How are you doing? Seriously, how are you really doing? Take a moment to think about your answer to this question. Often when we are asked how we are, we tend to just give the answer we always give, without even thinking about the question. Not this time. This time I want you to actually stop and think about yourself. Think about how you are truly feeling and how you are coping under the current circumstances.
If like me, you are an educator in the Middle East, then your life is far from normal. With less than two weeks’ notice, we as teachers and school leaders have gone from having a school full of students, to becoming online educators. Some of us have had to become bloggers, vloggers, YouTubers and podcasters all in a bid to keep teaching and learning going. We have done all of this without skipping a beat, but at what cost?
Teachers already had an enormous workload, but since the school closure and the switch to distance learning, many teachers have seen their already unbearable workload double or even triple. The pressure to be always on and available is more than most can bear. Teachers are spending nearly every waking hour, preparing lessons, recording videos, giving feedback, answering queries from students and parents, among other duties. It is hard to put into words the toll that this is taking on some teachers. Some schools are better at helping teachers cope with this workload strain than others, but what is certain is that everyone is feeling it.
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Work-life balance goes hand in hand with workload. How much time are you able to spend on taking care of yourself and your family during this time? I cannot begin to imagine how teachers who are also parents are managing to juggle, homeschooling their own children, while providing a quality education for their students. The toll that this is taking on teachers’ wellbeing cannot be overstated. This is where a very understanding and empathetic senior management team can make all the difference. Further in this article, I will give some useful tips on how you can help to create better work-life balance at this time.
Social and emotional wellbeing
If you are someone who struggles with anxiety and depression, the current climate is likely to exacerbate these conditions. Even if you do not normally struggle with mental illness, because of what is happening, this may be the first time you find yourself feeling anxious or even depressed. Do not dismiss these feelings. They are real, and you should acknowledge them. This is not the time to ignore your social and emotional wellbeing and that of your colleagues and friends. Reach out. Ask for and offer help wherever you can. Many teachers are far away from family and friends. Many are extremely worried about their loved ones in other countries. Some are unable to access the medication and support that they would normally have, because of the lockdown. Check on your friends and colleagues, especially those who live alone. If you need help call someone, if the first person you call is not able to help you, don’t give up, try someone else. It is vital that you place your social and emotional wellbeing at the top of your list of priorities.
Not a lot is being said about this in the media, but there are many teachers who are experiencing and will experience financial difficulties during this time. Some schools have already started to lay off teachers, while others are cutting salaries. There are also teachers whose spouses have lost their jobs. These are often not addressed, but they are causing great stress and strain at this time. The financial effects of the loss of income will be felt for some time to come. It, therefore, means that teachers will need help in restructuring their finances at this time. So, when I ask how you are doing. I also want you to think about how you are doing financially.
Strategies to help improve your wellbeing during COVID-19 and beyond
These strategies are things that I personally try to do as much as possible to improve my wellbeing. I hope you will try to put as many of them in practice as you can.
Accept your emotions
Teachers are known to be strong. We take most things with a smile and a broad shoulder. The fact is we are still human, and if we continually deny our emotions, we may cause more damage to ourselves. If you feel like crying, cry. Sometimes all you need is a good cry to make you feel better. If you feel lonely or lost, admit it and find ways to improve the way that you are feeling.
Find something that makes you laugh every day. Watch a funny video clip on the internet. Call a friend who makes you laugh even when things are tough. Read a book that is fun and light reading. Watch a comedy on Netflix. Make a deliberate effort to laugh. It will do wonders for your wellbeing.
Limit the news
Watching the news is important to stay informed, however keeping the news channel running all day in the background, might do you a great deal of mental harm. As depressing as the current news may be, it is there to keep us informed on what is happening, however we do not have to be constantly taking it in. I suggest limiting news intake to 15-20 minutes a day, maximum, should be enough for you to get the major headlines.
Be physically active
Trust me, I know how hard it is to get off the sofa and do some exercise, but you simply have to. There is a plethora of free work out videos on YouTube. Find one that you like and dedicate at least 30 minutes a day to exercising. If you have stairs in your home or building, as long as it is safe to do so, use them as a part of your workout. Climbing the stairs for at least 15 minutes will get your heart pumping. Pilates and yoga are also good.
Paying more attention to the present moment can improve your mental wellbeing. This includes your thoughts and feelings, your body and the world around you.
Some people call this awareness “mindfulness”. Mindfulness can help you enjoy life more and understand yourself better. It can positively change the way you feel about life and how you approach challenges.
Give to others
Research suggests that acts of giving and kindness can help improve your mental wellbeing by:
- creating positive feelings and a sense of reward
- giving you a feeling of purpose and self-worth
- helping you connect with other people
It could be small acts of kindness towards other people or larger ones like volunteering in your local community.
Join a virtual get together
There are a number of webinars, online parties and other ways to connect virtually. Join in. You might find that you really enjoy it. If you cannot socialise in person, that does not mean that you cannot connect virtually. I have heard of people cooking together virtually, celebrating birthdays and even visiting museums, all online.
It might be quite some time before things go back to normal, if they ever do, but you do not have to put your life on hold or ruin your wellbeing while we go through COVID-19.
By: Christina Morris