Teaching something feels like juggling twenty balls at once. Add a family of your own and young children into the mix, now there are 100 balls. If you have a rough class or changing curriculum and policies, overwhelming doesn’t even begin to describe how you feel. You are just trying to stay above water. I don’t know about you, but some days I think I sank to the bottom for a few minutes until I remember to continue to kick to stay afloat. There were days I was so tired, worn-out, and emotionally done. I was compassion fatigued.
As much as I love teaching and writing in this blog, this past year I needed to focus on me and our family. I took the year off after my son was born in November 2018. He was born premature and spent two weeks in the NICU until he was able to breathe on his own. A few months after I was diagnosed with a postpartum thyroid disease. As much as a I struggled with my decision not to return to school and to stop writing my blog for a while, I knew I needed the time to bond with my kids and heal. Then right as I was ready to get back into blogging, COVID hit and our world was turned upside down even more.
What is Compassion Fatigue?
We as teachers are constantly thinking about and caring for others more than ourselves. Almost a year ago, I attended a very eye-opening training about Compassion Fatigue. I went in not really knowing what Compassion Fatigue was but kept hearing “take that class”. So I did. What is compassion fatigue? Compassion fatigue is more appropriate word than “burnout”. Teachers are not “burned out”. They are exhausted with all the stressors of the classroom and the school system. Teachers are not only affected by this. This occurs in occupations where your job is to care so much for others you physically and emotionally exhaust yourself. Teachers, healthcare professionals, and other jobs where you are completely invested in the welfare of others are at higher risks for compassion fatigue.
Some ways to know you are experiencing compassion fatigue are feeling of hopelessness, difficulties dealing with work, exhaustion, alienation and reduced or slower performance in job-related activities and possibly an all over feeling on unhappiness. During the professional development day, we learned that a balance of your life is a great way of fighting compassion fatigue. I spent a lot of time thinking what this balance looks like for me. Finding an outlet helps you regroup. I love reading either just a few minutes before bed or in the summer sitting on the front porch and enjoying everything around me. This helps me focus on what’s important and destress. I also have found that taking a walk around the neighborhood or sitting down to scrapbook a fun adventure helps me focus on the “wonderfulness” of life. I have provided 4 strategies to fight compassion fatigue below. There are other ideas but these are the ones I found most helpful.
4 Strategies to Fight Compassion Fatigue
1. Mini Escapes
Mini-escapes are a way to destress and bring focus back to yourself. Deep breaths, taking a walk, or even just thinking about something that makes you happy are easy and quick ways to bring joy and decrease stress during the school day. My first thought was “I don’t have time for that” but I found out very quickly I do. While waiting for my coffee to brew in the morning or for an afternoon treat, I think about my happy place. For me, its laying on the beach listening to the waves and the happiness it brings. Just spending a few minutes or seconds thinking about something positive helps you regroup and get ready for the next part of your day. You can also repeat an impowering phrase or find another outlet to let off stress (coloring, drawing, writing something positive, ect). During the few minutes while walking down the hallway giving yourself a positive phrase or quote is an easy and quick way to fight compassion fatigue during your day. I always love the phrase “she believed she could so she did”. Whenever I am having a rough day I think of this quote and how I can do anything I set my mind to. This helps me turn my negative feelings into positive ones. After school and on weekends, my mini-escape is usually reading on the porch, taking my kids someplace fun, or baking something new. This provides an outlet where I can forget the days worries and troubles and focus on me. Find those few minutes for yourself throughout the day.
2. Deep Breaths
The power of deep breaths is amazing. Releasing all the negativities of your day is such a powerful approach to our mental health and feeling less compassion fatigue. I have found leaving the room when my own kids are having a meltdown and taking 5 deep breaths or more, I am more capable of returning to the room calmer. School is no different. You can certainly take a few seconds to take control of your feelings in meetings, after a lesson gone bad, or if you are struggling with behaviors in the classroom. Better yet, teach your students how they can take deep breaths as well. This is a great way for kids to start realizing they need a quick regroup as well. In the past, I have felt myself getting frustrated after planning this amazing lesson only to realize my students aren’t grasping the concept. I am frustrated and so are my students. We have paused and practiced deep breaths or melting activities to help calm us down. GoNoodle has a ton of calming exercises to help with breathing and meditating. Usually after taking a minute or two of breathing or an calming exercise we are all feeling better and have clearer and more positive minds moving forward.
