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May 1, 2024 4 min read

Five Steps to Prioritize Mental Health for Early Childhood Educators

Leah Woodbury By: Leah Woodbury
Women take a walk to aid in mental health.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a time to bring attention to mental health and how essential it is to our overall health and wellbeing. And every day, child care providers are put under a great deal of stress that can lead to depression, worry and burnout. 

Let’s take a look at five things you can do as early childhood educators to prioritize your mental health year round!

1. Start With Self-awareness

For child care providers and ECE teachers, the first step toward mental well-being is recognizing signs of mental fatigue and stress. Self-awareness helps in identifying your needs and seeking appropriate support when necessary.

Burnout is defined as “physical, emotional or mental exhaustion, accompanied by decreased motivation, lowered performance and negative attitudes towards oneself and others,” according to the APA Dictionary of Psychology.

Acknowledge feelings of burnout, anxiety or exhaustion as indicators that you need to focus on your well-being.

 2. Establish Boundaries

Creating clear boundaries between work and personal life is vital. Given the emotionally demanding nature of teaching, it’s easy to carry the emotional weight and challenges of the classroom home. 

Set specific work hours, limit checking work emails after hours and learn to say no when your plate is already full. Protecting your personal time helps reduce stress and prevent burnout.

This is something that owners and directors may struggle with too.

Check out these examples of how to set healthy boundaries:

  • Being able to say no and accept when someone else says no
  • Being able to clearly communicate both wants and needs
  • Honoring and respecting their own needs and the needs of others
  • Respecting others’ values, beliefs and opinions even if they are different from one’s own

3. Practice Self-care

Self-care is non-negotiable. It encompasses anything that replenishes your energy and brings you joy. Whether it’s reading, spending time in nature, yoga or pursuing a hobby, make time for activities that relax and reenergize you. 

Remember, you can’t pour from an empty cup; taking care of yourself better equips you to take care of others.

Woman does yoga at work.

Implementing mindfulness practices like meditation, deep breathing exercises or journaling can significantly enhance your mental health. These tools aid in managing stress and cultivating a positive, present-centered mindset. Reflecting on your experiences, both positive and negative, also promotes learning and personal growth.

Physical and mental health are deeply interconnected. Ensure you’re getting enough sleep, eating nutritious foods and engaging in regular physical activity. These habits not only boost your physical well-being but also have a profound impact on your mental health, reducing symptoms of stress and anxiety.

For example, the benefits of walking are huge! The Mayo Clinic says that regular, brisk walking can help you:

  • Maintain a healthy weight and lose body fat
  • Prevent or manage various conditions, including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, cancer and type 2 diabetes
  • Improve cardiovascular fitness
  • Strengthen your bones and muscles
  • Improve muscle endurance
  • Increase energy levels
  • Improve your mood, cognition, memory and sleep
  • Improve your balance and coordination
  • Strengthen immune system
  • Reduce stress and tension

4. Build a Support Network

Having a support system of fellow educators, friends and family who understand and share your experiences can be incredibly beneficial. Lean on these relationships for advice, venting or simply sharing joys and challenges!

Professional support networks, including mentorship programs or educational forums, can also provide guidance and fresh perspectives.

“Workplace environment, particularly the perceived level of social support, appears to be one of the biggest driving factors of ECE wellbeing. For instance, there is evidence that having more resources, positive co-worker relationships, and supportive administration lessens ECE stress and burnout,” according to a report from the National Library of Medicine.

5. Continuous Learning and Professional Development

Women take part in online professional development.

Engaging in professional development opportunities can rejuvenate your passion for teaching and introduce new coping strategies for stress. Attending workshops and conferences or pursuing further education keeps you inspired and provides new techniques for managing classroom dynamics and personal well-being.

Use the Resources Available to You!

For ECE teachers, directors and owners, prioritizing mental health is not just beneficial; it’s essential. Remember, fostering a healthy mind is just as important as nurturing young learners. By taking steps to promote your mental health, you ensure that you can continue making a positive impact in the lives of your students.

Check out this list of professional development resources from Procare Solutions that also includes links to online teacher groups and funding resources.

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Leah Woodbury

Leah Woodbury is the head of content at Procare Solutions. Her job includes writing about topics that matter to child care professionals and finding ways to help them do their important work. She’s a mom of two who loves getting updates about what her preschooler is doing during the day via the Procare child care mobile app!

Leah Woodbury