Self-care is the newest education buzzword, but often there’s little time or resources provided to implement any kind of self-care practice. One-time events like donuts & coffee in the staff lounge and dress-down days can temporarily boost morale, but they don’t do anything to alleviate chronic stress or overwhelm.
While the once-and-done strategies I previously shared can help, most likely, they will only go so far in setting healthy, realistic boundaries. It’s the habits and everyday decisions you make that will impact your work-life balance in real, concrete ways.
Please note: This is the second of a 2-part series on Setting Boundaries as Self-Care. Be sure to read Part 1 about quicker, once-and-done strategies here.
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.
Let’s also be honest that habits are WAY hard to implement than a one-time event. In my experience, however, they also provide more bang-for-your-buck in time and energy.
Last spring, I listened to the audiobook of Atomic Habits by James Clear, and that was really transformative as I thought about how making tiny changes each day could add up to huge dividends. Things that required very little time had big benefits, and that was particularly effective since my brain often rationalizes NOT taking care of myself because “I don’t have time.” So I started with just 1-2 very small habits.
6 Ideas for Habits to Add or Develop
The following list of habits are things I’ve established during the past few years as part of my everyday “default.” Some of these habits are things I’m still working on, too.
Really…stop working beyond your contracted hours! You’re not helping anyone by working more hours instead of resting and recharging each night — not yourself, or your students, or your family, or the other teachers in your building.
I know it might seem like there’s too much to do, especially if you don’t have any clerical help. But you can do it. The work will be there tomorrow, and the more unpaid hours you put in, the less visible the need for a library assistant (which every school library program does need to keep running smoothly).
Shelving the returned books is usually the most time-consuming task that librarians complete without compensation. However, even when I had no library assistant hired at my school, I spent no more than 1 hour a day shelving. The shelving cart was usually full, so I rolled it out to the middle of the library for students to pick books from. It saved me time, and why not let the most popular books go out again and again?
Covering a class or subbing, giving up your planning time to attend a meeting, doing lunch duty on your lunch break, coaching a new student club…there is a never-ending list of “other duties, as assigned” that can be asked of educators.
This is hard, but there’s nothing wrong with saying “no” most of the time, especially if the request is unpaid and you need that time to manage the library spaceor do the clerical work of keeping the library running well.
And there’s also nothing wrong with asking to get paid if you give up your lunch period or planning time or take a double class. You never know…maybe saying “no” today means the person asking will be more equitable in who they approach moving forward, instead of always going to the same 2 or 3 people who usually say “yes.”
If you struggle with this as much as I have in the past, try saying “no” every other time someone asks you to do something. At the very least, try to accommodate the request in a way where you can also benefit, such as, “No, I can’t sub all day, but I can cover an hour this morning in the library, and students can have independent reading time,” and then you can shelve books while they are there.
Another example might be a teacher who drops off their class and asks you at the door to do a lesson on [insert topic]. You might say, “Sorry, I won’t change my lessons for today. I’ll remind them to get books about [topic], but if you need anything more, give me a couple days’ notice.”
READ MORE: Check out this post on Surviving When You Can’t Thrive, including what worked (and what didn’t) while making it through a tough school year.
Checking and responding to emails can eat up your limited planning time, so it’s important to not let this never-ending task get out of control.
Set a timer on your phone or wearable device for perhaps 15 minutes, and close the browser tab when the timer ends.
In fact, ask yourself if you even need to check your work email every day. Would every other day keep you in the loop professionally and free up your time to use elsewhere?
While I’ve never reached “inbox zero,” I check my email thoroughly about every other day, and briefly on alternating days. I only open the emails that are clearly important and apply to me. I delete without opening the ones that I can tell from the subject line will not apply to me, or if they are a vendor promotion I’m not interested in.
We all know sleep and rest are important, but I struggle a LOT with this one. I tell myself that I can stay up a couple nights a week, and I’ll just sleep in on the weekend. (I have a young child so it’s hilariously optimistic that I think this at all.) Or I stay up because I know tomorrow’s going to be an overly-busy, stressful day and I don’t want it to come any sooner.
