By: Erin Swanson, M.Ed.
Why Teachers Need Self-Care
Teachers choose their line of work to make a difference in the world. Bright-eyed and full of hope, they open their hearts to their first class. Oftentimes, the positivity they begin with diminishes as they struggle to carry the weight of this demanding work. Before long, their mental and emotional health suffers as they experience compassion fatigue, secondary trauma, and burnout. Did I mention the global pandemic? There’s no question teachers need our support.
Compassion fatigue is the experience of emotional and physical fatigue due to the chronic use of empathy. It is often used interchangeably with the term secondary trauma. Sadly, most educators have students who have faced trauma or, at the very least, regular daily struggles. Teachers support their students through whatever emotional turmoil they go through, may that be a family member with cancer or a fight at recess.
Individuals with secondary trauma often experience these symptoms:
- A shift in one’s beliefs about the world, self, and others
- Increased cynicism
- Feeling unsafe, mistrusting
- Lost sense of control
- Decreased sense of personal/professional accomplishment
- Physical exhaustion
- Difficulty sleeping
- Emotional exhaustion
- Inability to feel empathy
- Diminished capacity for intimacy
- Difficulty separating work from personal life
- Increased startle response
- Flashbacks, nightmares, or intrusive thoughts
Even more, teachers struggle with burnout at an alarming rate. Burnout is a psychological syndrome of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment that can occur among individuals who work with other people in some capacity.
It’s no wonder that close to 50% of new teachers leave the classroom within the first five years. I was one of those teachers. At the time, I didn’t know I was dealing with compassion fatigue, secondary trauma, and burnout. I didn’t have the words to define my experience. I focused solely on my students’ needs, never on my own. I wish I’d had the tools and support I needed. Maybe if I did, I’d still be a teacher today.
How iRest® Can Help Teachers
That’s where the iRest® method (and the JabuMind app that uses it) come in. iRest® is a meditation practice based on the ancient tradition of Yoga Nidra and adapted to suit the conditions of modern life. When practiced regularly (little and often), iRest® empowers you to meet each moment of your life with peace and well-being, no matter how difficult your situation.
iRest® stands for Integrative Restoration. It is integrative in that it addresses both physical and psychological issues in your body and mind, such as trauma, insomnia, stress, and pain. It is restorative because it helps you recover an inner resource of joy, peace, and well-being.
Studies show that the iRest® method of meditation is effective in improving the stress response of workers, college students, and school counselors. It is also a strong therapy for PTSD. Additional research shows that the iRest® approach to meditation (used by the JabuMind app) is particularly effective in inducing sleep.
JabuMind is Here for Teachers
The JabuMind self-care app for teachers uses the iRest® method to support teachers through compassion fatigue, secondary trauma, burnout, and the many day-to-day stressors teachers face. Co-Founder of JabuMind, Jill Apperson Manly, explains why JabuMind chose the iRest® method of meditation for its app in this interview. You can also learn more about the JabuMind app and its mission to support teachers in this short video.
Each week of the JabuMind app’s meditations focuses on one of iRest®’s ten tools. Read on to learn more about these tools and why they are so relevant to teachers.
All About iRest for Teachers
The 10 Tools of iRest®
The iRest® method offers ten tools that teach you how to welcome and work with what each moment of your life presents you. Each tool can be practiced on its own or with others, according to your needs. The iRest® method encourages you to practice iRest® for brief periods of time, many times a day. “Then, no matter how strong the winds of life blow, you know they can’t disturb the house of health and healing that you’ve built through your practice of iRest®” (Miller 24).
Tool 1: Affirming Your Heartfelt Mission
What is it?
“Your heartfelt mission is your inner compass of core values that provides purpose and meaning to your life” (Miller 21). It motivates you to get up each morning, no matter how you’re feeling. Once you recognize your heartfelt mission, you “positively affirm it not as a future possibility but as a statement of fact, true in this moment” (Miller 47). Remind yourself of your heartfelt mission regularly throughout your school day. The more you say it, “the more you feel yourself living from it” (Miller 47).
Teachers, take time to reflect.
- What is your heartfelt mission in regards to teaching?
- Why did you decide to become a teacher?
- How do you want to make a difference in the lives of your students?
- “I make a difference in my students’ lives every day. I am enough.”
- “I make an impact on social justice each day I teach.”
- “I improve my students’ social and emotional health each day.”
- “I help my students grow and thrive.”
- “I believe in my students and help them become who they are meant to be.”
- “In my classroom, each student is heard and supported.”
- “I see each child as unique and worthy of love.”
- “I have a growth mindset and know each child has unlimited potential.”
- “I do this work to make the world a better place now and for future generations.”
Tool 2: Affirming Your Intention
What is it?
“Intentions are statements of fact and actions that are guiding forces in your life” (Miller 22). An intention is a powerful internal statement that helps you fulfill your heartfelt mission. Intentions are statements you affirm with deep feeling and determination in the present moment.
Examples of daily intentions:
- I am at peace and content with what each moment brings.
- I am deeply connected to myself, to others, and to life itself.
- I trust life and feel confident in myself.
