Sorry, this is a long one! If you’re a skimmer, you’ll want to check out the last paragraph for some resources and links that might be helpful if you need to take a Mental Health Day.
Lack of sleep, for me personally, is the #1 reason my anxiety gets the better of me and this week was rough. I haven’t really gotten a good night’s sleep in a month. Lots of nights on the couch (I hate disrupting my partner’s sleep) just trying to get a few hours of quiet so I can survive the day. If I don’t get enough sleep, I am no longer in full control of my emotions. Now imagine trying to teach 100 different teenagers when your nerves are literally on the fritz. It’s nearly impossible. These are the times when I need to take a day for myself. A mental health day.
This week I ended up taking 2 days off. Tuesday, I slept close to 16 hours consecutively. I woke up at 4pm startled by my husband getting home from work and disoriented as to how the whole day had gone by and I hadn’t even gotten up to go to the bathroom. When people say that anxiety is exhausting, they mean it.
If you’re a teacher and you’re reading this, you’re probably shocked that another educator would take a day off when they weren’t suffering an actual plague, let alone 2 days in a row. Missing work is not highly regarded in our field. We are expected to brave blizzards, hurricanes, flu season, even lice outbreaks. I have heard teachers brag about being able to count their sick days over the course of their career on one hand. In addition to the judgment about taking sick days, missing a day from work means sub plans. Being sick can sometimes lead to more work than just toughing out the day. And that’s what so many of us do. We just tough it out.
But when someone suffers from a mental illness, they are toughing out EVERY day. Some days are better than others, but most days require extra focus to keep one step ahead of our symptoms. When I have not had sleep, this focus is non-existent. I am no longer able to remember to take a deep breath before reacting to a disruptive class. I am unable to let go of the awkward conversation I had 3 days ago that keeps replaying in my mind. I can’t tune out the hum of the fluorescent lights in my classroom. It’s all there, 10 times louder than the week before when everything seemed under control. After a month of those days, it becomes impossible. Those are the times I NEED a day off.
But you don’t need to have a mental health disorder to need a mental health day. Teachers are very susceptible to mental overload. They are expected to make more than a thousand micro decisions daily, while keeping 10 steps ahead of their students, juggling parent emails and phone calls and taking care of administrative tasks. This infographic (click for source) really sums up how crazy that sounds. No wonder teacher burnout exists. The workday doesn’t end with the bell. And the week doesn’t always end on Friday.
As a profession, we need to start valuing the importance of taking care of ourselves. Sick days, mental health days, personal days, exist so that we are able to be our best in the classroom. Most teachers pray that their students will not come to school when they are sick, so why do we put so much pressure on ourselves to be at work when we are ill?
My biggest piece of advice for all teachers is to create emergency sub plans. I leave these in my sub binder and with our secretaries. If you don’t have a sub binder already, that will help you out a lot too. There are some great ideas on Pinterest! Mine always has up-to-date class lists, seating charts as well as everyday rules of my classroom and a copy of my schedule. As a Science teacher, my emergency sub plans usually consist of analyzing a scientific news article or watching a Bill Nye relating to the unit we are working on. Having these preplanned ensures that they days that I am unable to get out of bed only require me to request a sub as opposed to mindlessly creating a sub-plan at 4 in the morning. I really love Monde en Marche or What in the World?. While you do need to pay for a subscription, we share these with FLA, LA, Social Studies and Science teachers, so I definitely feel they are worth the money. Classroom Ready is another option, but I find the questions aren’t as in depth so I have to assign 2 articles. I also LOVE Star Materials. They have FREE worksheets that follow most of the Bill Nye videos, meaning students are actually paying attention and reviewing material we have discussed in class.
Take time for yourself. You will really be thankful you did in the long run. And your students will be so much more receptive to a you that is calm and focused. WIN WIN!