Two Ways to Find (And Maintain) Your Joy as an Early Childhood Educator
Okay, let’s be honest for a second. This past year was, to put it mildly, rough. As local, state, and federal guidance for COVID-19 safety was frequently adjusted with the rise and fall of cases, our work as early childhood educators was in a constant state of uncertainty and change.
What are the cleaning protocols? Have masking requirements changed? Have my ratios been adjusted to ensure social distancing? Do I have any toilet paper? These questions, and others, drove many of the interactions we had and every decision we made.
As an educator who has primarily worked in elementary school settings, I am acutely aware of the joy summer can bring. It serves as a time to reflect, recharge, and recommit to another year of important work. This summer, however, feels different.
As we approach the new school year, I can’t help but sense a growing anxiety manifesting as a dense knot between my neck and my left shoulder blade. My chiropractor calls it stress. COVID-19 cases are on the rise again, and the well-formed re-opening plans we crafted—the plans we were hoping would bring a sense of normalcy— are starting to shift.
When I begin to feel my stress level rising, I remind myself to pause; reflect; engage in self-care; smile; and, most importantly, find my joy.
Plan to take care of yourself.
Our work revolves around supporting the needs of children and families. Even during a typical school year, it can be grueling, both physically and emotionally. In less challenging times, it can be easy to let self-care fall by the wayside. These days, it can feel especially difficult to carve out time to care for ourselves, but try we must.
At the start of any journey on an airplane, the flight attendant reminds passengers to, in the event of an emergency, don their own oxygen masks before assisting others. The same idea applies here. To support children and partner with families—to be our best selves—we must secure our own oxygen masks first. There are many ways we can “tighten the straps” of this metaphorical life-saving device. Consider trying and committing to one of the following self-care strategies.
- Meditation and mindfulness exercises
- Creative activities
- Deep breathing
- Connection with others
Remember to plan and follow through with the strategy you select. It can take time to become comfortable with a new routine, so try to engage in the chosen activity consistently. Set a schedule, create a routine, add alarms on your phone, or mark a calendar. Do anything that might serve as a helpful nudge to stick to your regimen. Following your game plan can be a game-changer.
Smile for yourself.
Did you know that “fake it till you make it” is actually a real thing? Psychologists, supported by the works of Charles Darwin and William James, discovered that if you place a pencil in your mouth, you may begin to feel a bit happier. 1 How does this work? Because your face takes on the characteristics of a smile when you hold a pencil between your teeth, your brain begins to identify your expression as your emotional state. In turn, the brain’s recognition of this new emotional state allows it to send out chemical signals to reduce stress and increase feelings of happiness. Isn’t the brain amazing? The next time you find yourself feeling a bit down or overwhelmed, try taking a moment to simply smile!
As you think about the coming weeks and months, you may be wary of what lies ahead. Will there be bumps along the way? It’s likely. Will everything go exactly as planned? Probably not. But this time, you’re prepared, armed with a smile and an unflappable self-care routine. As new challenges present themselves, remember to take time to care for yourself and smile. With these strategies, you will discover your joy in no time!
1. McGonigal, K. (2012, August 1). Smile your way out of stress? Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-science-willpower/201208/smile-your-way-out-stress