I want to note that I’m not talking about depression in the following post. Treating depression requires much more specific and sustainable care, and it’s certainly not something I’m qualified to address. However, we all have regular old “bad days” as teachers, and there are definitive ways to cope with those occasions.
When you’re a teacher, dealing with negative or difficult emotions can be much more challenging than it is in other professions. It’s not like you can just go your desk, keep your head down, and ignore everyone around you. You have to appear bright, energetic and always ready to take on the day – even when you just want to crawl up under your covers and mope.
As a teacher who’s had more than my fair share of emotional distress over the past few years, I’ve had to work through emotionally challenging school days on quite a few occasions. Although I’d prefer just to have less stress in my life, I have developed some coping mechanisms to help me weather the day without letting my emotions overwhelm my teaching. I thought I might share my “best practices” in case you find yourself having a bad day also. Below are my best tips for coping with a bad day.
1. Be very mindful of how you’re feeling – especially as you start your first class of the day.
When I’m feeling particularly drained, I’ll take a deep breath before my first class, and make sure to greet every student as they walk in the door. Often, my students will rapidly cheer me up. They always have a funny story or comment, and almost immediately they bring a smile to my face. Really, sometimes the overwhelming cuteness can cut right through the sadness I may be feeling at the moment.
2. If possible, plan a student-focused activity.
Emotional exhaustion also brings physical exhaustion. If you’re feeling emotionally drained, it’s not the day to take on a big, sweeping teacher-led activity. It’s really okay to change up your lesson plans to something more focused on student-led learning. Have students work through stations or a Peardeck slideshow. You can still check their work and interact with students on an individual level without exhausting yourself further.
3. Give me all of your tea, coffee, and water.
I’ve found that stress easily brings on headaches, and those headaches are much more likely when I’m dehydrated. Therefore, my water intake is even more important than usual when I’m feeling down. Furthermore, even the worst day feels a little better when you have a warm mug of tea to console you. As soon as you have a free period, warm up some water, and throw in a tea bag to seep. (I’m partial to a bit of Celestial Seasons berry mix, but you may prefer matcha or black tea.)
4. Cue up a calming Spotify list during your free periods.
I have this nice instrumental Spotify list with soothing music for when I’m feeling low. Sometimes, during a free period, I might even plug in my noise-canceling headphones to block out all the ambient sounds I can hear in the hallway. It helps me to focus my brain so I can finish my grading or lesson plan. After all, teachers still have tasks to complete – even when they what to avoid all responsibility.
5. Pack (or Purchase) a healthy and hearty meal for lunch.
Good food can really calm my mind, whereas a depressing lunch might make me feel even worse. I’m pretty good about bringing my own lunch, however, these are the days when I might treat myself. Keep in mind, I’m not telling you to go out and buy your favorite junk food. Find something healthy, nutritious, and also yummy.
6. Take a Mental Health Day
When all else fails, take the day off. I know we all joke about “mental health days,” but your mental health is really more important than any random day of school. If you just need a bit more time to cope with the lessons that life has decided to teach you, then you should use that sick day and take some time off. Chances are good that you’ll feel better the next day.
I spent too many years of my teaching career thinking that I always had to be in school to be “there for the kids.” It turned out that I need to be there for myself also.