I’m ready to rest and relax. The bathrobe also serves as my armor against the day, wrapping me in comfort and setting the boundaries for my weekly recharge.
The house is silent, my phone is in another room, and I’m sipping on a hot cup of ginger and lemon-lime tea. I’m ready to begin my ritual of gratitude: I am grateful for quiet mornings in my bathrobe sipping my tea, for space from the uncertainty of the pandemic, for this break from disinfecting, mask patrol, and traffic flow. I look to add a specific “why” to each act of gratitude, a tip from a recent podcast which has transformed my practice.
After a few minutes of gratitude, with my tea coming to an end, I pull my bathrobe tighter and consider ways to extend my recharge. If I need more of a boost, I go outside and enjoy watching my dogs play, or I indulge in reading a chapter in my book. If I am recharged, I challenge myself to remove one distraction from my weekend. Sometimes I delete social media apps from my phone; other times I remove the batteries from my TV remote. Taking this extra step allows me time to continue reaping the benefits of recharging.
With this weekly routine, I calm my body and mind and complete the stress response cycle. I have noticed that I am waking up more refreshed now, so I think I might be sleeping better, too. Knowing I can slip on my bathrobe at the end of a long week for some armor against the stressors I experienced has really helped me complete the stress response cycle. This is how I can take care of myself so that I can continue to care for others during the day.
Written by Christine Diaz, a Reading Interventionist at Willis Junior High School in Chandler, AZ, and Kristen Vincent, Responsive Classroom Consulting TeacherTags: self-care