Acts of Self-Care for Educators: Exercise
Teaching is a high-pressure, high-stress job. Research shows that the most common reason educators leave the profession is stress. And that was before the global pandemic. Now, over half of educators say they’re feeling high levels of burnout, fatigue, and anxiety. Self-care for teachers is more important than ever. At the same time, it currently feels even harder to fit self-care into our busy schedules. Over the next few months, we’ll cover simple ways teachers can better their mental health with acts of self-care. This week, we’re focusing on exercise and the many exercise benefits on mental health! Next week is all about pampering!
We recently sent out an email asking our readers (teachers) to name an act of self-care they had done for themselves in the past week. Of the 273 replies, 41 mentioned exercise. In this post, we’ll talk about how exercise benefits mental health, and we’ll share some simple ideas for incorporating exercise into your routine.
How Exercise Benefits Mental Health
Exercise feels good, both physically and mentally. It can relieve symptoms of mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. It reduces stress, promotes better sleep, and improves confidence. Exercise can even help prevent mental health problems before they start. Let’s take a closer look at the many exercise benefits on mental health.
Reduce Symptoms of Mental Health Conditions
Educators experience higher levels of anxiety and stress than the average adult. 27% of teachers also report struggling with depression, in comparison to just 10% of other adults. Mental health professionals sometimes prescribe exercise as part of treatment for conditions like anxiety, depression, panic disorder, and more.
Exercise makes us less sensitive to the body’s reaction to anxiety. Studies show that over time, people who exercise find it easier to calm the brain when they feel anxious or stressed.
In addition, exercise may be as effective as other treatments for depression. It reduces inflammation in the body, which has a significant positive effect on people with depression.
Exercise is a positive way for people with panic disorder to release feelings of tension, worry, and fear. In some cases, it even reduces the frequency and intensity of panic attacks.
Teaching, especially now, takes a toll on our mental health. Exercise is a positive and healthy way to feel better mentally.
Decrease Stress Hormones
Unquestionably, teaching is one of the most stressful jobs in the world. Fortunately, exercise helps decrease stress hormones in the body, like cortisol. At the same time, it increases the body’s natural mood booster, endorphins.
Physical activity is also a positive distraction from negative thoughts and stressful experiences. It can help our minds and bodies reach a zen-like state of calm and positivity.
And exercise is linked to lower physiological reactivity to stress. When you exercise, stress affects you less. You’re better able to cope with current stress and manage future stress. That’s a powerful tool for any educator!
In addition to boosting your mood, exercise can boost your confidence. You feel stronger, healthier, and more capable. As a teacher dealing with pressure from all sides, it’s sometimes difficult to feel confident in yourself and your work. Exercise can put you in a better mental space to tackle new and ongoing challenges with confidence and strength.
Other Exercise Benefits on Mental Health
Exercise indirectly benefits mental health in other ways, too. For example, it promotes better sleep. That’s important because sleep deprivation is closely linked to mental health problems. Better sleep means a clearer, more positive frame of mind. It also means you’re more focused and alert as you manage your classroom and solve problems on the fly.
Physical activity is good for your immune system and, of course, your overall physical health. When we feel good physically, we feel better mentally too.
Finally, many physical activities can double as social activities. Exercise can be a great way to connect with others and tap into a network of social support, providing another powerful mental health boost.
Ideas for Getting Active
After a long day in the classroom, we don’t always feel like exercising. And sometimes it feels like there’s simply not enough time to add “physical activity” to our already long to-do lists. But exercise routines don’t have to be especially demanding or time-consuming. Even a little light exercise throughout the week allows you to tap into the many exercise benefits on mental health.
In our email survey, we asked teachers to name one act of self-care they had done that week. Here are a few answers involving exercise:
- “I’ve been going on daily walks for the past few weeks.” -Heather D.
- “I’ve taken some time to stretch the past three days.” -Anna B.
- “I just (finally) started doing yoga. The video sessions are on Amazon Prime.” -Melissa D.
- “I did a spin class.” -Erika Q.
- “I did yoga and then took my dog for a long walk!”-Amber S.
- “I make sure to work out every other day and take a walk in the evenings with my son, who will be leaving for college soon.” -Sherry M.
- “I start the day with a gym session, and this is my gift to myself. It helps me start the day on just the right note.” -Shrean H.
- “My act of self-care was consciously not answering emails that showed up in my inbox and instead going out hiking. Guilt-free!” -Melanie M.
- “I walk every day on the treadmill.” -Mary G.
- “My self-care was going for a run. Running is my way to let go of all the stress!” -Sherri G.
- “I took a 3.6-mile walk with my dog…and did it in one hour!” -Patricia R.
So, take a few walks with a loved one or a furry friend. Join a yoga class, a spin class, or something else you enjoy. Or find yoga, Zumba, or Pilates videos to follow along with from the comfort of your own home. Ride an exercise bike while watching a show you love or listening to a favorite podcast. Go running or hiking. Simple, enjoyable physical activity is an act of self-care that will benefit your mental health immensely.
Promoting Exercise for Students
Our students are stressed too, and that brings more stress into our classrooms and lives. You can encourage your students to also enjoy the exercise benefits on mental health with the following strategies:
- Explain some of the benefits, like feeling less stressed, and more energized and positive.
- Be a good role model by sharing what you do for exercise.
- Incorporate movement in classroom activities and brain breaks, like yoga.
- Emphasize that exercise is fun. It can be running around the yard with a pet, playing a favorite sport, riding bikes, or enjoying a game of tag or hide-and-seek with friends.
Final Thoughts: Exercise Benefits on Mental Health
Exercise is one of the most powerful acts of self-care, for both our bodies and our minds. Now more than ever, the exercise benefits on mental health are important and much needed for educators everywhere. Make a little time each week to run, walk, ride a bike, participate in a gym class, or do some yoga. Get a group of fellow educators together to make it an enjoyable social activity! However you choose to get moving, it’ll put you in a better mental and emotional space to manage our challenging profession.