Nov 26, 2022

How to Help the Winter Blues 

Let me ask you a question. Have you wondered lately what's the point of getting out of bed? Or have you been convinced that this year is a dumpster fire and there's nothing you can do about it? Or have you been dreading every single Monday and every single minute? 

Teacher friend, if you have felt this way, I want you to know I've been there. You're not alone. And in this episode, I'm going to share with you what you can do when those October Blues don't stay in October and they follow you into the holidays, deep into the winter, and possibly even your entire school year. 

You all have may have heard me talk about my infamous, emotional breakdown in front of my teacher friends back in 2014.  I had gone home during my lunch break to let my dog out of the kennel, he was about 6 months at the time, and he had crapped ALL over his kennel and I only had 20 minutes to get him and myself cleaned up before I needed to be back to school to teach for another hour and a half.  

What I may not have told you is that this breakdown happened in the fall, either at the end of September or the beginning of October. And to be completely honest, I was already feeling burned out from being a teacher off and on for quite a few years.  

But what's important about this story is that this particular year I had let a lot of things build up in me over the couple of months that we had been in school and I just broke down.  I hit rock bottom.  And recently, I’ve been getting a lot of DMs, emails, and Facebook messages from a lot of teachers who are saying that this year is the worst year ever.   Things this year are harder than they have ever been and you’re not seeing any way out.

I feel like I have a lot to say about this topic personally.  And you can Google  “what to do for the October Blues” or  “how to get out of and survive the October Blues”, and in my opinion, if the October Blues is something that we know is coming, then we need to arm ourselves with strategies for when it does come back.  And for a lot of teachers, it doesn’t just end on November 1st.  

When I was struggling with burnout, every year I would start the year with the best of intentions and the best attitude and I’d tell myself: This year is going to be different.  And then, every fall/winter was the same - I’d become grumpy, negative, exhausted, and overwhelmed.  I wouldn’t want to go to school and I’d call in sick…It was just a proverbial cycle that I know now was ay more than just the October Blues, it was burnout showing up because I had gotten into the habit of believing that it was just my cycle, and I just expected it to happen.  I wish I would have known then what I know now when it came to preparing myself for the October Blues.  I wish I would have known how to not accept this as “my cycle” and that it didn’t have to be part of my reality.  I wish I had practical, applicable strategies that were for me, and not something generic because the October Blues for me might be brought on by something different than a teacher down the hall, or a teacher in a different part of the country or the world. 

Last year, I recorded an episode about how I was working through the Winter Blues and an episode - which was an old blog post - which was a letter that I was writing to sad, lonely, depressed teachers, and in those episodes, I share how it is that I moved through those hard winter months, and I don’t think that’s something a lot of us pay attention to.  We attribute all of our sadness and all of our overwhelm and defeatism to the job of teaching, and I think if we really look deeply into when teaching becomes its hardest we can see that we are being affected by more than just the challenges we face in our classrooms.  

I’m going to share with you some strategies that maybe you haven't heard to deal with the October Blues because these relate to the October Blues becoming a habit.  Now hear me out! Before you slam your computer shut, let me explain.  The reason that I feel that the October Blues can become a habit is that if we look back to last October, and the October before that, and the October before that, and so on, I guarantee you are going to find a pattern. And where I have found my biggest changes and moments of realization was when I noticed patterns that I slip into that aren’t helpful for me.  I’m all about mindset shifts, and I want us to change our perspective

 

Strategies to Start Moving Through the October Blues 

#1: Reflect on Your Patterns

My first strategy for you is to reflect on your patterns. Perhaps you have the October Blues for the first time this year, or maybe you’re a new teacher and you’re not really sure what the October Blues are, and you’re struggling with those feelings of complete overwhelm and that you don't have enough time to do anything. Or maybe you’re a veteran teacher and you’re really disappointed in changes you thought were going to happen and things that you felt were going to be different and they're not. Either perspective, you’re telling yourself I don't know if I can do this and you feel like you’re in a marathon that you’re not prepared for.  

I know that reflecting on your patterns is hard - but what I’ve found is for so many teachers, especially those who’ve been through Burned-In Teacher University, the act of reflecting and beginning and honoring where they are has been mind-blowing for them because they’ve never given themselves the opportunity to reflect on where they are and how they got there.  

#2: Think About Your Thinking

The second thing that I want you to do is I want you to pay attention to and think about your thinking. Every morning are you thinking: I don't know if I can do this. What am I even doing here? Why am I here? Why is this happening to me? 

If you are well versed in Burned-In Teacher, then you’d probably understand that these statements are those of people in Stage Zero, they're completely burned out. (For more on the Stages of Burnout, check out this Episode 70).  Focusing on our small thoughts, the things we’re telling ourselves, and perhaps starting to believe can help you move through the October Blues.  

 

Things to Think and Say to Move Through the October Blues 

  • I am capable and worthy of change.
  • My life doesn't have to stay this way and I don't have to stay in this place of misery.
  • I am capable and worthy of trying something new. 
  • I'm feeling burned out and I need help.

 

Action You Can Take to Move Through the October Blues

#1: Ask: How’d you do that? 

