Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses people face. It can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience or a lifelong struggle. For teachers, this time in our history is particularly ripe for depression because of the instability of our jobs, the necessity of social distancing (which makes connecting to your social support more challenging), and the unexpected havoc of moving from in-person to remote learning last year.
When you are feeling depressed, you will typically feel symptoms constantly during each day, and daily for some time. Some of the symptoms include sadness, anger, frustration, loss of interest in activities that you normally love, changes in your sleeping patterns, lack of energy, appetite and weight fluctuation, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, cognitive issues, suicidal thoughts or frequent thoughts of death, and physical issues like unexplained back pain and headaches.
Depression is an interruption of life, although with all the changes teachers are experiencing, it may be difficult to identify whether the symptoms are being caused from life being interrupted or if life is being interrupted because of the symptoms.
Talk to Your Doctor
There’s a lot of misconception and stigma surrounding mental illnesses, including depression, but we need to start thinking of mental illness in the same ways we think of physical illness, especially since some mental illnesses are caused by physical differences in a person’s chemistry or genetic makeup.
Talking to your doctor about feeling depressed should be similar to talking to them about having migraines or insomnia. If you view it as a valid health concern (which it is), you are more likely to be able to make an appointment and talk to your doctor about it.
Some people put off speaking with their doctor because they don’t want to be put on medication, but medication is not the only available treatment for depression. If you don’t want to take medicine, you don’t have to. Your doctor should be able to recommend some alternatives, including possibly referring you to a counselor in your area. If your doctor doesn’t do this, seek a second opinion.
If you are worried about seeing a counselor and have never sought one because of social stigma, know that seeing a counselor is actually very common - and becoming even more common right now due to the mental health crisis brought on by the pandemic. Talking to someone about the things that are troubling you can really help you process what’s happening and build your emotional resilience.
Teaching is such a demanding and “caring”-centered vocation that sharing that burden with someone of a similar “caring” profession can be especially beneficial.
If you are completely uncomfortable talking to a doctor or counselor, consider talking to a religious leader, a friend, or a family member. Just don’t face depression alone.
Keep Doing the Things You Love
Hobbies and socializing with friends can be especially difficult when you’re feeling depressed, but there may be some benefit to making yourself stick to some of those things you used to enjoy even while you’re depressed.
Sometimes the routine of a hobby or doing something you’ve always enjoyed can give you a spark of joy. While you may not be feeling you are at your best, it can also be comforting to continue doing things you know and used to.
While it doesn’t “fix” your depression and shouldn’t be expected to, it may relieve some of your symptoms temporarily, like taking an over-the-counter medication for physical pain. It’s not the cure if you have an underlying condition, but it may make the symptoms easier to deal with.
That being said, there will be times when you want to keep doing the things you love and you just won’t be able to make yourself. Have some self-compassion in those moments.
Just as you might need extra rest if you have a cold or the flu, you need extra rest when you are experiencing a mental illness. Let your body get more rest, within reason.
Rest is absolutely vital during the school year, and most teachers don’t make it the priority that they desperately need to. Don’t fall into that trap. Make rest a non-negotiable, or you’ll find mental illness much more difficult to beat.
Make and Stick to a Routine
Routines are helpful for all sorts of things. Sometimes the lack of routine in summer can push a teacher into depression all on its own. There’s something a little traumatic about going from a 24/7 schedule to a relaxed, largely responsibility-free couple of weeks or months. Settling into inactivity can be a struggle for a lot of teachers.
If you find yourself in this situation, make a rough schedule. You may be missing the structure of the classroom and time management required to keep things running during the school year. There’s nothing wrong with getting up and going to bed at a decent hour, nor is it a bad idea to schedule housework, a time for self-selected study, exercise, meal preparation, eating, and even time with friends into your daily activities.
Routines are healthy for your body, mind, and soul.
Along with talking to a professional, getting enough rest, and doing the things you once loved, a routine can really help you calm some of your symptoms.
During the school year, you’ve already likely gotten a routine down (or may be adjusting to a “remote-teaching” routine - something that can trigger depression on its own). Learn to lean into a good routine and let it soothe you.
Look At Something Other Than Your Problems
When feeling depressed, it’s easy to find yourself focusing only on your problems. If you’re worried about losing your job, frustrated with your team, feeling a lack of control in your career, or just overwhelmed by your lack of success in transitioning to remote learning, it’s hard to see anything outside of the shadow of those thoughts and issues.
Take a purposeful break from trying to solve your problems. Do a puzzle, solve a virtual crime on an app, play a board game, paint something, or do something handy around the house. Giving your brain permission to get lost in something other than the problem constantly gnawing at you can be a welcome relief.
During the school year, you may find yourself overwhelmed with so much to distract you that you forget that you are depressed, but if you don’t treat it, it’s possible to relapse. Be sure that you maintain a balance between distraction and self-care that’s focused on your depression.
Invest in Someone Else
Sometimes listening to a friend talk about their worries will give you a much-needed break from your own. Consider helping someone find an item they’ve been searching for (like a certain brand of toilet paper), helping a friend pack or unpack from a move, taking someone else’s pets for a walk, or cooking for a friend who’s just had surgery.
You may even find ways to help at an area nonprofit, like a church or a food pantry.
Again, helping others isn’t a cure for depression, but like many of the suggestions above, it can definitely help you as you manage your symptoms.
As an educator, you spend a lot of time doing this during the school year, but sometimes investments need to be outside your “typical” pattern to help relieve symptoms.
Depression is hard. It’s an illness, and you have to give yourself care, time, space, and compassion as you recover. Talk to a professional and implement a few strategies to help you manage your symptoms.
Recovery is not only possible, it is probable in most cases, with the proper care and management
Here are a few links that have useful phone numbers you can call if you need to talk to someone about your depression and are having trouble taking the first step.