Updated: Feb 10, 2022
It's the Friday afternoon before a long weekend. You're feeling good - online learning went well this week, no problems or upset parents. After six weeks you are starting to feel like it is ALMOST manageable. And then you get the email. Synchronous learning is mandatory and is starting on Tuesday, giving you a total of three days over the weekend to figure it out, and up until now all of your online learning has been asynchronous. Maybe you feel your stomach drop, or you start to cry. Either way, you have hit a breaking point.
We as human beings go through many breaking points throughout our lives. Most consider a breaking point to be a single event, however, I believe that you hit many the more time you spend on this planet.
Especially when you are a teacher.
A breaking point is defined as the moment of greatest strain at which someone or something gives way. Everyone has a breaking point, or a maximum capacity of stress that they can withstand, and it varies from person to person. As a teacher, I find that breaking points are often hit, sometimes even more than once during the school year. Throw distance learning into the mix? You've got yourself many breaking points on the horizon. So today, let's look at a couple of tips and tricks for working through these breaking points and coming out of them as stronger people.
In the moment, it's really hard to jump from "I don't think I can do this online learning and teaching anymore" to "There are people in the world who have it far worse than I do". It is really important that when you hit a breaking point, to embrace all of your emotions. You are allowed to feel sad, angry, and whatever else is hitting you. This is the part that I call the slump. The point at which you are overcome with emotions. Too often I've heard people say 'well, it could be worse' when expressing my breaking point, and so then I immediately consider my feelings to have been invalidated. When you hit the breaking point, if you ignore the emotions you are feeling you are essentially telling yourself that how you feel is irrelevant. You're in a delicate situation where you are not thinking straight. This is not the time to make decisions or to do anything. This is the time to process those feelings and to really feel them as honestly as you can.
Okay so you've called your husband and cried on the phone for forty minutes even though he has tried to offer multiple solutions that you are unwilling to accept because you just need someone to hear you out and be upset with you, *takes deep breath* what do you do? You're at the stage now where you need to be gentle with yourself. Do something that brings you joy. Make a perfect cappuccino and eat some pizza while watching 90 Day Fiancé. This may not be the best time to try and create a beautiful piece of art when you're never painted before, so try and stick to something that is easy to do and has a guaranteed success rate. Chances are you won't feel better right away, but it'll help you in the long run.
WAIT FOR IT!
In these situations, I personally always have a moment where my original breaking point feeling changes. So if I was feeling sad, it'll shift to anger or something else. This might look a lot different to you, so just go with it. When will it happen? Eventually. Just like the rest of this, there's no set timeline. But, as soon as you start to notice a change in how you are feeling in a breaking point situation, you are starting to walk the path of moving on and out of the slump! It's important to still be gentle with yourself, and with your feelings at this time, but you can begin pushing yourself to start processing the situation while being mindful of your feelings.
If you are anything like me, you may find it is really hard to let things go. It is really hard to move past the feelings of the breaking points (old & new) and sometimes it feels like the only way to deal with the situation is to let it consume you for the rest of the day and or weekend. But after hitting so many breaking points over the years, I can honestly say that dwelling on the situation does absolutely nothing for your mental health. I credit that entire last sentence to my wonderful husband, who after seven years together has really helped me come to that conclusion. It's a delicate balance between allowing yourself to feel something and at the same time not letting it ruin you. I want to stress here that everyone has a different breaking point that was influenced by a different situation. Some breaking points leave you in the slump for a couple of hours, some for days or maybe weeks. And that is okay. The duration doesn't matter when you are processing your own feelings.
So emotions aside, WHEN YOU ARE READY it's time to start asking yourself, what do I need to do to navigate myself out of the slump? Well, if you can't change the situation you really need to find a way to make it liveable. For the synchronous learning situation, this meant doing as much research as I could to understand how to make this work for me. Explore my options. If I am not comfortable doing videos live, what are my alternatives? It's during this investigative process that I find the solution starts to present itself organically. Once you've emotionally accepted the fact that there is a low probability of finding your ideal outcome in these situations, it makes it a lot easier to cope with the fact that you'll likely have to be open to flexibility. When you become open to flexibility, you will find that options are plentiful and that will allow you to gradually bring yourself back from that breaking point and you will be even more resilient than before.
OFF INTO THE SUNSET
I read a thesis published by Western University that stated in Quebec 20% of teachers leave the profession within the first five years of working. The reality of the situation is that you will be faced with stress and challenged unlike many others, but how you handle the situation and process the emotions are what defines you. And if that looks like walking away from the profession, that's okay too.