There are only nine days of classes then five days of finals and this semester is over – and I’m not sure I’m going to make it. I see the same look in my students’ eyes. Stress, fear, exhaustion. I am overwhelmed by a plague of personal and professional struggles, and then, just yesterday, the IRS told us we owe $10,000 – and while I was on the phone telling my husband about this new trouble the dog threw up. It was (is) just too much. I sat on the floor and cried. Right next to the dog mess.
I am not alone with the exhausting struggle to get through life. I have colleagues battling cancer and students fighting through grief. Even without outside pressure, the end of the semester – especially the Spring Semester – is hard. We are worn down, but must push through final projects and papers and exams (and the grading). This is stressful when we are at our best, but too many of my students (and colleagues) must add in sick family members and pets, financial worries, and job woes. School is hard. Life is hard. And mixing the two together can create a pressure cooker bomb. That may be why Allison Hitt’s blog post “End-of-Semester Self-Care” made me cry. Or maybe it was just the dog vomit.
Hitt closes her post urging us all to remember that we are worthy of self-care. As I’ve blogged before, I’m trying really hard to make self-care a priority – a top priority – by caring for my physical and emotional health. Last week when life got to be too much I put an urgent distress call to my friends and abandoned my family to spend time laughing and drinking and eating and whining. Yesterday, I just chose to spend an hour with Game of Thrones (I had to teach last night so the alcohol solution didn’t seem wise and I didn’t really have time for anything more ambitious) after cleaning up the dog mess. It did put things in perspective – after all, no one had gouged my eyes out or smashed my head to a pulp, so I had that going for me. And, sometimes, it is easier to rage at the injustice done to fictional characters than to think about the ways that I, my peers, and my students have been wronged, cheated, and abused.
However, I have a life time of experience in the art and science of self-care (and the consequences of not attending to it) while our students often lack the experience and mentors to guide them. I try to model self-care to my students and provide examples of stress management (and the effects of not managing stress) in our casual conversations before and after class, but I also take it one step further. I devote actual class time every semester, at this time of peak stress, to relieving some of the pressure through writing. Here are my three strategies for beating end-of-semester stress:
Slam It Out
Slam Poetry has long been a highlight of Morehead Writing Project events and last year I started using it in my classroom. I find it useful to jumpstart passion projects, but its true value is found in combatting end-of-semester stress or Detoxifying Student Stress.
Praise It Out
Every time I lead writers in a session of Praise Poetry I am reminded of the positive power of affirmation. It is probably a flaw in my character, but I have trouble with the gratitude prompt that so many suggest as a stress-reduction tool. However, writing words of praise for myself and for the people and institutions that make my life better works for me – and, I have found, works pretty great for others as well.
Fake It Out
We all know that laughter is the best medicine. That is why the therapy session I mentioned above (meeting my friends at a bar) was so powerful. Alcohol helps, sure, but laughter works best of all and that can be served over ice cream or hot chocolate just as easily. I cannot remember so much laughter in a class as the session where we created fake flyers unless it was the class where we created memes. I know that I often create memes and six-word stories as a quick release valve when I don’t have enough time to really write it out. And I still cherish the look on my students’ faces when I brought in blank paper and crayons. Clearly we don’t give our grown up students enough chances to play and create.
I always like to wrap up our semester with reflection, but now I also spend at least one hour of our final few together helping my students combat stress through creative expression. How do you help your students beat stress? How do you promote self-care in your classes? Is it our job to teach our students about self-care?