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The Balancing Act of Self-Care

By Luz Stella Martinez
The Balancing Act of Self-Care

A relaxed sunny day at home with nice coffee and a good book to read. (Photo source: Microsoft Copilot AI)

The Setting

As educators, we are intricately connected to our students’ wellbeing. However, how often do we ask how much we care about ourselves? Moira Lawler, in her article titled What Is Self-Care, and Why Is It So Important for Your Health? succinctly captures the essence. “Self-care means taking care of yourself so that you can be healthy, well, and capable of fulfilling your responsibilities.” It sounds like common sense. Yet, how often do we neglect it?

Let’s weave in another thread, the nomadic existence as international educators. We traverse the globe imparting knowledge, creating memories, and savoring the richness of diverse cultures. Our students, even our own children, become global citizens, their perspectives enriched by the mosaic of backgrounds they encounter. International educators may agree that this lifestyle can be pretty rewarding. The downside? Living without the support from extended family or friends. Learning to find solace in airport terminals, to cherish virtual reunions, and to redefine the meaning of home. It is a way of life where emotional and mental health are constantly stretched.

My Personal Journey

A four-year journey that led me to a crossroads of physical and mental exhaustion started back in 2020- pandemic times, lockdowns, and a swift transition to online home working. The fear for our health and that of our loved ones back home loomed large and was a daily mental and emotional stretch. And so, like countless educators worldwide, I navigated this uncharted territory, coping with work and family life, and emerging both safe and resilient. 2021 brought the emotional rollercoaster of job hunting- a test of mental endurance. Another year of uncertainty and lockdowns. The school year went by with a new job secured. The familiar glow of accomplishment warmed my spirit. 2022 was the time to say farewell to our decade-long host country, and hello to a fresh start near family. I had a new classroom with fresh responsibilities. Yet the physical, mental, and emotional stretch was there. 2023 came with an unexpected twist—a welcomed opportunity—that brought new horizons, and again farewell to newly forged friendships, continuing the emotional stretch across continents.

Here I was, my third country in as many years. A fresh school with a canvas of exciting opportunities. Time to immerse myself in a new culture, connect with lovely people, and explore historic locales. Yet, beneath the surface, something gnawed at me—an inner bell tolling.

The Decision 

 I recognized the symptoms—the telltale signs of exhaustion. My body pleaded for respite, for self-compassion. I dismissed the warning signals, thinking that perhaps a week off or a yoga session would suffice. After all, professional success and achievements adorned my path. Yet, paradoxically, each day left me more drained. The quality of my work waned; improvisation replaced precision in my lessons. I became irritable, anxious at work while things were not better at home.

Then came the tipping point. My physical vessel rebelled—intense back pain, joint and muscle aches, migraines. Years of mental exhaustion and emotional burnout had etched their marks upon me, yet the prospect of quitting my work sent shivers down my spine. And so, I grappled with a choice: to heed the silent cries within or to persist in a damaging cycle of workaholic lifestyle and mental health neglect. The nomadic life, with its allure and challenges, demanded a recalibration. Self-care now stood as my lifeline—a compass guiding me toward restoration and resilience. At last, a pivotal moment arrived—an undeniable push toward a decision I’d postponed for months. Summoning courage, I placed myself at the forefront and resigned from my job. The prospect was daunting, yet I was convinced that nothing could be worse than my life at that juncture.

What Did I Learn?

Today, I pen this article as a testimonial—a lifeline for those who sense that inner bell tolling. As educators, we often bear silent burdens. The weight of excessive work, family responsibilities, or even professional development to keep up with an increasingly competitive field can lead to physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion. Now I realize how mind-draining the last four years were. How I deliberately neglected the signs that my body was giving throughout all this time. The illusion of feeling well despite brain fog, exhaustion, or even procrastination. I learned firsthand that self-compassion is equally important as healthy eating or exercising. That universal truth: teachers need self-care.

I've been at home for almost three months, during this time I’ve had to re-learn how to accept, enjoy, and feel grateful for having time for myself, to consciously care for my mental health by doing things that I never had time for, like reading a book or enjoying the pleasure of cooking. I feel like I am on the right path to recovery, but I know I still need more time. 

The Strategies

Improving wellbeing and mental health requires us to consciously “make time” for ourselves. This isn’t passive idleness, but instead purposeful rejuvenation. Some suggestions are:

  1. Step outside: Breathe in the earth’s rhythms, and let nature heal you. A walk in the woods or a moment by the sea can work wonders.
  2. Volunteer: Extend your heart and hands to others. Giving your time not only benefits those you serve but also nourishes your soul.
  3. Quality Family Time: Shared laughter, heartfelt conversations, and simple togetherness replenish your spirit.
  4. Handiwork and Gardening: Engage in tactile creativity. Crafting or gardening offers a meditative escape.
  5. Meditate: Still your mind. Breathe. Let go. Meditation restores balance and clarity.
  6.  Pause: Sometimes, the most profound self-care lies in stopping. A day, a week, a semester—allow yourself the gift of pause.
  7. Self-Compassion: Be kind to yourself. Celebrate small victories—a well-prepared lesson, a student’s “aha” moment, or surviving a chaotic Zoom call.
  8. Set Boundaries: Teachers are notorious for over-committing. Learn to say no. Set professional boundaries. Protect your weekends to recharge and self-care.

These small but meaningful actions can be transformative. You’ll emerge recharged, ready to resume life’s journey, or perhaps embark on a thrilling new adventure. The trick? Consciously heed the bells within and bravely make time for yourself.

How do you find balancing self-care and stress/responsibilities? I would love to hear from you. 

Luz Stella Martinez has been an international (International Baccalaureate) educator for almost 10 years, currently based in the United Kingdom.



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