We all know that being a full time music teacher is no joke. During the best of times, we experience joy, sorrow, frustration, elation, and burnout, sometimes all in the same day! Many of us now have the added factors of fewer teaching hours, transitioning to all virtual lessons, hearing difficult stories from your students about how their families are doing, or having your own spouse/partner/family/roommate also working or learning from your shared living space. It’s a lot to juggle at once. Hopefully, you have settled into a new normal and have somewhat of a routine down, but there will still be hard days.
Today I am not going to give you any teaching tips. I’m not going to give you any advice for handling a technology issue or correcting poor technique through a fuzzy screen. I don’t have suggestions on online class management, virtual ensemble videos, or how to work with a student from afar who prefers hands-on games.
I want to check in with you as a person. Not you as a teacher—you as a human. A human who is trying to navigate this strange new world. Don’t forget about your physical and mental needs, and make time to deal with the stress before it builds up and becomes unmanageable. Here are a few ideas to cope with the stress or for when you’re overwhelmed.
Get out of your house and go for a long walk or a run. By getting outside, you’re allowing your brain to clear and you’re getting fresh air. The weather is warming up everywhere and sunshine has so many benefits! Vitamin D is called “the sunshine vitamin” for a reason and contributes to brain health, muscle health, and helps relieve stress.
An excellent way to relax is to do a jigsaw puzzle. Make sure you choose a picture you’ll enjoy looking at (in pieces) for a long time and settle in for a calm night. Light a candle, listen to some music or a podcast while you puzzle it out, and just enjoy the silence. I’ve found that a key to a fulfilling puzzle experience is finding the right difficulty level for you. If you love a serious challenge or you’re a puzzle whiz, you might want a 3,000 piece puzzle with varied tones of the same color. If you’re more like me, you might relax better with a 1,000 piece puzzle that has a lot of different colors and isn’t too difficult.
3. Read a Book
There are a lot of studies that show the benefits of reading consistently: it increases your empathy and vocabulary, it strengthens your brain and alleviates depression. At the end of a long day, there is nothing quite like curling up in a cozy chair with a good book and forgetting your troubles for a little while. Escape into a different world and view things with a new perspective. I love historical fiction and memoirs of inspiring people, but there is a genre for everyone!
4. Watch a Movie/TV Show
As amazing as it is to read a good book, I’ll be honest and say that some days leave me too tired to focus on the words on the page. On days like that, I like to turn on a movie or binge-watch my favorite TV show. Rewatching my favorite movies and TV shows is like visiting with old friends and the familiarity lets me destress in a way that is uniquely comforting.
5. Breathing Exercises
There are multiple breathing exercises you can try and the goal of any of these is to reduce stress and anxiety. There’s the classic method: take three deep breaths. One of my favorite breathing exercises is the 4-7-8 method. Breathe in for 4 seconds, hold the breath for 7 seconds, and slowly exhale for 8 seconds. The goal of any of these breathing exercises is to reduce stress and anxiety. Runners tell you that it helps regulate your breathing to inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth. Try it out and let me know what you think.
6. Spa Night
We may not be able to go to an actual spa, but you can treat yourself to an at-home spa night. Take a bubble bath or do a face mask, or do a face mask while you soak in a bubble bath! Light some candles and relax. You could watch a movie, listen to music, or just close your eyes and enjoy the serenity.
7. Do a pilates/yoga video
Pilates and yoga are fantastic for overall health, increasing your flexibility and your energy level. Something that I’ve experienced with pilates is that it engages your whole body in a way that you are focused on that and nothing else. Anything that you might be worrying about or feeling stressed about fades away. You reach the end of your session and realize you hadn’t thought about your troubles once the entire time. The great news is that there are almost unlimited resources available online that you can take advantage of at home. I promise you will have renewed energy and motivation to face a new day.
You spend all day on some kind of video conferencing platform, whether it’s FaceTime or Zoom or Skype, but that is for teaching and for work. We are so fortunate we live in a time with such instant connection! We’re all missing social interactions right now and you might dearly love those you live with, but it can be so refreshing for your soul to connect with others too! Take 15 minutes to call someone you don’t live with and chat. This can be a lonely time, so make sure to spend virtual time with people outside of your home life.
You may feel like you spend all day listening already, between the people you live with and your students. But change it up and listen to something different. Listen to music just for fun. Listen to your favorite pop or country or rock song and sing along at the top of your lungs. Listen to a podcast. Listen to an audiobook and get lost in a world completely different from your own. I love listening to all of these things while I’m walking or running, or doing a puzzle, or taking a bubble bath with my face mask on.
How many of these have you already done during the pandemic? These are not revolutionary ideas; instead, think of this as a gentle reminder from a friend to do something simple to take care of yourself. I see you, friend, and I appreciate you. I see how hard you’re working, harder than ever before. It’s good to pause and take time to rejuvenate and let go of the stress. How are you doing?