If you never try something different, you’re not going to get different results.  Find a teacher that’s doing something that’s doing something different than you and that you’d like to be able to do and ask them How’d you do that? Maybe it's a way that they build relationships with their students, maybe it's the way they manage their classroom, or maybe it's that they're leaving every day at contract time. Whatever it is, ask. When you ask this question, you’re opening yourself up to new ways of doing things that could help you move through the October Blues. And, who knows, you could just make a new friend, and we are always trying to bring those builder-uppers into our lives.  

#2: Identity what’s triggered your burnout or October Blues

Getting clear about what caused/triggered your October Blues, as well as what’s keeping you there is important so that you can identify your next best steps. If it's your students' behavior - which it very well could be because this is the number one most challenging thing most teachers are faced with - or if it’s the lack of support from administration, identifying what’s causing you to have the blues will take some reflection as well. Pay attention to the negative things that you're saying to yourself.  If I was to look at my students this year, and think to myself: These kids should know better. These kids are feral cats. These kids do not know how to behave. These kids do not have parents that have taught them how to work and play in a social environment, and do nothing, nothing would change. I need to focus on what’s in my control and think:  What is it that I can do about it? How is my negative attitude or my approach, making the situation worse? Or have I tried everything? Now, I need to say all of that, and then follow it with I don't know your situation. I don't know if you've tried everything. I don't know if you’ve tried everything and maybe your administration doesn't even know what to do.  But like I've said, our burnout is not our fault, but it is our responsibility.  Our students' behavior to a certain point is not our fault, either. It's not. However, there are things that we can try, there are things that we can do. I know that I've made this all about behavior, it’s just that this is very close to where I have been this year, and things have gotten better, but that's because I'm consistently reevaluating my reactions and being self-aware.  

#3: Take it day by day.

When you’re struggling, whether it be with burnout or the October Blue, you're going to have to take it day by day. That means by going in on Monday, doing the best that you can that day, and your best on Monday might be better or worse than your best on Tuesday. And the same goes for Wednesday. And the same thing goes for Thursday. And the same for Friday. Instead of looking forward so far, and thinking about how terrible this year is going to be, I want you to focus day by day - what you can do to make THAT day the best that it can be. And the best that it can be today might be different than the best it can be tomorrow. This is going to help you focus on the NOW and to help you to be present NOW.  I talked a little bit about this in my episode from earlier in this season, when I talked about why I was choosing not to struggle in silence, and how I have realized that it is most important for me to remember that my students and I, and my principal, my teacher friends are all doing the best that we can on any given day. And that doesn't look the same every day. So you have to quit being so hard on yourself and telling yourself that you have to be happy and chipper and perfect all the time.  Accepting this will give you a layer of grace that you might not have had during these darker winter months. 

#4: Keep a consistent routine. 

My next piece of advice is to keep a consistent routine. I mean that for school And I mean that for home as well. I used to feel like I needed to switch things up in October and November just for the sake of “keeping my kids on their toes” to keep them entertained. I don't believe that anymore. I believe in creating a consistent, calm, joyful, and kind classroom. And that means it's going to be predictable. For me, my students have really found a lot of calm in the predictability. I know for my students, a lot of them live really unpredictable lives. I love the consistency and the predictability of our day and we find ways to make it fun just by me making silly jokes or doing an extra brain break, or just smiling and showing my kids how to be calm and happy.

We also need to create consistency and routine in our lives, right? Look at your calendar outside of school and create a routine if you can.  Think about what you’re doing when you get home, what time you get home, what time you go to bed at night, and when are you getting up in the morning.   Write down that routine, make it predictable, and make it consistent. 

#5: Have something to look forward to. 

We don't have to wait until Christmas break or the weekends to do something fun. We don't have to wait until Spring Break to have a little mini vacation. My family is starting to build a habit that every February, we are going to have a weekend away. Right now my daughter, Hannah, is in college in Bloomington at Indiana University, and last February we went down there and spent a weekend in this cute little town called Nashville, Indiana.  We had planned months in advance and it was something we looked forward to even before Christmas break.  We just decided that, because normally February is so blah we're going make it fun and we're getting we're going to give ourselves something to look forward to. 

When you have things to look forward to, that can be your why for not taking work home.  That can be your why for needing to maximize every single minute of your time at school. This can be your why for not living to work.

 

We just took a deep dive into what you can think, say, and do differently to move through the October Blues, and I have a couple of other resources that I’d like to share with you to offer you some additional support. 

  • The Stages of Burnout eBook. This resource is going to take you through all of the stages of burnout and it's going to help you to identify what stage you're in and it’s going to take you through the stages of recovery to get to being BURNED-IN by giving you some things to think, say, and do so you can move to the next stage. 
  • Build Your Positive Self-Talk Guide. This is a guide that I created and it helps you to really name and identify that negative self-talk and reframe them to build your positive self-talk. 

If you are struggling with the October blues, in November, or in December, or heck, even in February or March, I want you to identify your patterns and I want you to pay attention to what you can think, say and do differently. I believe when you are faced with burnout, or you are faced with any challenge, you can change one, if not two things: you can change yourself, or you can change your environment, and I always lean towards changing yourself first.  I say this because if you take step one of today's episode seriously by looking back at your patterns, you may find that you've just settled for this pattern over and over and over again. And it’s through reflecting that you're going to see some opportunities for growth and change. 

 

CALL TO ACTION: THINGS YOU CAN DO TOMORROW

  1. Take things day by day.
  2. Create and keep a consistent routine. 
  3. Have something to look forward to. 

 

RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE

 

 

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