Mental Health Tips for Distance Learning
by Samantha Marquez, on Oct 9, 2020 9:00:00 AM
In honor of World Mental Health Day this Saturday, October 10, the Presidio team is sharing some tips that will help you take care of your mental health during this unprecedented academic year. While COVID-19 is a physical ailment, its many ramifications - including virtual learning, social distancing, and self-isolation - can have a profound impact on our mental health. That is why it’s so important to take care of both our bodies and our minds as we continue to persevere through the limitations resulting from the pandemic.
Tips for Teachers to Maintain Mental Health and Wellness
1. Make sleep a priority.
Most doctors recommend getting between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night. This is the ideal range to stay in so that you can wake up each day feeling well-rested and ready to deal with any obstacles thrown your way. So, although it may be tempting to stay up late to finish grading papers or get ahead on virtual lesson planning, it’s important that you don’t over-tire yourself. Getting enough sleep will benefit you more in the long run!
2. Take a break from technology.
Screen time is at an all-time high for teachers now, given the implementation of distance learning in place of in-person classes. Therefore, it’s vital that you make a conscious effort to step away from your electronic devices after the workday is done. Switching off your phone, laptop, television, etc., for at least an hour a day can help ease eye strain and prevent you from getting overwhelmed by constant notifications. While taking a break from technology, you can use your free time to get out of the house, head out into nature, read a book, explore fun new recipes, or try a new craft. The options are endless! Most importantly, unplugging from your devices can help you unwind and reconnect with your emotions.
3. Write a gratitude list.
It can be hard not to focus on all the downsides of online teaching. You most likely miss the daily in-person interactions with your students and time for connecting with coworkers. However, dwelling too much on the negative can have a harmful effect on your mental health. One way to mitigate this is to make a gratitude list, in which you write down (or type up) all the things you appreciate about distance learning. Maybe you find that you enjoy trying new tech-y activities or are thankful for the extra time you can spend with your pet at home. Add whatever things you feel are benefits of virtual education to your list, and make sure to look back at it whenever you’re feeling especially down. This can help you turn your perspective around and get back to focusing on the positives!
4. Practice deep breathing.
Utilizing deep breathing exercises can be a helpful strategy for calming yourself down in a difficult situation. If you find yourself getting stressed while teaching over Zoom, taking just a few deep breaths can be a quick, easy way to recenter yourself without having to step away from your computer. This is because deep breathing techniques can help interrupt the cycle that stress has on your physical body.
You can also teach deep breathing to your students as part of a lesson on the importance of mental health. That way, you can not only work on taking care of yourself, but spread that knowledge to your class as well! You can find some examples of deep breathing practices here:
- Take a Breath: 5 Deep Breathing Exercises that Help Kids Get Calm
- Belly Breathing Exercises
- Video: Deep Breathing Exercises for Beginners
Tips for Students to Maintain Mental Health and Wellness
1. Talk about feelings.
Being able to understand and work through emotions is a key aspect of childhood development. This can be difficult, though, for students if they tend to keep more difficult emotions to themself or refuse to acknowledge their negative feelings. Unfortunately, due to the isolation of virtual education and the loss of their normal school activities, many students are experiencing negative feelings right now.
Taking the time to talk with them about their feelings, however, can help them get those negative feelings out into the open and therefore make them easier to deal with. Having your student share their problems with you can also help you see more clearly the steps that they may need to take to improve their emotional and mental health. You can also reach out to your student's teacher to ask if their school is offering activities to cultivate Social-Emotional Learning.
One great tool to help younger children share their feelings is to communicate with them using Kimochis - stuffed animals that represent different feelings. They are great to use with students age 5-12, in the processing and regulating of all emotions. Through these methods, you will be able to aid your student in expressing themself and releasing negative emotions. All in all, having an open line of communication will be greatly beneficial in maintaining your child’s mental health during Distance Learning.
2. Stay organized.
With assignments being all online, it can be more difficult than usual to stay organized. This can then lead to students feeling overwhelmed by all they have to do or worried about what they may be missing or forgetting to do. Parents can help their students stay organized by writing their assignments down in a planner, whether that be through an online platform like GoogleDocs or Google Calendar or in a physical notebook. By helping keep their assignments organized, parents can alleviate some of their students’ stress, as they will no longer feel like they are being pulled in several directions at once. Instead, they can feel in control of their academics and on top of their work. This, of course, will be a huge asset in maintaining mental health throughout the online school year!
3. Make time for physical activity.
It can be tough for a child to sit in a chair all day, staring at their computer screen. They might begin to feel more antsy or more tired than usual. That’s why it is so important to make time in student’s day for them to move around and expend some of their pent up energy. Depending on your child’s age and developmental stage, this could look like encouraging them to run around in your backyard or go on a walk in your neighborhood. Some other fun, movement-driven activities you can facilitate include going on a bike ride, dancing to a fun playlist, or jumping rope. Getting some exercise is a simple way to boost your student’s mood and maintain their mental health while social distancing.
4. Spend time with friends - safely.
One of the most difficult aspects of Distance Learning is the separation from friends and classmates. It's still important, however, to stay connected to school friends, so that the feeling of isolation doesn’t have a negative impact on a student’s mental health. Parents can help their students stay in touch with their friends, while abiding by proper COVID-19 protocols, through a couple different activities.
Depending on local regulations, parents may be able to take their mask-wearing children to a local park to chat with each other at an appropriate distance. Alternatively, parents can plan a Zoom hangout for their students, outside of school hours, for a completely safe social boost. Overall, no matter how you go about it, it's important for your student to continue to spend time with their friends outside of virtual school, in order for them to stay positive and maintain their mental health amidst the pandemic.
5. Make a family technology plan.
eCounseling.com offers a few suggestions for how parents can monitor their children's technology and regulate their own technology use as well. From making dinner a tech-free time to shifting away from devices and towards books closer to bedtime, families can make sure that their lives aren't completely dominated by technology even during this time of distance learning.
We hope that these tips and suggestions may be of some help to you in these difficult times. Always remember that you are not alone, and try to focus on positive thinking despite the obstacles. We will get through this together.
Caroline Baetkey contributed to this post.
Presidio is not affiliated with eCounseling.com.
Director of Public Agency Services
Samantha Marquez is a community relations and engagement specialist with over six years of experience in legislative affairs and targeted policy messaging on the local and state level. Before coming to Presidio, Samantha served as the District Director to the Majority Leader of the California State Assembly, where she served as a liaison between local public agencies and the state government. In the Assembly, Samantha was the Majority Leader’s principal aide for K-12 education and transportation.
Caroline is a senior at UCLA, where she is pursuing a B.A. in History with minors in Film, Television & Digital Media and Digital Humanities. She is experienced in a diverse array of communications, including fashion public relations, influencer outreach, and social media marketing. After she graduates in Spring 2021, Caroline plans on working in PR and Marketing.