At work, Cherish Pipkins is always on. An elementary school principal in Texas, Pipkins is a relentlessly positive presence, the kind of school leader who personally greets students every morning, regularly checks in on her teachers’ workloads and emotional wellbeing, and generally puts everyone else’s needs first.
But Pipkins also has a secret. “I am naturally an introvert,” she says. So sometimes, Pipkins takes a break from caring for others. She’ll read a book. Go to a nail salon. Have lunch at a restaurant by herself, eating a salad in peace and quiet.
“There are moments where I have to steal away, even from my family,” Pipkins says with a laugh. “I thrive on alone time. That’s how I recharge.”
Among educators, a lack of work-life balance contributes to high levels of stress and dissatisfaction. It also underlies a particular type of emotional burnout that Leah Marone, a North Carolina-based psychotherapist who works with educators, calls “compassion fatigue.”
“Compassion fatigue is greatly experienced by teachers, social workers,
clinicians, and healthcare professionals—fields where a high level of empathy, compassion, and care are needed,” Marone says.
“In these fields, professionals are constantly serving and providing. It can be difficult to transition from work life to home life. Many struggle with sleep and find it challenging to turn off their brains. They are taught to push through, but don’t replenish. This is when burnout occurs and their mental health takes a toll.”
Prioritize your physical and emotional health. Getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising, and sharing your thoughts and feelings with people you trust are simple and obvious ways to take care of yourself—but when educators are overwhelmed, these acts of self-care tend to be neglected. “When people experience burnout, they’re just in a sense stumbling along,” Marone says. “Things are hitting them as they crash from one thing to the next, and they may feel like all control has been lost and their balloon is full. They are in a reactive mode rather than a proactive one. Taking a pause and integrating just one act of self-care that can be done consistently can really make a difference.”
Set aside time and space for outside relationships and activities. Miesha Medford, an elementary school assistant principal in Texas, goes on Friday date nights with her husband at least twice a month. She also practices what she calls “Self-Care Sundays.” “That’s where I spend two or three hours restoring and refreshing myself—whether that’s reading a book, listening to music, taking care of me so I can continue to pour out to everyone else” Medford says. “One thing I’ve learned, as an educator, is that if you don’t take care of yourself, you’re no good to anybody else.”