With each school year comes the chance to be proactive about your health. You can fight off chronic low energy, constant sniffles and stress headaches before they pull you under. In fact, not having a plan for maintaining your health while pouring passion into your profession will leave you fried by spring, says Mike Anderson, author of The Well-Balanced Teacher. “We have to consider taking care of ourselves as a primary part of our job,” he says.
To make it easier, adopt these 7 habits to keep your mind and body running smoothly:
1. Take a mindful break. Even just a few minutes of relaxation a day will help your body’s stress response, says Mindy Mayol, student wellness course director in the department of kinesiology at the University of Indianapolis. Find a peaceful place at school or home where you can try deep breathing exercises, or take a short walk in the halls or outside the building. Getting a bit of nature helps us relate back to our kinesthetic selves. Before you know it, you’ll notice that those stress hormones are letting up a bit, Mayol says.
2. Squash allergens. Reduce mold, dust, pollen and other allergy triggers in your classroom by regularly wiping down computer screens, your desktop and other places that collect dust quickly. Certified indoor environmentalist Tony Abate suggests keeping a portable air purifier in your classroom and putting a doormat outside your classroom door. The mat, he says, will keep some of the debris, including pollen, from tracking inside the room.
3. Be vigilant about germs. Michigan first-grade teacher Jennifer Korte wipes down her students’ desks every day with disinfectant, and she makes sure the children wash their hands every time they go near their noses. To make sure the germs don’t travel, she washes her own hands at the end of the school day before heading to her car, and she changes her clothes when she gets home. Abate also suggests that teachers wipe down classroom doorknobs at the beginning and end of each day.
4. Schedule physical activity. It’s not enough to resolve to move more. You have to schedule it, says Jolene Moore, a wellness consultant with Jolene Moore Complete Life. Put exercise on your calendar as a visual reminder to yourself and others. Or make it a date with a friend so you’ll be accountable if you’re tempted to skip. Just be realistic about your time and interests: “Don’t be afraid of the time factor,” Moore says. “You have lunch or 10 minutes after school—do something that’s reasonable.” The results keep your body healthy, plus the workout keeps your energy up.
5. Pack a healthful lunch. Tempted to skip lunch? Besides a growling stomach, you’ll also have low energy and an urge to polish off a bag of cookies after school. Plan ahead for your weekly meals, use leftovers for a quick lunch, or make packing your lunch part of the routine when making your kids’ lunches. Try to make lunch a balance of complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, plus fat, protein and fiber. That helps keep blood sugars stable in the afternoon, says dietitian Jennifer Reilly. “This helps with attention span, the ability to multitask and patience,” says Reilly, author of Cooking With Trader Joe’s Cookbook: Skinny Dish!
6. Think before you drink. Our body needs a lot of water—half your weight in ounces, so 60 ounces for a 120-pound person—but many of us don’t consume enough. We do, however, reach for the caffeine and sugar to keep us going when we feel low on energy. Although regular coffee drinkers can count their favorite beverage in their daily water count, Reilly says, coffee acts as a diuretic for some people—not good when you need to stay at the head of the class—and keeps you from getting a good night’s sleep. If you need an afternoon energy boost, try an energizing herbal tea, water with lemon or even a quick walk in the hall.
7. Get some ZZZs. Aim for 7-8 hours a night, Reilly advises. You’ll be rewarded with more energy, less stress and an inclination to eat healthier. When you run on empty, you produce more of the stress hormone cortisol, store more fat, and have with an increased appetite for simple carbs and junk food, Reilly says. To make sure you get enough sleep, plan for it. Author Anderson suggests figuring out your daily routine, plus how early you need to get up, then count back seven hours to find your ideal bedtime.
Read “How to Create Healthy Habits a Step at a Time” to find easy-to-implement strategies that can help you make a commitment to self-care and achieve optimal wellness.