Self-Care Survival Guide to Online Teaching
At the end of my first full day back teaching voice lessons online a few weeks ago I felt like I’d been run over by a truck. I had a fairly low-key summer of teaching only part-time and the jump back into long days of teaching was a rude awakening. My head hurt, I had a crick in my neck, my eyes were so tired they could barely focus, and I was just all-around exhausted. Worst of all, my spirit was crushed. How on earth am I going to make it through this semester if this is how I feel after ONE DAY? My internal monologue circled round and round with thoughts of despair.
I let myself wallow in these thoughts for a few hours, but luckily the yoga teacher side of me kicked in before too long. You know what you need?! She said. A whole bunch of self care to get you through this challenging time! And she was exactly right.
I spent the rest of that first week figuring out how to set myself up for success in this new situation. There are no easy answers, but there are tools that we can employ in order to survive, and even thrive, during this time. I came up with what I am considering my “Self-Care Survival Guide” for the unique situation many of us are finding ourselves in as we teach online during the time of coronavirus.
MEDITATE. Build a short meditation practice into your day. This is a great thing to do first thing in the morning before you start teaching or in the middle of the day when you have a break and need to clear your head. The benefits of meditation are numerous (aids focus and attention, lowers blood pressure, improves memory and emotional awareness, decreases symptoms of anxiety and depression) and the opportunity to sit with your eyes closed and not react or respond to anything for 10-20 minutes is absolutely blissful when your day is otherwise rather chaotic. Not sure where to start? Set a timer for 5 minutes and try a breathing practice like inhaling for 4 counts and then exhaling for 6 counts.
EXERCISE. Being in front of the computer all day leads to a sedentary existence which is not conducive to either happiness or well-being. Exercise elevates heart rate and promotes blood flow, stretches and strengthens muscles, and eases stress and anxiety while lifting mood. Getting outside to exercise is ideal so you can also enjoy some sunshine and fresh air but exercising inside can be great as well. The important thing is to move your body. Take a walk, run, bike ride, or hike, lift some weights, practice yoga, or do an exercise class online. Doing something physical on days when you have to log long hours of teaching online will make a huge difference in how you feel.
UNPLUG. This one has been SO important for me. Schedule at least one (two is even better) screen-free days for yourself each week. If a whole day seems impossible then shoot for a half-day with no screens. We need time away from our computers and phones so we can connect with real life, real people, and ourselves. It is easy to feel like you have to respond to every email and text message immediately, however the earth will keep spinning and people will go on even if you aren’t attached to your screens, ready to respond at every moment. Trust me, your brain will thank you for this time away, so give yourself a break from the notifications and alerts by unplugging for one day each week. I now look forward to my screen-free day with great anticipation every week, it’s that great! Also, putting away screens at least an hour before bed each night will help you get to sleep more easily.
VOCAL REST. This is important for all teachers, but especially for my fellow voice teachers. As you probably remember from before the pandemic, teaching in-person is taxing on the voice, but teaching online can be even more taxing! I have heard many discussions between voice teachers about how much more tired their voices are getting now that they are teaching online and this has been my experience as well. Building in short breaks throughout your teaching day can make a big difference but I also recommend building a vocal rest day into your week if possible. You don’t need to be completely silent on this rest day but taking a day off from singing and the extended periods of talking that online teaching requires gives your voice a chance to recover from the fatigue of the week. I recommend lining this day up with your screen-free day and spending the day outside in nature. Voila, two birds with one stone!
RESTORE. If you have never tried a restorative yoga practice, this is the time to give it a go! Restorative yoga is quickly becoming my favorite type of yoga due to its wonderful healing powers. There are entire restorative yoga practices to be found online that I encourage you to look into. Two of my favorite poses right now are lying on the floor with my legs elevated on a chair and supported child’s pose. Restorative yoga poses are great for whenever you need a break during the day or before going to sleep at night. I find that spending 15 minutes in a restorative pose in the middle of the day is better for my energy level than taking a 2 hour nap!
This is a challenging time for everyone, and for those of us who are not used to doing our jobs in front of a computer screen, it requires a big adjustment. A few weeks into this semester, I still find myself exhausted at the end of some days but I am reminding myself to take it one day at a time and make time for my self-care routine because I know now that it makes a huge difference.
Be kind to yourself and carve out time to care for your mind, body, and spirit.