How can I practice self-care when I have no time to myself?
If you’re a teacher in the middle of a stressful situation in the classroom (or anywhere), you can’t just stop and say, “Whoa, this is too much! I’m off to take a bubble bath!” An often-used analogy for self-care—getting rest, eating well, seeing friends, and so on—is putting your own oxygen mask on before helping others, as we are told at the beginning of any plane flight. But you need to put on your oxygen mask while the plane is going down—in other words while you are in the stressful situation itself.
This is where self-compassion comes in. It doesn’t take extra time out of your day; it’s a mindset toward suffering. It’s practiced whenever things get challenging—on the job, not off the job. Self-compassion is focused on being emotionally supportive to yourself in times of difficulty, and it has three main components: mindfulness, common humanity, and self-kindness.
First, you become aware of your distress. Instead of suppressing your pain and just “soldiering on,” or getting lost in it and becoming overwhelmed, you are aware of our pain in an accepting manner. You acknowledge how hard it is in the moment.
Next, you connect with the common human experience of stress and difficulty, realizing that trying to meet the needs of others is an inherently challenging yet rewarding aspect of the human experience. You are not alone in feeling this way.
Finally, you are kind and tender toward yourself. Try including the type of supportive internal language that you might naturally use with a friend: “This is so hard. I’m here for you. What can I do to help?” You can put your hand on your heart or some other place on the body that feels safe and comforting to physically express your care. Relating to your stress with self-compassion in the moment is what you need to survive and get through.
For more information on self-compassion, including practices, research, and a self-compassion test, go to self-compassion.org. You can also check out this practice for caregivers or this course for educators.
The opinions expressed in Ask a Psychologist: Helping Students Thrive Now are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.