When challenging times come up in your teaching day, silently repeat your intentions to yourself.
Often, what we think about what is happening is worse than what is happening. When I was teaching, I’d sometimes get stuck in a spiral of negative thinking. If a student misbehaved, I might think: “This is so frustrating,” “This student doesn’t respect me,” or “I’m not doing a good job with classroom management.”
These thoughts only made the experience worse. Not to mention, there were often other reasons for misbehavior—one child was hungry from skipping breakfast and suffered through a low-blood sugar crash while another felt frustrated that he didn’t understand a new math concept.
I wish I had repeated an intention during these moments. Perhaps I could have said to myself, “I meet misbehavior with compassion,” “I am calm and grounded in hard moments,” or “I look for the unmet need underneath the behavior.”
Tool 3: Affirming Your Inner Resource
What is it?
“Your inner resource is an inner refuge of constant stability, safety, and well-being” (Miller 22). You can call on your inner resource to center yourself when you experience difficult emotions or situations. iRest® teaches you to tune in to your inner resource and to weave it into your life.
To get in touch with your inner resource, you might imagine a place where you feel grounded and safe. For me, that could be the lake I visited every summer as a child. I can still smell the pine trees, feel the warm touch of the wooden dock, and hear the laughter of kids splashing in the cold, clear waters. I can see the way the sun’s rays cast a glow on the lake and the mountains and trees wrap around it, hugging it tightly. Anytime I like, I can close my eyes and imagine it. I feel safe, centered, and grounded in this place.
If visualizing a place doesn’t suit you, you might imagine warmth or light within your core or heart. Place your hands on your stomach or heart, close your eyes, and imagine the warmth and light radiating throughout your body and mind. Your inner resource is always there—whether you visualize it or sense it inside you, you can call on it anytime as a source of stability.
You might draw from your inner resource to keep you steady when a student shows heated emotions, during a challenging conversation with a parent, or when you feel rushed and overwhelmed. Gain strength from your inner resource to feel grounded throughout the ups and downs of a teaching day.
Tool 4: Practicing Bodysensing
What is it?
“Bodysensing helps you experience deep relaxation. It enables you to access information within your body and mind so that you feel grounded and able to respond to every circumstance, no matter how challenging” (Miller 22).
Bodysensing is your perception of the world around you through your senses. Your body registers every sight, sound, smell, taste, emotion, and thought. When your body experiences symptoms, it’s your body’s way of calling your attention to a situation. For instance, when you experience a distressing situation, thought, image, or memory, your body translates these perceptions into physical signals that register throughout your body. You might feel your jaw clench, your palms sweat, and your stomach contract.
Your symptoms are your body’s way of telling you that you have sensory information you need to process. iRest® helps you fully digest this sensory information. Once digested, your body can return to its natural state of well-being. iRest® tools stimulate the very same nerves that lie deep within your brain and produce profound changes in your physical body, brain structures, and emotional and mental status.
Teachers, you tend to the needs of everyone else all day. One student scrapes her knee, another gets a bloody nose, and another’s stomach hurts…there’s no time to focus on your own body!
I’d often feel tightness in my chest or my heart racing throughout the day, but I’d push down those sensations to focus on the needs of others. Little did I know, I was digging myself deeper into burnout by doing so.
Tool 5: Practicing Breathsensing
What is it?
“Breathsensing further enhances deep relaxation and well-being through easy-to-learn and easy-to-practice breathing patterns” (Miller 22). Studies show, “deep breathing leads to a reduction in anxiety, depression, and stress.” Even more, “breathing exercise was found to relieve the emotional exhaustion and depersonalization induced by job burnout.”
As a teacher, you talk all day. It’s easy to experience rushed speech and shallow breathing. Take a moment to rest and breathe throughout your teaching day with the JabuMind app’s “Breathe Now” meditations. Each only takes a few minutes—a brief pause to reset yourself.
Tool 6: Welcoming Opposites of Feeling & Emotion
What is it?
“Learning to welcome opposites of feeling and emotion teaches you how to respond to negative and positive emotions with actions that empower you and give you a sense of control in your life” (Miller 22).
The iRest® method shows you how to connect with and respond to the full range of your feelings and emotions, even if you’d rather run from them at times. The more you stay with your feelings and emotions, the more fearless you’ll feel when experiencing them.
Feelings and emotions are neither right nor wrong. They’re neither good nor bad. They simply provide you with information. Every feeling and emotion is designed by nature to help you get what you need. When you resist fully experiencing your anxiety, fear, grief, or helplessness, you deny the experience of their opposites: peace, courage, joy, and confidence.
What challenging emotions and feelings come up for you during the teaching day? Perhaps a student tells you she has been bullied. Before jumping into a plan of action, take a second to process your own feelings. Maybe you feel hurt, resentment, or anger arising within you as your own memories of being bullied flash through your mind. Maybe you feel guilt and shame arise as you think back to times you bullied others.
Bring your awareness to these feelings and breathe through them. You can return to them later if you need more time to process them, but at least allow yourself a pause and a deep breath before anything else.
What can these feelings and emotions teach you? How can they help you respond with empathy?
