There’s a lot of discussion in education lately about “self-care,” which I would normally celebrate. I would love to believe that as a society, the U.S. is finally recognizing mental health as an inextricable counterpart to physical health. Unfortunately, “self-care” as a buzzword is also weaponized to imply that if educators just took more time for themselves, then they would be fine and could do everything their employers and communities expect and/or need from them.
That’s nonsense, of course.
Those messages completely ignore the systemic issues in education of overwork / martyrdom, teacher guilt, unrealistic expectations, and a severe lack of funding, staffing, and resources. Self-care becomes “one more thing” teachers are expected to find the time to do with little to no support…just like most trends in K-12 education.
On a personal note, I’ve struggled with burnout on and off for a few years now. Each time that I’ve hit a breaking point, I’m forced to a “full stop” to recover. Then, I’ve found different ways to reset my work-life balance to be a bit healthier.
I fail at taking care of myself a LOT, and I’m in no way an expert on work-life balance. What I want to share today, though, are the real-life strategies and actions I’ve taken to make my professional life more sustainable and manageable. In doing so, I’ve set healthier boundaries on my work so that I have energy for my family and personal life, and so that I can keep being a school librarian for the foreseeable future.
This post is the first of a 2-part series on Setting Boundaries as Self-Care, and it will focus on one-time strategies. Don’t miss the second post on long-term habits for a healthy boundaries.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which means if you purchase an item after clicking the link, I will receive a small commission. See Disclosures & Disclaimers for more information.
5 “Once-and-Done” Ways to Set Boundaries for Self-Care
If you don’t set boundaries, someone else will do it for you…and how they do so probably won’t consider or respect your needs. The list below includes actions I’ve taken to respect my own time and energy needs. Like a Crockpot™ for self-care, I “set-it-and-forget-it,” and I’ve only made some minor tweaks since then.
Delete that app, period. That also means no checking it on your phone, or keeping it open in a browser tab. Our phones are so tempting and always there, so remove the temptation entirely to check in on work on your personal devices.
It’s an unrealistic expectation for anyone to answer an email, text, or other communication at any hour of the day or night. In fact, I don’t think your principal or boss should even have your cell phone number or personal email address.
If absolutely necessary, set up an auto-responder or away message that automatically begins sending during after-school hours. Something simple like: “I’m out of the office right now, and I will reply within 24-48 hours. If you are reading this message on a weekend or holiday break, I will get back to you when school is back in session.”
On a related note…
Most modern smartphones and tablets have “digital wellbeing” or “digital health” tools. Use all of them, and hack your brain into making it easier to put down your phone or tablet. I have an Android Pixel phone, so some terms below might be different on your phone, but almost all of them can be accessed through an app, if not in your phone’s settings menu.
- Turn off almost all notifications. I am very stingy with my app permissions for notifications. If an app notification annoys me one time, it is over and I immediately change the settings to deny all but the most essential notifications.
- Be even more wary about notifications on a wearable. Only calendar events from our family calendar get through to my wearable fitness band on my wrist. Without this boundary in place, I found the constant buzzing too distracting throughout my whole day.
- Set Bed Time Mode to turn on automatically, hide all notifications, and turn the screen to grayscale instead of color. I have mine set for 9 pm to 7 am so my phone isn’t beeping and buzzing when I’m trying to sleep, and I don’t have to remember to change the volume myself.
- Set time limits on apps that stress you out or waste too much time. I keep a 30-minute-per-day timer on all my social media apps, so I don’t waste hours of my life scrolling through the endless feed of posts. When the timer is up, I can’t open that app until the next morning.
- If you are worried about eye strain or too much blue light, use your phone’s Dark Mode, set the Night Light feature to automatic, or download an app like Twilight or Lux to slowly change the screen’s brightness and color temperature (to get “warmer” or yellow-er) as the sun goes down.
Tech isn’t all bad (or all good, of course), and it can be used to enhance your boundary-setting.
You can use the alarm functions to remind you to leave work on time, or to exercise, or to get ready for bed a little early. This strategy works best when you know you should be doing something at about the same time every day (or every weekday).
For instance, I previously used my cell phone for reminder alarms, but now I switched to using my wearable fitness band. I set 3 alarms for each day:
- 6:45 am – To wake me up for the day
- 3:45 pm – To signal the end of the contract day at school and remind me to leave on time
- 10:15 pm – To remind me to either get ready for bed or at least wind down for the night (in other words, get off my computer).
The afternoon and evening reminders are by far the most helpful in maintaining healthy boundaries for myself. They make it easier to make choices that are good for me, and they also reinforce the reason why I set those boundaries in the first place.
Last spring, I dyed my hair purple with Overtone. I can wash it out or change it whenever I want to, but I had been thinking about it for a few months and wanted to try something fun. I just had to place the order for the supplies, and make an appointment with myself to do it.
The important thing was that changing my hair color made me feel joyful, and when the color faded after a couple weeks, I re-did it. Six months later, I’m still maintaining my violet locks, and I smile every time I see my unexpectedly colorful hair.
Maybe there’s something you love to do that you haven’t had time for lately. Set aside time in your schedule to plan it (even if it’s over your lunch break).
Maybe for you, it’s spending an hour browsing the bookstore to find a new favorite author.
Or having date night with your partner.
Or planning some child-free time in your week.
Or making plans for a Saturday lunch date with a friend.
Or booking a massage.
Or taking a sick day to attend a doctor’s appointment you would normally schedule outside of the school day.
Or taking a walk around your neighborhood.
Schedule it. Then make it happen, and don’t back out.
One more important thing to remember…
No amount of healthy habits, setting boundaries, or genuine self-care can fix a toxic or abusive work environment. They also can’t fix deeper mental health issues that may be rooted in childhood or the past.
Sometimes, the best self-care you can do is admit to yourself that what you’re doing is not working, and you’re out of ideas for what else to try. I am not a mental health professional or expert, and as previously noted, I struggle with making my self-care a priority too. If you want or need some help with any area of your mental or emotional health, contact a licensed professional counselor, therapist, or psychologist.
If you have a strategy or action that has made your librarian life healthier or more sustainable, please share it below in the comments, or share this post on social media with your thoughts! You can tag me on most social media platforms at @MrsJintheLibrary.
Up next, I’ll be offering ideas for habits to try or to develop that can help you set boundaries. Check it out here in Part 2 of Setting Boundaries as Self-Care.