For most, it comes as no surprise that classroom teachers are stressed and overwhelmed. Caring for the emotional, academic, and physical well-being of our students every day can take a toll on even the most eager and well-prepared educators. It's for this reason that more and more are beginning to consider mental health days a necessary tool for creating systems that support the overall well-being of their teams. And the benefits are straightforward. Not only do mental health days help curb a more immediate burnout among teachers, they also help re-establish the teaching profession as a sustainable and viable option for those who are otherwise leaving the classroom year after year.

Reflect and Re-evaluate

To start, it’s OK that you’re feeling overwhelmed. We’ve all been there, and teaching is hard. The demands are high and many, and they come from all directions. But what’s not OK is to allow (or force) yourself to stay in that overwhelmed state. Give yourself permission to breathe.

A mental health day may be just what you need to allow yourself to slow down and recover. Now, to make the most of these days, it's important that you are intentional about how you use this time. Have you been lacking sleep? Has your me-time become nonexistent? Are your other life-demands and responsibilities buried underneath piles of work-related to-dos?  Whatever it is you need to help you move out of feeling overwhelmed, prioritize it and ditch the guilt. You’ve got to take care of yourself first.

Don’t Wait for a Crisis

Plan your mental health days to avoid the crisis that may otherwise hit. You know the feeling; you’re beyond the point of exhaustion and now ugly-crying over a pile of ungraded papers. You realize your meals have had no nutritional value and you haven't showered in days.  A mental health day is needed - but at this point, the day off would be more about recovery. And if that's the case, by all means, take the day to recover. But here’s the thing: A crisis isn't required to prioritize your mental health. Sometimes, we just need a break and that’s OK. Prioritizing mental health days is meant to avoid the kinds of meltdowns that knock you off your game in the first place.

This is where cultivating more self-awareness comes in handy. Often we go about our daily lives without taking the time to check in with ourselves. But it’s important to take the time to ask, “How am I feeling in this moment?” or “What do I need right now?” Frequent check-ins are a great way to prevent those moments that feel like everything is crashing down around you. When you can assess what you need more often, you’re more likely to give yourself care from a place of calm and balance rather than a place of panic and worry. We all know from which place we make better decisions.

Make it About Self-care

How you practice self-care is a personal choice. And in an ideal world, our week allows us a weekend - and evenings - to take care of our personal needs. But in a more realistic (albeit chaotic) world, we know that self-care often takes a backseat to our other responsibilities. So when it comes to prioritizing your me-time, whether it's a spa day, mani-pedi, brunch for one, or sleeping in (all day long) - you do you. We're not here to judge, and you shouldn't be worried about what others might think. So whether your decide you need a day to pamper yourself, catch up on sleep, or tackle that ever-growing pile of ungraded papers - remember this was a deliberate choice to keep you at your best. And since you've got the day to yourself, try not to spend the whole day grading if you can avoid it (hint: you can).

And then, get over the guilt. You don’t owe anyone an explanation. And taking care of your mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being is just as important as taking care of your physical health. So, go ahead, take the day for your peace of mind. You’ll thank yourself.

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