I don’t know about you but after eight (long) months, I am tired of hearing the terms “uncertainty” and “unprecedented.” Like many others, I miss my pre-COVID life. In particular, I miss seeing my coworkers, relatives, and people in my community.
Recently a local mental health agency offered a webinar in recognition of International Mental Health Day to talk through how reality has changed for us and how we collectively are experiencing increased isolation and loss of control. In particular, the discussion focused on how we have all been subjected to a shift that was not only a break from routine, but which is largely out of our control and continually changing.
Given the work I do with Reading Plus, I have been thinking a lot lately about what this means for educators. Between the juggle of synchronous and asynchronous learning, the opening and closing of school buildings, worry over personal safety and student safety, general stress among the community of colleagues, and so much more, the number of things beyond the control of people who work in and with schools is exponential.
There has been much talk about using coping strategies to build resilience to push through this change. Yet, resilience strives to return us to normal, and at least for me, normal coping strategies have not been as effective since I cannot return to my life before COVID.
In the webinar discussion, I learned that while I cannot currently reclaim my former existence, I can forge new pathways and create a new normal right here, right now, without waiting. But how? How can we employ healthy coping strategies when faced with so much that is beyond our control?
The following are several suggestions made in the webinar which I have taken to heart and have begun trying to embrace:
Establish a connection with others: All people, even introverts like me, need connection to other people. Calling someone to talk, attending an online concert or discussion about something that interests you (even with your camera off!), or checking in on your neighbors all create connections. Then congratulate yourself on making the effort, and set a goal of repeating the action.
Ask for help: While it can be hard to admit that you aren’t doing OK, it’s important to reach out for support from people and professionals who can offer assistance. Try calling a trusted friend or confidant and saying “I’m having a hard time, can we talk?” or call your local or state mental health agency to connect to services you need. For me, it’s good to remember that I don’t need to be organized before I make that call. I tend to hesitate, feeling like I need to be clear in what I want to say or ask before I call a friend. I don’t. In fact, I am reminded of the following text conversation I had with a friend when we were both dropping our firstborns off at college on the same day:
Take baby steps: Look for small opportunities for connection and engagement. Rather than making drastic changes, we can be slow, intentional, and deliberate to adjust one thing for ourselves that is healthy and helps us feel better. After a particularly hard week, Reading Plus's Chief Information Officer Rick Cusick, a practicing yogi, led us through several grounding exercises to release stress and increase mindfulness of the here and now. Since then, one small change I’ve made is to try (TRY!) at least once a day to pause and take three deep breaths instead of channel surfing, scrolling through social media, or eating mindlessly when I feel overwhelmed. It’s a small shift but one that reminds me where I am and how I’m feeling rather than masking emotions with another action. For now that is good enough to help me reconnect with myself.
Don’t wait to address your mental health. With the shift in reality being thrust upon us, we can create a new normal for our lives now. It’s important to make small adjustments that create tiny windows of hope which we can see through to be reminded of both who we are and what we want our lives to look like. Join me in taking these baby steps. You and I are both worth it.