COVID-19 has thrown educators for a loop, and paying attention to mental health is critical--these SEL activities can help teachers maintain peace

10 SEL activities for teachers

COVID-19 has thrown educators for a loop, and paying attention to mental health is critical--these SEL activities can help teachers maintain peace

Editor’s note: This is Part 1 of a two-part series on SEL activities. Check back tomorrow for Part 2.

We are all dealing with high levels of stress right now. On top of normal pressures, current events are causing stress related to job and financial worries, health risks, and disruption to our normal routines. We need to find ways to effectively manage our stress—and practicing SEL activities can help.

When not addressed, stress can lead to harmful health concerns like anxiety and depression, reduced attention, impaired self-regulation, and decreased learning readiness. It can also lead to negative well-being factors, such as sleep and eating disorders. Extended exposure to toxic stress also can have lasting mental and physical health effects.

Related content: 6 actionable SEL strategies

We’ve compiled 10 tips to help educators work through stress and 10 tips to teach students effective stress management. Try these out to find which work best for you and your students.

Educators: 10 SEL activities to de-stress

Educators, we know you have a lot on your plates right now. Be proactive about keeping your stress levels in check. Try these 10 de-stressing activities to find out which strategies work best for you.

1. Identify your stress triggers. Stress can be caused by many different factors — long hours, frustrations around technology and virtual learning, too much news exposure, etc. Make a list of all the stressors in your life, noting those you have control over and those you do not. Begin tackling the list by choosing one or two items you have some control over that cause you the most stress. Make a plan to manage the stressor(s), write down a goal, and create accountable measures to help you follow through.

2. Perform deep breathing. Deep breathing can have a powerful physical effect in reducing tension and helping the body relax. Clinical research shows that regular deep breathing exercises affect the heart, the brain, digestion, and the immune system. They can have immediate results and can also be used to reduce the production of harmful stress hormones. Try the equal breaths exercise. Breathe in for a count of four, and out for a count of four. Continue for a few rounds, then try adding an extra count (in for a count of five, out for a count of five). You can continue this exercise until you feel your stress levels decreasing and your heart rate slowing.

3. Get enough sleep. We can’t stress this one enough. Getting enough sleep is critical to your health and to reducing stress. Try setting an alarm for when it is time for bed and do your best to get seven to eight hours of sleep each night. Most smartphones have a feature that reduces blue light in the evenings — try putting your phone on this setting after 10 p.m. to help your eyes relax. Maximize the sleep you do get by “unplugging” (i.e. turning off the computer, phone, TV, etc.) at least an hour before bed.

4. Watch what you eat (and drink). A balanced diet does wonders for your health and state of mind. Try to eat nutritious foods and cut down on processed or sugary foods that can deplete your energy. Also be sure to drink plenty of water. An estimated 75 percent of people in the U.S. are chronically dehydrated. A good rule of thumb is to drink half of your weight in ounces each day (example, a person who weighs 150lbs would drink 75oz of water per day). You may need more or less depending on the climate you live in, your body type, or how much you exercise.

5. Exercise. According to the Harvard Medical School, regular aerobic exercise (like walking) can boost memory and critical thinking, improve sleep, and reduce anxiety. Find creative ways to exercise while practicing safe social distancing. If you can, go for a 20-minute walk and enjoy some fresh air, or take advantage of a free or discounted online workout class. Regular exercise will help you feel more energized and much less stressed.

6. Tap into your support network. Establishing a good support network is critical to maintaining healthy stress levels, especially when you are physically isolated. Lean on your colleagues for advice, trade ideas, and create mentoring relationships. Friends and family can also provide invaluable support by lending an ear on especially difficult days. You can further expand your network through educator-based online support networks and learning communities. Join one or more, and share in a wealth of knowledge from educators across the country.

7. Stay organized. Being organized is a proactive way to reduce stress. Just think about how much time you waste searching through email or computer files to find what you need, rewriting misplaced work, or trying to manage your calendars. Set an organization plan — and stick to it to reduce stress, improve efficiency, and be a more effective educator.

8. Meditate. Meditation, or mindful awareness, can have a tremendous impact on your ability to de-stress. Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years and can bring clarity to your thoughts and promote peace and balance. Even a few minutes of meditation can significantly reduce stress. Listen to this SEL Chat Podcast to get tips and tricks for practicing mindfulness and meditation techniques at home during COVID-19.

9. Practice visualization. Visualization is another effective tactic for reducing stress. To give it a try, sit comfortably and think about a peaceful scene (a beach, the mountains, a favorite spot in your neighborhood). Or, visualize yourself realizing a goal — like finally getting back in the classroom safely!

10. Laugh. Even during trying times, we need to find humor. It will do wonders for relieving stress. According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter promotes a stronger immune system, increases your ability to cope with difficult situations, and can improve your mood by lessening depression and anxiety. Find ways to laugh every day — share a funny meme or joke with colleagues and friends or watch a favorite funny movie or television show.

We are certainly going through challenging and stressful times. Put your social-emotional skills to work and develop a plan to tackle stress before you get overwhelmed. We hope these de-stressing tips are helpful to keep you and your students happy and healthy!

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