3. Calming Apps & Music
There are some amazing apps that allow us to focus ourselves and calm down. These apps are great for you and your students when you need to take that break and regroup. Some of my favorites are Calm, Smiling Mind, and Stop, Breathe, Think. Along with these apps, there are also great resources on Go Noodle to help your classroom. I have found some of the calming apps and even just calming soft music very helpful when driving to and from work. I hate carrying my worries and emotions from school to my home or visa-versa. I have found trying to separate my family and school problems very helpful in being more positive and more engaged. If I had a rough day at school, I try to use calming music and positive thinking and reflecting on my way home, but I leave those problems in the car. Same visa versa, problems and worries from home I try to eliminate before I arrive at school. I was finding when I had a rough draining day at school, I was bringing that home with me. I didn’t like the negative and fatigued person I was turning into with my family. I had a much more successful day and less compassion fatigue when I was listening to calming music, motivational speakers or even just reflecting on small successes of my day during my commute.
4. Positive Thinking & Goal Setting
There is a special power to positive thinking! Thinking positive thoughts, being positive, and having positive people in your life can go a long way to helping you with compassion fatigue. These positive thoughts and people help lift you up when you are starting to feel overwhelmed. One way to incorporate positive thinking is even after an extremely rough day focus and reflect on one small success you had. If you can think of more, list them out loud or write them down. See your success! This works by showing you your day wasn’t as terrible as it may first seem. You had small successes throughout it as well. Along with positive thinking is goal setting. When you are setting reachable goals for yourself you become happier and less stressed as you have a clear goal in mind to focus on. One way to set goals is to find out what areas of your life you can improve on so that you can be happier and more successful. You can accomplish this by completing the wheel of life assessment tool provided below. Rating each section of your life allows you to see which areas you want to improve on. Once you see your wheel colored in, choose one area to work on and make short-term and long term goals. I have personally found that making weekly, monthly, and yearly goals allows me to achieve my goals. If anyone else if feeling the stress for this upcoming school year, I highly suggest you set some goals and find ways to combat compassion fatigue and stress and make this a great school year for yourself and students. Yes, I am stressed for this year and worried about all the unknowns, but I choose to focus on my goals and be positive.
“Life Does Not Have to be Perfect to Be Wonderful”
Before even attending this training, I was looking for a new coffee mug for school that was big enough to hold my morning coffee. I came across the perfect one that read “Life does not have to be perfect to be wonderful.” Every morning as I am making my coffee, I take a second to reflect on this. My life is far from perfect. I’ve have had so many ups and downs and many times I questioned “can I have a break yet?” I have cried while making dinner, taking a shower, and into my pillow at night. Between the 20 kids that call me mom at school along with my own two boys, there is always someone to worry about. I worry about being enough for my kids, how their day is going while I am away, and if I am making the best choice going to work each day. I need to keep reminding myself to keep the balance of school and family. When I am at school, I worry about the kids being happy, if I am teaching them all they need to know, and if they are safe and happy when they leave my classroom. Then comes the struggles with a teaching job: classroom behaviors, changing curriculum, administration, standardized testing, and a school system that is constantly changing and expected more from teachers. But my life is wonderful! I have a wonderful husband and two happy and healthy kids. I love my job and I am excited for all that is to come. Life isn’t perfect but it is wonderful. Take time to focus on yourself and getting back to being positive and not fatigued. Compassion fatigue sneaks up on you quickly, having these strategies ready to go will help you combat it and make you feel more in control of your life and classroom and overall a happier and more positive person.