Tool 7: Welcoming Opposites of Thought
What is it?
“Learning to welcome opposites of thought teaches you how to respond to negative and positive thoughts, images, and memories so that you feel empowered” (Miller 22).
What you think about yourself and others has tremendous power. Every thought you have has a powerful effect on your body, and every way that your body is feeling has a powerful effect on your thoughts. iRest teaches you how to stay calm and address your thoughts with gentle firmness.
By welcoming and understanding both your positive and negative thoughts as messengers, you can engage in new patterns of thinking that help you feel in control. iRest® teaches you to welcome all thoughts rather than resist them, especially the ones you label “negative.” Welcoming opposites of thought enables you to experience calmness and peace within yourself that cannot be ruffled by any thought, belief, image, or memory.
During your teaching day, when you get in a negative or anxious thought spiral, pause to bring awareness to it. Then, decide if the thought is giving you a helpful message for an action you need to take, or if it can be turned around to a more productive, helpful thought. Perhaps you recognize the thought has no valuable use to you at all–acknowledge it, breathe, and move on.
Tool 8: Welcoming Joy and Well-Being
What is it?
“Joy and well-being are your birthrights. iRest® teaches you how to access the power of joy, well-being, and inner peace in every moment of your life, no matter your circumstance” (Miller 23). The iRest® method teaches you that true joy is not connected to desire or achievement.
There are two types of joy:
- Joy that comes with an achievement
- Joy that exists independent of whatever else is present
Joy is already inside you. It exists independently from any stress you may be experiencing or any other state of mind or body. Enhance your inner joy with the JabuMind app’s “Joy” meditations.
Look for moments of joy in your teaching day:
- Did a student make you laugh?
- Which parts of your teaching day bring you the most joy? (Gathering on the rug with your students for a morning meeting? Seeing a student have an “aha!” moment after struggling with a concept?)
- What part of your teaching job are you most grateful for?
- When it’s hard to find joy during a difficult teaching day, try drawing on your inner source of joy.
Tool 9: Experiencing Being Awareness
What is it?
iRest® teaches you how to take a step back and observe your thoughts, emotions, and circumstances from a broader viewpoint so that you can recognize empowering actions that keep you in connection and on course within yourself, others, and your life” (Miller 23).
When you learn to be awareness, you learn how not to get caught up in your experience. This helps you to maintain distance from and gain perspective on your experience. With that perspective, you can identify the actions you need to take to help you move through everything you experience in life. Your core identity is what you are beyond all the sensations, emotions, and thoughts of your body and mind, and what you share in common with all others.
When you practice being awareness, you can choose to be responsive to your students instead of reactive. You step back from your thoughts, emotions, and sensations. You are not these things, you are the awareness behind them. With this awareness, how can you bring wisdom and empathy to your response to a defiant student or frustrated administrator?
Tool 10: Experiencing Your Wholeness
What is it?
“Experiencing your wholeness helps you recognize how every situation arrives paired with its perfect response” (Miller 23). This tool shows you how your ability to be awareness leads you to see and experience the wholeness of life. You will learn how to experience yourself as a unique, but not separate, expression of the wholeness of life. You may not feel your wholeness at times, but you are whole, perfect, and complete.
When you understand your wholeness, you can better understand how symptoms you experience don’t define you. Something wrong doesn’t mean that something is wrong with YOU.
There may be symptoms you experience that you identify as problematic. Yet, your basic being and wholeness don’t need to be fixed or changed.
With iRest®, you establish a foundation within yourself. By first experiencing your inner being, a wholeness, you put into place a foundation on which you can stand. Having a foundation to stand on allows you to address what needs healing.
When you experience moments of self-criticism or self-doubt, tap into this sense of wholeness. Consider how you are interconnected with the world around you. Think about how you are connected to your students, to their parents, to teachers you work with, and so on. You are all working towards a common goal. You are all part of a school, which is part of a community, which is part of a town, state, country, continent, world, etc. When you open up your individual experience to a broader experience, you feel less alone.
Teachers Can Prevent Burnout with Self-Care
Teachers, we see your struggles. We are here to support you, hold your hand, and lift you up as you do the meaningful work of teaching. I understand your pain and exhaustion—I’ve been there myself. I wish I’d known what was wrong then and had a way to fix it. Instead, I became a statistic, dropping out of the profession within five years. You have an advantage—you know what you need and you have a way to get it! The JabuMind app delivers these iRest® tools to you in a simple, easy-to-use format designed just for teachers. We’re your teacher toolkit for a long-lasting, thriving, and healthy career.
About the Author: Erin has a master’s degree in Education from Stanford University. Before joining JabuMind, Erin taught the first, fourth, and fifth grades for five years in both public and private schools throughout California and Oregon. She is also certified to teach children’s yoga. Erin is passionate about helping teachers combat burnout with mindfulness and self-care.
Miller, Richard C. The iRest Program for Healing PTSD: a Proven-Effective Approach to Using Yoga Nidra Meditation & Deep Relaxation Techniques to Overcome Trauma. New Harbinger Publications, 2015.