There’s no tired like teacher tired. We’ve all seen the memes, smiled, and agreed. Those memes aren’t wrong! We work tirelessly, trying to please all the players – administration, teaching colleagues, parents, and of course, students. The list grows and grows, and your own self care gets pushed farther and farther down the list.
This year, teacher tired feels like nothing we have ever experienced, and it seems to be entering a new realm, especially this time of year. The calendar is telling us there is so much curriculum we still need to cover. We are entering, or have just finished, testing season.
But at what point does teacher tired cross over into the dangerous territory of burnout?
Burnout is defined as the exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation as a result of prolonged stress or frustration.
Well, doesn’t that define all of us? Like everything else, there are varying degrees of exhaustion. There’s actually 5 stages of burnout and each come with recognizable signs. These signs can be caught – if you allow yourself to notice them and more importantly, acknowledge them.
The 5 Stages of Burnout
1: Honeymoon – you feel job satisfaction and have high productivity levels
2: Onset of Stress – you may be irritable or find an inability to focus
3: Chronic Stress – you find yourself procrastinating more than usual, may exhibit some social withdrawal
4: Burnout – you doubt yourself and start noticing behavioral changes
5: Habitual Burnout – you have chronic fatigue and depression – both mentally and physically.
Don’t push these 5 stages of burnout aside. It’s not healthy for you or for anyone on that list you are trying to please. We are living through tough times, on all the levels. Within your own community and on the world stage, there is tension everywhere. We have to bring the joy back. You have to bring the joy back.
A few years ago, during a burnout period of my own, I found the book Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness by Ingrid Fetell Lee and I often go back to it for little pick me ups.
Lee, also creator of the website Aesthetics of Joy, states “Joy isn’t just something you have to find. It’s something you can create — for yourself, and others.” Lee goes on to share that finding joy doesn’t require traveling the world far and wide. You simply need to and look right where you are.
So…finding joy – let’s do it! Challenge yourself to do just one thing focusing on joy today, and then let it grow. Stop, breathe and look. For just five minutes. It will help more than you know.
Even better – challenge yourself to do this with your students. If we are feeling the stress and heading towards burnout, they are too. They may even be feeling it more than we are, and they just don’t know how to recognize it.
Name it, acknowledge it and put yourself first to beat it. It’s not going to go away overnight, but focusing on joy in the little everyday things all around us will help us slowly move away from it.
The Color and Sparkle of Joy
Color. We all have our favorites. No matter what yours is, it brings you joy. My team at work laughs at me about my love of color. Not only do I love color, but I also believe in just a little sparkle. Why? They both bring life and a sense of light to any situation.
What are your happy colors? Surround yourself in your favorites. Look for them when you are doing things. Allow yourself to really notice your surroundings, taking a moment to be aware and slow down.
Find places to bring color into your life. Get a plain piece of paper, your favorite colored pens or pencils, and just color! Write with a new flair pen in your favorite color all the time, do it! Change the color of your desktop. It will bring you a smile. Smiles are good.
The Sound and Breath of Joy
We are around sound and noise all day. It clouds our judgment and it certainly doesn’t help with burnout. Find a way to turn it off. Turn off the phones, the laptop, the tv, even if just for five minutes. Sit in silence and just breathe. Focus on the moment. Close your eyes and breathe.
You have heard people talk about it, and you probably say there’s just no time. Do it! People remind us to do it because it works. As you sit in the quiet, where do your thoughts go? After the first minute of panic and unease, they likely go to your happy place.
We can’t stay in the quiet forever as much as we would love to, so just start to listen differently. We hear the noise and anger too easily. Don’t listen to it! Listen for the joy.
For each of us, that’s different. It might be children’s laughter (which I think we all love because it is truly the sound of joy in its purest form). Or it could be the meow of your cat or bark of your dog when you come home. It might be your pick-me-up song. Cherish those sounds.
The Feel of Joy
When we are in the burnout phase, we may want to hide and we look for comfort. So let yourself find joy in the comfort. Put on your favorite sweater, wrap yourself in your favorite blanket, collapse in a comfy chair, curl up with a child and read together. Feel the warmth that comes from comfort and let it bring you joy.
The irony is not lost on anyone that the way out of burnout is to move yourself to the top of your list – a task that feels impossible to do. So perhaps if you tell yourself you are doing it for your students, it won’t feel like you are failing them, and you will feel the effects yourself.
Be the model for them. Sprinkle joy. Breathe. Slow down. It’s contagious. Be the spark to relight the joy it and recognize the power that comes with it.