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By Janet Royal 

More than two years have passed since our lives were changed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of us have had to cope with uncertainty, anxiety, feelings of depression, isolation, sickness and the death of loved ones. Add all of that to the challenges we may have already been dealing with prior to COVID-19—financial difficulties, health concerns, relationship issues, job insecurity and many more. To say that our inner strength and stability were tested would be an understatement. 

If you are reading this, you have most likely found ways to get through, overcome, or rise above the challenges, obstacles, sadness and disbelief that have been part of our day-to-day lives. It would be amazing if we could tune out all that is negative and surround ourselves with only things that are positive, but that is not realistic. What’s happened to us these past two years will be, in some form or fashion, a part of our lives for the foreseeable future.  

We must find ways to practice self-care for not only our physical health but our mental and emotional well-being. Be intentional about the time you set aside for recharging and rejuvenating. When we see others suffering, it’s common to feel conflicted between managing our own personal needs and assisting others with theirs. At these times, just remember what is shared on a plane during the safety demonstration: “If there is a change in cabin pressure the mask will drop down. You should put yours on first and then assist others needing help.” 

Let me share with you some techniques you may want to lean on when the world around you feels like a battlefield instead of an oasis of peace. 

Make your needs a priority.  

Often, physical, mental and emotional needs get put on the back burner during periods of heightened stress and tension. These needs are interconnected and a breakdown in one area could leave us open for illness. Make sure you are consuming foods that are both satisfying and nutritious. Try to move every day, realizing this may look very different depending on who you are. If going to a gym works for you, great. Taking a walk around the neighborhood may also give you what you need. And don’t forget that your body needs proper sleep to heal and to function at its peak.  

Stop and breathe before making any decisions. 

Sometimes we rush to solve a problem or emergency without taking some “wait time” that could result in a better choice. When our adrenaline is pumping fast and furious, it can cloud our judgement. 

 Don’t be ashamed to reach out to family and friends.  

We humans are social creatures. The power of community can often bring peace and clarity to help us move forward in a positive and productive way. Sometimes you just need someone to listen. Inviting friends or family to chime in with their views may also help. You decide if it’s monologue or dialogue. Even if you cannot connect in person, a call, Zoom, or Facetime may do the trick. 

Read and write. 

Many people have found peace and relaxation in journaling—particularly gratitude journaling—or reading. Sometimes just being able to jot thoughts and dreams down allows you to reflect and refresh which in turn can bring about some comfort and peace and help you to garner a sense of purpose. 

We cannot do it all alone. No matter what the situation, you should always be honest with yourself and never too proud to ask for help. As I’m sure you may have heard before, two brains are better than one. There will most likely be a need at some point in our lives where we feel the need to turn to our families, community, and maybe even the medical community to provide the supports we need to be OK, and that’s OK!

Janet L. Royal is an associate director in the NJEA Professional Development and Instructional Issues Division and is the coordinator for the annual NJEA Convention. She can be reached at jroyal@njea.org