Do you need to make rest a priority in your life too?
I actually made it a quarterly goal for myself that I track each week. My exact goal written in my planner reads: Get 7+ hours of sleep on 5+ out of 7 nights per week, for 10 weeks in a quarter. Yes, I’m that specific, and use my fitness band to track if I’m getting enough hours of snooze time.
I still haven’t met that goal in a year and half of trying.
Clearly, I’m still working on this one, and setting a reminder alarm on my fitness band, as mentioned in Part 1 of this series, has helped me to make it a priority to wind down before bed. Over the past year, I’ve observed that when I get enough sleep, I come home from work with enough energy left to be a partner and a parent. When I don’t, those are the days I often feel like my life is falling apart.
It’s still hard to choose rest and sleep over activity or getting “one more thing” checked off my to-do list. But the habit is getting easier, and I’m seeing the positive results as I work on this area of my life.
If you struggle with this like I do, I’d love to hear in the comments how you are working towards healthier sleep and rest.
Even though teacher-librarians are often on our feet all day long, we can still benefit from dedicated exercise. Just like with sleeping, we all know regular exercise is important, but we also regularly can’t find the time for it.
I am not into sports, and I never have been. I’ve practiced yoga on-and-off for the past 10 years, and once I’ve trained to run a 5K fundraiser…but it’s hard to make the time.
Knowing I was out of shape last winter, I decided to apply the ideas in Atomic Habits by walking and climbing stairs during 15 minutes of my 40-minute planning time.
When I started in January, I would get out of breath within 2 minutes. And yes, I sweat in my work clothes a good bit. Then after just a 2-3 weeks of walking about 4 days of the week, my breathing became easier. Climbing up and down the stairs to complete the loop of my route became energizing. I was pleasantly shocked at how quickly I saw and felt the benefits.
Once the habit was formed, I didn’t have to think about it. I just changed into my sneakers that I kept at school and maybe grabbed my phone and wireless Bluetooth headphones to listen to music discreetly as I walked and relaxed. I kept it up through the rest of the school year, and it became one of the most enjoyable parts of my school day.
In the past, I’ve also used the 15 minutes between the end of my contract day and the time I leave to pick up my child to do a quick yoga stretch on the story carpet. With the lights out and my things packed up, no one bothered me in the quiet, calm space. As with walking, once the habit was established, I found I looked forward to it at the end of my day.
Is there a way to squeeze in some extra exercise into your day?
True meditation may not be for everyone, but I think mindfulness practices can be almost universally helpful, especially with the added stressors of teaching during a pandemic.
I’ve prayed my whole life, but the practice of meditating isn’t familiar to my Christian faith tradition. So while I’m pretty new to it, it’s helped me to cope with the added stress and anxiety of the past couple years. I’m amazed at how much calmer I feel, and how much easier it is to get to sleep at night when I use mindfulness and meditation exercises.
I started trying out the meditation “audio workouts” through my Daily Burn fitness subscription. Recently, I watched some of the Headspace documentaries on Netflix, and I use their interactive Unwind Your Mind “episode” to help me get to sleep some nights.
There are plenty of others resources out there, but learning (and re-learning) to quiet my brain’s stressful thoughts has helped enormously. I saw results in myself more slowly than other habits I’ve tried, but with practice and time, it’s now one of my favorite ways to relax.
If you try mindfulness, consider making it part of your library lessons too.
- Could you lead your class in a few deep breaths before starting your direct instruction?
- Can you take 30 seconds when a class is lined up to leave, and have everyone close their eyes and focus on their breath or how they’re feeling today?
- Can you and your students do a silent stretch break with eyes closed between reading aloud and book exchange?
And please remember…
As I wrote in Part 1 of the series, no amount of healthy habits, setting boundaries, or “self-care” can fix a toxic or abusive work environment. Deeper or more complex mental health issues should be addressed by a mental health professional. (And to be crystal-clear, I am NOT a mental health professional or expert of any kind.)
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’ve developed a habit 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.