As mentioned in my introductory post, I used to suffer from anxiety. I assumed it was from the stress of working full time and taking graduate chemistry courses simultaneously, with no time to relax. I was feeling sick to my stomach from stress and my body was begging me to relax. I remember thinking I had a great immune system because I wouldn’t get sick during the school year, but once Christmas break or Spring vacation hit, I would get sick immediately almost every time. I realize now that the cortisol released from the stress left me in “Fight or Flight” mode and I was constantly fighting. I was doing too much and once I could finally sleep in, it gave my body the “okay” to deal with the sickness.
Now, I have a job that has a shift schedule, sometimes early, but only a quarter of the time. I can sleep in and I can sleep the amount of time that my body needs. What I’ve learned from all of this is that I need sleep and I always did! You need sleep, your parents need sleep, your kids need sleep, everyone needs to sleep. It is survival and it is the body’s natural function. We need sleep as much as we need food and water. Those are the three things people need to survive: food, water, and sleep.
Schools begin class too early, especially high schools. Kids and teens are constantly growing and changing and they need sleep more than anyone. How can we expect them to go to school, be motivated, succeed in seven back-to-back classes, and participate in extracurriculars and sports? Oh, I forgot, AND do the homework they’re expected to complete ? No one can function to their full potential without enough sleep. We are teaching kids to rely on caffeine by example and they are burning out, as well. It is no surprise that many students don’t bother doing homework.
I’ve hilighted a couple of quotes from Ariana Huffington’s book, The Sleep Revolution:
The importance of sleep is forgotten about in our culture. We value productivity and we wish for more time in the day to complete tasks. It’s easy to cut that time out of our sleep time, but it isn’t okay. Your mental health will not be okay without sleep. It may take days, weeks, or years to really impact you, but you need to listen to your body. Health should come first.
Students, particularly teens, are falling asleep in class. They are barely staying awake. They are deemed “lazy” or “unmotivated” if they come in tardy, if they don’t participate in extracurriculars, if they are sleeping in class. While this is common, what’s even worse is the amount of stress put on the student who does it all. I recall my A+ students sleeping in class because they study for multiple tests and quizzes and complete hours of homework for AP classes – all after coming home from practice or a sports game (because being involved in sports looks good for college). These kids are burnt out and it’s all in the name of meeting expectations. If they can meet all of the expectations put upon them to be competitive, can we allow them time to sleep?
I am an advocate for later start times for schools.
The State of Maryland has provided incentives for schools that moved to a later start time in expectation that the change will improve test scores, engagement, and morale of students (and, as a result, teachers).
Elonia Lamontagne, M.Ed
School committee candidate
Chicopee schools hold a warm place in my heart, but alas, teaching was a career that proved to be stressful to me in an unmanageable way. I do not regret my years teaching one bit, I loved my job, but I developed an anxiety issue that would render me sick to my stomach some days.
Now, I miss the kids greatly, they were the best part of the job, even on their moody days, but the overall stress pummeled me down. I found that I never knew how to relax and couldn’t because there was always correcting and graduate school hovering over me. I was always tired between staying up late and waking up early to be ready outside my classroom at 7:26. I could never see myself having the time or energy to reproduce or even take a real vacation. And before you say, “but you get the summers off!” Trust me when I say that it doesn’t cancel it out.
Perhaps I am a workaholic, but I would always work in the summer, assuming responsibility to help those summer school kids graduate and take summer courses. I do regret putting too much on my plate, advising student council, working full time while in grad school full time, constantly volunteering to help with extra things around the school or the teacher’s union. One of the best lessons I may have learned from teaching was learning to just say “No”. Burnout is real and I’ve seen it too many times with myself, colleagues, and even students.
I apologize if this sounded ranty or negative at all, but I find it important to be straightforward in recognizing individual problems before working towards solutions and compromises.
I went to cognitive behavioral therapy after upsetting others and assuming there was something wrong with me. I thought that the stress was causing me to overreact. Thinking back, I don’t think that I overreacted. The times that I upset people I do not regret because I was not in the wrong. I realize that people do not like to be confronted, but I chose to speak to the person directly rather than going behind their back and complaining.
I am glad that I went to the therapist, however, because I learned that while the stress was indeed unbearable, the therapist helped me see that I was in a relationship which filled me with sadness. I am grateful for the turn of events that led me to make changes in my life for myself. While I thought that I was seeing a therapist to save others from my stressed-out self, I learned that I need to care about myself first before others. Only then can I be a person that can be a positive influence on others. Now, I am relaxed and I am in a position where I can give back to the community. I feel like my mental health has hit rock bottom and I have now learned how much I can handle. I think getting enough sleep has a much greater impact on that than I originally thought.