Relax, Reset, Repeat

When my brother and I were kids, we loved going to amusement parks – the excitement, the aromas, the unique din in the air – we couldn’t get enough. We especially liked the rides – sheer abandonment and controlled terror made the experience particularly appealing. One day, we saw the ultimate ride: the Spinning Spider. It looked like a horizontal Ferris wheel with 8 “legs” extending from the Spider, each "leg” with a circular pod at the end, and each pod with a wheel in the middle. When the Spider began to spin, some riders added to the excitement by turning the pod’s wheel so that it would rotate at the same time. I thought, “Spinning on top of spinning? I’m IN!!”

It was a spectacular concept. I’m not sure if I understood all the science behind revolutions and rotations, but I certainly knew it would be awesome. My brother and I excitedly hopped in and he grabbed the wheel. He wanted to control the speed of the pod, increasing and decreasing its speed at will. He started slowly and continued to build momentum. At first, it was euphoric – dizzying and equally gratifying – just like what I imagined! But as the pod started to spin faster, my initial euphoria turned into mild concern, then measured anxiety, then outright panic. We were spinning out of control! A few seconds later, the Spinning Spider came to an abrupt stop – jolting all the riders – a precaution taken by the ride operator enacting the emergency stop button. I was relieved. That seemed to be the only way to regain control of the ride and, ostensibly, my brother!

For many educators, teaching during the pandemic has felt a lot like the Spinning Spider (without the initial fun, of course). Though the chaos at the onset of the pandemic felt overwhelming – a student needed tech support, a parent wanted help with a math problem, a family needed food services – it seemed somewhat manageable because there was some semblance of control. This extreme level of support, however, is no longer manageable nor is it sustainable. Many educators have expressed feelings of extreme emotional and physical exhaustion.

But there’s hope! Like the Spinning Spider, it’s time to hit the emergency stop button and regain some control.

But how do we do that? The first step to regaining control requires re-focus and re-commitment to self-care and fulfillment. And what better time to do that than now? With the holidays approaching, it’s the perfect time to replenish, rejuvenate, and reconnect with yourself before the new year. The advice I typically give teachers when they’re feeling overwhelmed includes the three steps I share below – it’s the same advice I give myself. Hopefully, during these times of heightened and prolonged stress, you can make use of some of these suggestions, as well.


  • Choose a specific time every day and schedule an hour for yourself. If that’s not possible, try to schedule at least ½ hour. Set aside this time for you and only you. Solicit the assistance of family and friends to ensure errands and chores are handled while you are busy with your most important assignment of the day – YOU. Since you’re not accustomed to taking time for yourself, don’t plan to do much for the first few days. Just make sure you actually take the time to prioritize yourself. The objective is to intentionally slow down for a purposeful pause. Do some light reading, meditate, listen to soft music, or just be silent and mindful. A nap counts, too, so if you’re so inclined, go for it!
  • After ~3-4 days of consistent time for yourself, integrate a calm(ing) activity you (used to) love doing that rejuvenates your spirit. You want to take this time to reset and reconnect with activities of replenishment and rejuvenation. Yoga, playing an instrument, journaling, or simply singing out loud to your favorite songs can do wonders for your psyche. Choose one activity and continuously integrate it into your self-care time. Try not to feel guilty, I know this is easier said than done, but you must take care of yourself before you can take care of others.
  • Continue this process every day until, hopefully, it becomes a habit. Mindful practices that are consistently embedded into your routine can improve your emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being. As a bonus, they can also significantly impact the well-being of those around you.

As teachers, it’s in your character to be selfless and altruistic. But in order to do that in the most impactful and sustainable way, you must take care of yourself if there’s any hope of not only surviving but thriving for the rest of the school year. As the saying goes, you can’t give your best if you’re not at your best. So, hit the emergency stop button, take a moment, and focus on self-care, mindfulness, and wellness. You deserve it!

For a list of referenced sources, click here.)

Dr. Murray is an educator, teacher educator, administrator, adjunct professor, researcher, professional developer, and consultant, who she has served within the field of education in myriad capacities including Phi Delta Kappa (PDK) International’s Board of Directors; New York State Master Teacher Professional Learning Team Facilitator; State University of New York at Old Westbury’s School of Education Advisory Board; New York State Association of Mathematics Supervisors (NYSAMS) Executive Board; Penn Literacy Network (PLN) faculty; and Editorial Panel Chair of Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School, a teacher journal published by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM); and as a Fulbright Specialist. She is a proud member of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY) and serves on its Board of Directors. (All views expressed are her own.) She can be contacted via her website www.tkmurray.com and found on Twitter @poly_math_.



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