Cursory glances through music educator Facebook groups and online forums reveal the most poignant frustration in our profession: we are burning out as a profession. Anxiety, stress, and poor classroom management seem to be accepted as the cultural norm for music educators these days. We tend to accept that self-sacrificing is just part of the lifestyle of a music educator.
But this doesn’t have to be the case. I believe we all know the real answer to most of our frustrations when it comes to feeling out of balance, and on the verge of burnout. It comes down to self-care. If we truly want to create a sustainable lifestyle while in this challenging career, we need to focus on shifting our culture to one that encourages and advocates for self-care.
Here are 7 practical strategies you can implement in your own life, today, to prevent burnout. Read on to improve your wellness, your classroom management, and your overall holistic health.
1. Take a Holistic Approach
When thinking of self-care most of us picture a bubble bath or a cozy seat by a fire. We think of makeovers and massages, or new outfits. But the truth of self-care is that it’s a multifaceted part of our existence, it’s not just about our body, but our mind, our heart, and our spirit.
Caring for ourselves means we care for all aspects of our own wellness:
- Physically by eating healthful foods, exercising, and preventing illness
- Cognitively by learning new things and challenging our minds
- Socially by investing in valuable relationships and practicing diplomacy
- Financially by maintaining discipline, income, and lifestyle
- Emotionally by practicing joy and mindfulness
- Spiritually by connecting regularly to things beyond ourselves
Most of us have a good idea of the areas in our own lives where we might be neglectful, and thus feeling out of balance. The next item is a great place to start.
2. Abandon Guilt
Music educators tend to gravitate to the profession because we share a common characteristic: we are givers. We enjoy caring for others, we serve. We give of our time, talents, knowledge, and we love it.
Unfortunately, this is a double-edged sword. We think it’s somehow okay to give to others, but not to ourselves. When we do take the time and effort to do something solely for ourselves we are plagued with guilt.
When we don’t give to ourselves at least as much love, care, and attention that we provide others, we soon feel unfulfilled, and unhappy. This can quickly escalate into stress, doubt in our abilities, and anxiety that we can’t handle our job. Which in turn reflects in our classroom management. It is a downward spiral easily mitigated when recognized and with the tools to turn it the other way around.
Instead of feeling guilty for giving yourself what you need, open yourself up to renewing all of the love, patience, and care so you can continue to give to others.
3. Set Boundaries
It’s hard to create a work-life balance when life is filled with work. Teachers are known for working long hours off-the-clock for no additional compensation. This is even more prevalent in music education. We add performances, competitions, musicals, individual lessons, fundraising, data entry, and even music composition and arranging to our task list.
We may find pride in saying we worked 60 hours this week, flaunting to our friends that we got to school in the dark and left in the dark. Perhaps we find self-importance in their pity and admiration.
However, to thrive in our profession, we must remember that teaching music is our career, not our entire life. Hobbies, families, volunteering, and other ways we contribute to our communities and our homes are also aspects of who we are.
Setting clear boundaries between when we are working for our paycheck and when we are working for ourselves helps us carve out space where we offer ourselves time to be free of obligations and burdens of our career. Whether it’s a few hours per day, a full day per week, or both, setting strict boundaries for when you’re on-the-clock and when you’re off is essential.
Experience more of Elisa Janson Jones’ energy and enthusiasm on the Music Ed Mentor Podcast.
4. Practice Being Mindful
When our class feels in disarray, we have a choice: get frustrated, angry, lose our temper, or take a deep breath, appreciate the moment, and be happy.
Turning our emotions to the negative only feeds negative behavior. When we lose our temper we lose the respect of our students. A shift in attitude takes only a moment and can transform the entire experience. All it takes is a thought: “The problem isn’t them, it’s me. Enjoy this moment. Be present.”
Just as with any skill, this is one we can learn. When our class, or our job, feels out of control, we can find calm within us, reminding us to appreciate this moment, not to get frustrated and dismiss it. In chaos we can find joy, and turn chaos quickly into focused calm. Being mindful in any given moment – even the most frustrating ones – is just a few moments of self-care that can remake a class, a day, or a lifetime.
5. Express Gratitude
Every study on happiness has come to the same conclusion: the more we are grateful, the happier we tend to be.
It doesn’t even have to be the formal gratitude of a thank you note, but moments of gratitude. Similar to mindfulness, developing an attitude of gratitude takes practice. It is impossible to be resentful of things you are grateful for. It’s this little shift in our thoughts that may not feel like self-care, but truly is caring for ourselves.
6. Establish Routines
As we encourage our students to establish a practice routine for their musical development, we too can establish our own routines for our personal development and overall wellness.
If we truly want to improve our mindset, our outlook, our internal control, we will dedicate time to this practice every day. It might simply be 10 minutes in the morning to sit quietly and read a book, or sip an indulgent cup of coffee. Whatever you choose, practicing being mindful, being grateful, could make all the difference between an evening of regret, and an evening of joy.
Consistently dedicate 20 minutes in the evening – just as your students would to practice – to practice being good to yourself. And create similar weekly and monthly routines as well. Carve out one night a week for a date with your spouse, a long bike ride, or shop at the mall. Once a month get coffee with a friend or mentor, or invest in a massage.
Whatever it is you love to do that renews your spirit and zest for life, don’t just do it occasionally, but make it an uncompromised essential part of your life.
7. Totems and Simple Pleasures
Totems are little, tangible things you can set about yourself as reminders to be practicing self-care by being mindful, present, grateful, and self-sustaining. A favorite coffee mug, a cute quote printed on canvas, a photo of a spouse, or even a tattoo. Whatever reminders help you tap into that feeling of love and joy, surround yourself with them. It may seem like a little thing, but it can make a big impact, and is an easy way to practice self-care.
Indulging in the simple pleasures of life can help us on a daily basis, and to get through our most stressful times. Have a big performance day you’re feeling anxious about? Why not wear your favorite outfit, enjoy your favorite lunch, wear those cozy socks you love? Or take time to notice the way the sunlight dances through the trees? Notice that you are surrounded by students who adore you. Recognize that you are doing something you love. Embrace the simple pleasures of life at every opportunity.
Self-care doesn’t have to be a big thing every day, and every little bit counts.
By taking a holistic approach to our self-care we can discover a renewed sense of joy for our careers. We can defy the cultural norms of music educator lifestyle, and thrive in a career we love.