Teacher Wellness Must Come First

Teaching is a Higher Calling but NOT at the Risk of Your Health or Fitness

Whenever I’m stressed out and overwhelmed, I stop doing certain things. I try to pare down my list of to-do’s, and inevitably exercise falls by the wayside.

Why is it that I choose not to exercise at these times?

Is it because deep down, I don’t really enjoy exercise? Is it because exercise feels like an “extra” in my day – something that is a bonus and can be done when everything else falls into place? Is it because I see it as some kind of construct of maintaining a conventionally attractive level of fitness and is therefore superficial?

I think it is all of these things. What may be the most compelling rationalization for not exercising, though, stems from the fact that the work that I’m doing each day feels “more important” and therefore more deserving of my time and energy.

When I was a teacher, the work I did felt like a higher calling. It was important and of value and it made a difference in the world.

The work that I’m doing now to support my educator colleagues also feels like a higher calling. There is so much to do to expand my reach and help more teachers, and I feel like I will never have enough time to do what needs to be done.

I suspect this sense of time scarcity is a rather common experience for most of us, so you may identify with my perspective when I ask myself the question, “What difference does it makes in the world if I lift a few weights or do some cardio or practice yoga?”

But I realize now is that this question is flawed.

Moving, stretching, and strengthening my body DOES actually make a difference in the world, albeit indirectly.

It makes a difference in my health. It makes a difference in my stress management. It makes a difference in my energy level and stamina. It makes a difference in my connectedness to my body and its signals. It makes a difference because I can do my work better and with more resilience.

I now realize that not exercising isn’t some grand sacrifice for the greater good. It’s not a form of social activism to ignore my health and fitness. I’m not “sticking it to the Man” by skipping my workout.

So, okay, I’m in. I’m sold. I get it, and I understand the value. And yet, in spite of this understanding, I still feel resistance to carving out the time.

So, as a way to reduce the real-life friction points that keep me from exercising, I have been trying different schedules and strategies.

For a while, I tried to do what my husband does on some of the days he works from home – work for a couple of hours and then hit the gym around 9:30 - 10:00ish. I like this idea in theory, but I am at my most productive in the morning and don’t want to stop my momentum to go work out. I like to make the most of my thinking/writing/working mojo before lunch, with short breaks. Otherwise I don’t get as much work done, and I get anxious.

My new thing right now is to exercise for 20 or so minutes first thing in the morning at home. I do some YouTube yoga in my home office, or if I’m feeling particularly ambitious, some old-school calisthenics in my living room. I am sure I look as silly as I feel, doing jumping jacks and burpees in the dim light of the rising sun.

Today I’m going to get back into kickboxing after falling out of it for a while. The class is at noon, so I still get my morning for the more challenging tasks of writing and creating other content. We’ll see.

Ultimately, what I think I have to do is just keep doing something. Early morning yoga or jumping jacks. Noon kickboxing. Afternoon walks or bike rides. Whatever it takes to get it done, even if I don’t really feel like it (which is most of the time, to be honest).

If you are naturally motivated to exercise, that is fantastic and I celebrate it. If you are more like me and less naturally motivated, here are some things to consider that I have found to be helpful.

  • Find clarity about why you resist exercising and then question it.

    • Is it a rejection of the pressure to look a certain way? Is it being tired of having so many “shoulds” in your life? Is it fear of looking silly or being bad at it or getting injured?

    • Ask yourself if the beliefs around your resistance are actually TRUE, and if not, how do you begin to soften or let go of these beliefs to move forward.

  • Stop with all the pressure you put on yourself (or is it just me?). 😉

    • It doesn’t matter what it looks like: A ten-minute walk counts! Stretching counts! Booty-shaking in the privacy of your home counts!

    • And it doesn’t matter if your momentum falters: Missing a day/week/month is okay as long as you keep coming back!

  • Put systems into place to reduce the friction points

    • If you exercise in the morning, put your clothes right next to the bed so you see them first thing.

    • If you exercise after school, pack your clothes the night before and put the bag in the car with your purse/work bag/etc. Don’t go home! Go right to your workout destination.

    • Get a friend to exercise with you as an accountability buddy, supporter, and someone to keep it fun.

What it comes down to is that you’re a smart person, and you can come up with lots of reasons why it is too impractical/unrealistic/overwhelming/exhausting to exercise. I’ve been there. But as I’ve come to realize, as valid as some of these reasons may be, you STILL should move, stretch, and in some way exercise your body anyway.

Making the choice to exercise and actually following through on it will have a profound impact on your life and the lives of the people you love, support, and teach. Your work is important and needed. YOU are important and needed. Take care of the one body you get, so you can keep doing all the awesomeness you do every day.