Teacher Wellness: 20 Authentic Self-Care Strategies

At a glance, self-care seems challenging, time-consuming, and sometimes even selfish—but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In actuality, self-care can be summed up in one word: necessary.

In a world where educators are expected to fill every spare moment of their day with work, work, and more work, it can feel overwhelming to fit in self-care. Nonetheless, proper self-care will actually make your busy schedule feel easier!

The hardest part, as usual, is getting started—and over the summer is the perfect time to break in some new, healthy habits to get the ball rolling for a fresh new school year in the fall.

Let’s not waste any time. Read on to discover twenty self-care strategies you can use for yourself and for your upper elementary classroom!

20 Self-Care Strategies for Teachers

1. Time Management Skills

I know, I know—easier said than done, right? As an upper elementary teacher, it’s hard enough to find the time for your baseline curriculum, let alone a whole self-care routine on the side. Regardless, good time management can reduce stress and increase positivity. Who couldn’t use a healthy serving of a good attitude?

2. Setting Personal Boundaries

“Don’t set yourself on fire to keep others warm” is a phrase that bears repeating. Teach and practice setting healthy personal boundaries! “No” is a complete sentence—you don’t owe anyone an explanation.

Understanding and respecting personal limits is crucial for your well-being. If you give away all of yourself, there’s nothing left! I know it’s hard—this is something I still struggle with on a daily basis—but I PROMISE we can do it!

3. Social Connection Time

Text that friend back. Meet for brunch. Take that vacation to visit an old pal out of town. Self-care means allocating time for socializing! Building positive relationships is key to emotional well-being. 

The unfortunate reality is that, oftentimes, socialization may take a backseat to our higher-priority tasks. Nonetheless, it’s SO important to ensure you’re getting a healthy dose of social connections however you can!

4. Gratitude Journaling

Here’s a strategy that can be employed in your classroom, too: gratitude journaling! Writing about positive experiences can enhance well-being and foster a positive classroom environment. When you implement gratitude journaling, you’re helping both yourself and your students keep a healthy outlook on life.

5. Mindfulness Practices

Most of us have heard of mindfulness by now, and I’m willing to bet that a lot of you have even found a way to implement it in your classroom whether through growth mindset or other means. 

Mindfulness has been shown to reduce stress and improve focus in both students and teachers. If you can find a way to incorporate short mindfulness exercises into your daily routine, you’re on the right path!

6. Empathy and Compassion Training

Empathy is a lifelong skill that should be introduced early. I’m sure you’ll all agree that we could ALWAYS use more empathy in the world!

In your classroom, you can use guided activities to foster empathy and compassion. Developing these skills can enhance personal well-being as well as social relationships. Be on the lookout for situations or resources that offer guided empathy practice to your upper elementary students.

7. Professional Support Networks

Everyone could use support from time to time. Encourage participation in professional support networks for your students (or you!) to share experiences and coping strategies.

8. Nature Exposure

Nature: not just for science! Self-care strategies don’t always need to be complicated. For instance, you can spend time outdoors or even bring natural elements into the classroom. Nature exposure is linked to reduced stress and improved mood!

9. Breathing Exercises

There’s a reason breathing exercises are common with self-care strategies—it’s effective! As someone who struggles with anxiety, I can attest that breathing exercises are a staple in my day-to-day life.

Controlled breathing is shown to be a quick and effective tool for emotional regulation. You (or your students) can always practice simple breathing exercises to manage mounting stress and anxiety. 

10. Regular Physical Activity

I know, I know—who has time for regular physical activity in this day and age?! Well, hopefully you, since physical activity is linked to reduced stress and improved cognitive function, not to mention the plethora of benefits to your body. Self-care strategies should incorporate physical health, too.

It can be a struggle to find time for physical activity, but even brief exercise like stretching or yoga are still beneficial!

From Monday Campaigns, here are six light exercises you can do at your desk:

11. Cognitive Restructuring Techniques

More stress and anxiety management? Yep! That’s what self-care strategies are all about!

Teach and employ cognitive restructuring to challenge and change unhelpful thoughts. This is another technique that we can often see used in growth mindset and is immensely helpful in the classroom.

12. Aromatherapy

Certain scents, like peppermint or lavender, can have calming effects. You can use aromatherapy with essential oils for relaxation… Unless you’re me, who’s super sensitive to any and all strong smells!

Basically, I’m giving you a free pass to buy all the candles you like in the name of self-care strategies. Enjoy!

13. Self-Reflection Time

Many self-care strategies seem to encourage good time management, and this one is no exception. Try setting aside time for personal reflection, as reflective practices can enhance self-awareness and promote emotional regulation.

14. Positive Affirmations

Some self-care strategies, like this one, are difficult, but so necessary. You can use positive affirmations with yourself and with your students to build confidence and reduce negative self-talk. Affirmations can enhance mental resilience, too. 

You can find dozens of positive affirmations all over the web, and even sets that are premade such as those on YouTube. Set to calming music, they’re a great place to start. Although it may feel uncomfortable at first, positive affirmations can work wonders. You can do it!

15. Healthy Snacks and Hydration

Self-care strategies aren’t all hard! Everyone loves snacks! 

Promote the consumption of healthy snacks as well as staying hydrated. Proper nutrition and hydration are essential for maintaining energy and concentration. There’s a reason school districts remind students to eat a healthy breakfast during testing season. The most difficult part is making sure it’s healthy!

16. Leisure and Play

All work and no play makes Jill a dull girl… Or something like that! Regardless, engaging in leisurely activities is essential for relaxation and mental health. Everyone loves a hard worker, and of course you’ll reap the rewards for your efforts, but burn-out is REAL. You NEED breaks. You aren’t superhuman.

You and your students both should take part in leisure and play activities—for your health!

17. Listening to Music

Some self-care strategies, like this one, may seem obvious, but that doesn’t make them any less important. Integrate music listening into your classroom for relaxation purposes. Music can have a soothing effect and aid in stress reduction.

There are lots of resources with a variety of relaxing music, too, such as mynoise.net, that are perfect for streaming during class-wide stretching breaks. After all, you don’t want your students to be stressed in your classroom. Create that positive learning climate they deserve!

18. Laughter and Humor

Become the class clown I know you can be! Incorporate humor and laughter into your classroom. Laughter has been shown to reduce stress and create a more joyful learning environment. I’m sure you don’t need to be told that students in better moods are generally more receptive to learning content!

19. Creative Expression

Although it may not seem like it, there’s plenty of room for creativity in the math and science classroom. Like many other self-care strategies, creative activities provide emotional outlets and can be therapeutic. For both you and your students, encourage creative expression via art, music, or writing!

Let me also remind you that these are all great ways to build an integrated curriculum, too, if you’re into the whole saving-time thing… 😉

20. Adequate Sleep Education

Getting an appropriate amount of sleep is always a given on any list of self-care strategies, but just as important is adequate sleep education. Teach your students the significance of getting a good night’s sleep EVERY night!

Sleep is critical for cognitive function and emotional regulation. Having a dedicated bedtime can feel frustrating for students who are seeking independence, but it’s SO important!

With twenty self-care strategies to choose from, I sincerely hope you can implement at least a few in your daily life. I know you’re pressed for time, but trust me, self-care is absolutely worthwhile; in fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s non-negotiable.

Besides, when you model healthy self-care to your students, they’re likely to follow in your footsteps. If not for yourself, then do it for them!

As always, thank you for reading, and definitely share these ideas with a friend who could use a bit of self-care in their lives!

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