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Empathy for YOU in Uncertain Times

We are living in an uncertain world especially now during this pandemic. Just living during this crisis impacts how we handle what we do and how we react to stress.

Stress is when you have multiple pressures that demand too much of you psychologically and physically. When you are stressed, you may believe that if you can just get everything under control, you will feel better. Stress involves “too much.” Stress can be perceived as negative if we don’t know how to react to that stress. There are signs that the stress you believe you cannot handle may be leading you toward burnout.

Being burned out means feeling empty, without any motivation, and beyond caring about what happens to you. When you experience burnout, you often don’t see any hope of positive change in your situations. Burnout means “not enough” or cannot cope anymore.

I know I’ve felt “too much” many days and “not enough” more than I would like. I’ve heard this from teachers, parents, and students. Covid19 is a worldwide crisis, and no one has ever dealt with a situation like this in over 100 years.

Everyone in the whole world is living with uncertainty during this pandemic. Educators who are stressed or possibly burned out told me that they are not able to balance work and home, especially when teaching remotely. Their own children may be learning remotely and they feel responsible for their learning. Or they were asked to teach face-to-face without the proper safety procedures in place. Or they’ve been asked to teach a hybrid version that adds even more stress.

Breathe. All of us need to pause and breathe.

I read Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead and have been following her for years. What I’ve learned is that it takes courage to be the authentic you. This video on empathy helped me understand the difference between sympathy and empathy and what it means to care about others. Empathy is feeling with people

Empathy is about caring for others, but it also means caring for YOU. Educators and other professionals who serve others tend to not take care of themselves first. It is not selfish to take care of you, but many of us went into education to be there for kids first. We need to put our mask on first. Because of the demands of teaching remotely during this pandemic, educators can become easily overwhelmed and find that they cannot handle stress or issues in their own lives. This constant stress can take a toll on us.

How are you now? I find myself not handling life as well as I used to during these last few months. I’m having trouble reading or finishing a book I started. I’m not able to focus on tasks as I did before. I’m listening to other educators who are telling me the same thing but they don’t feel comfortable sharing that they are feeling sad or scared or stressed. That is especially for teachers who are supposed to be strong and model strength. Several teachers told me that they felt shame for the way they were feeling.

“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can't survive.”

― Brené Brown

This is where I needed to pause and think about why we as educators feel shame for not living up to what we think others expect of us or what we expect of ourselves. I know I’m a perfectionist. I think many educators are also. This is the time to let go of thinking we can do it all. No one can do it all especially now. We need to give ourselves a break. We don’t want to move from being stressed to becoming burned out. It can happen without us realizing it.

As someone who is connected online with friends, family, and educators around the world, I didn’t realize I was burning out. One day, I stopped writing or calling anyone. I canceled events. I even took a break from Twitter and, if you know me, I’m always on Twitter. I’m used to working remotely, but it had been over six months since I received real hugs and been in a room at a conference or together with my children. I didn’t know how much longer I could do this.

I reached out for help. I contacted my family, a therapist, and a few people I felt I could talk to. I shared my concerns and they listened. It helped me that I could talk to them about my feeling bad and not being that “perfect” person I thought I was. I wasn’t shamed by them for what I said or for taking a break. I also heard that they were feeling the same way. I needed to reflect on what I was learning about me and my feelings so I started writing in my journal again. I used to write a note to add to my gratitude jar each morning. There’s something about writing what we’re grateful for that does something for your soul. I just wrote a note to put in the jar: “I’m grateful that I can take breaks to learn more about me.”

I realized that my mind was full. I had been distracting myself by being busy so I didn’t have to think about the pandemic. I lived to check off tasks on my To-Do list. I was a “Human Doing” instead of a “Human Being.” Now that I was taking more breaks during the day, I was more mindful of becoming really present. I found that “stressed” spelled backward is “desserts.” Chocolate really helps some days.

I now do breathing techniques throughout the day. When I focus on my breathing, I can feel alive and experience each moment as it unfolds. A few of the techniques I use are pretty easy.

  1. Sitting in my chair, I put my hand on my belly. I breathe in deeply to push my hand out and then breathe out feeling my hand go in. I do this 10 times slowly.

  2. If I really need to calm down, I make sure all of my devices are off and try to keep my mind from wandering. Then I do the breathing activity either in the chair or lying on the floor.

  3. If I’m even more stressed, I stop and blow on my thumb. It works by cooling off my thumb and calming the pulse in it. I do this until I feel more relaxed as I feel the cool air on my thumb.

“If we practice mindfulness, we always have a place to be when we are afraid.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

When I did the work to have empathy for me, I realized that being “right” or thinking I had to be “perfect” was all in my head. That “Inside Job” was keeping me from taking care of me. I found out I can practice mindfulness even if there is still a pandemic and we’re living with uncertainty. This is the time to take breaks, breathe, reach out for help if you need it, and address tough situations through empathy, mindfulness, and gratitude.

Barbara Bray


Twitter: @bbray27

Voxer: barbarabray48

Instagram: @bbray27

Barbara Bray is a creative learning strategist who has been on a journey to transform teaching and learning for over 30 years. Her story goes down multiple paths that helped her find what she is passionate about and been fighting for. Through her work as a teacher, author, instructional designer, speaker, coach, and podcast host, Barbara has been exploring ways she can make a difference in children’s lives.

"Define Your Why" is for anyone who wants to discover or re-discover their WHY. No matter who you are or what you do, you can define your WHY by getting to know all about you, your beliefs, strengths, skills, interests, and aspirations. When you are passionate about working toward your purpose and own your story about your WHY, then nothing can stop you.

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