Nearly three months into the COVID-19 school closures, I was hearing good and bad news here at Pediatric Therapeutic Services (PTS).
The good news? Parents and other caregivers were telling us they’d benefited from our team’s hard work. They were learning new skills and gaining a deeper understanding of how to drive their children’s developmental progress.
The bad news? We—the service providers—were struggling!
I knew special education administrators and school therapists needed self-care tips when they kept telling me, “This is exhausting!”
In this field, we’re serious “people people.” Serving and helping others energizes us.
But the new world of virtual learning we found ourselves in this past spring—which will continue, at least in part, into the fall for many districts and schools—took away much of the interpersonal connection that feeds the mental health of teachers, administrators, and providers of related services.
If this disconnect weren’t challenging enough, the physical and mental strain of staying focused on a computer screen all day takes its toll. No one goes into special education or school-based therapy because they absolutely adore sitting in front of a laptop!
It’s high time to address self-care for school leaders. So, I’m going to share seven strategies for staying rested, recharged, and ready to be your best as you serve your students and their families virtually.
Keep it Moving: Tips for Your Physical Self-Care
Just because your work now requires you to sit at a desk doesn’t mean you’re chained there. We need to apply the kinds of healthful strategies people in the IT world have used for years. We tell teachers to incorporate movement strategies into classroom routines to improve focus and attention; now it’s time to take our own advice.
Here are three quick and easy ways to incorporate more movement into your routine:
1. Use a Standing Desk
Working while standing can produce health benefits from reducing back pain to lowering blood pressure and the risk of heart disease.
Standing to work will keep your energy level up, and it may also help keep you from gaining the dreaded “COVID-19 pounds!”
2. Do Some Stretches
You can do many stretches in your chair—reaching overhead and stretching side to side; twisting your body side to side; reaching down and touching your toes. Even better, you can stand up for these stretches, too!
Here’s a good stretch for your hips: Sit down, put one foot on the opposite knee, and lean forward. You’ll feel that one!
And don’t forget your neck. As you’re sitting, hold on to your seat with both hands and tilt your head side to side, forward and back, and then turn it right and left.
3. Take a Walk
Schedule a 20-30 minute walk into your day, even if you have to eat an energy bar on the run for lunch.
Also, in between each meeting or treatment session, take a brief walk around your home, even if it’s just a couple hundred steps. Those steps add up and will keep your circulation and energy level high.
The Eyes Have It: Ideas for Protecting Your Vision
We hear our team complaining about eye strain associated with staring at a screen all day. Here are two cheap and easy self-care tips administrators and therapists may find make a big difference in their eyesight:
4. Give your Eyes a Healthy Workout
Keeping your eye muscles focused on a screen, especially for seven to eight hours a day, is tiring. To strengthen them, do the following:
- Put your thumb in front of your face about 10 inches away. Focus on it for 10-15 seconds.
- Next, pick an object about 10 feet away. Focus on it for 10-15 seconds.
- Then, look out the window. Focus on a more distant object for 10-15 seconds.
- Now refocus on your thumb, 10 inches away, for 10-15 seconds.
5. Try a Pair of Blue Light Glasses
Although the American Academy of Ophthalmology says you don’t need them and doesn’t recommend any special eyewear for computer users, tens of thousands of “Blue Light Blocker” users report otherwise.
I’ve started wearing them when using my laptop and especially with my big monitor. I noticed a reduction in eye strain, headaches, and fatigue starting the first day. You can pick up a pair on Amazon for a few bucks; I say it’s money well-spent.
Find Your Peace: Techniques for Minding Your Mental Health
You don’t need to take long hikes or an afternoon off to refresh. Here are two small yet effective breaks that take under three minutes to do:
6. Relaxation Breathing
Focusing on your breathing is a known way to reduce blood pressure and lower the level of cortisol (a stress hormone) in your blood. Here’s one of the best quick relaxation breaks:
- Close your mouth and quietly inhale through your nose for four counts.
- Hold your breath for seven counts.
- Exhale slowly so it takes a total of eight counts to return to the bottom of your breath.
- Repeat this pattern four times.
Some people hypothesize when we walk barefoot outside, we electrically reconnect with the ground and our bodies rebalance in ways that just don’t happen indoors. Most of us have felt the relaxation that comes from a walk on the beach or playing in the yard with our dog in bare feet.
While earthing isn’t a great technique for a cold winter day, it’s great during the other three seasons. Naturopaths suggest 20 minutes of barefooting per day, but even a couple of minutes with your toes in the grass can work wonders.
PTS Can Show You More About Self-Care for School Leaders
We can sometimes prioritize the special needs of our students to the point of neglecting our own bodies and spirits, but caring for ourselves is critical—our kids need us to be at our best!
We hope these suggestions get you started. If you’re looking for more self-care tips for school therapists and administrators, consult the self-care website of NASP (National Association of School Psychologists).
To explore the role self-care can play in a trauma-sensitive educational setting, download your free copy of our eBook, Trauma-Informed Care: Key Principles and Best Practices for School Administrators. The pandemic has been traumatic for you as well as your students—taking a trauma-informed approach to your work can help everyone heal and grow in these trying times.