As educators we know showing our gratitude can be helpful for building relationships and classroom communities, however we do not often consider the healthy impact thankfulness can provide to improve our daily lives. As we look at how thankfulness can improve our overall health, we can start to see how this is an investment we can make in ourselves.
When we take care of ourselves as teachers, we are better equipped to provide meaningful learning opportunities to students because we are mentally present for ourselves. Classroom students can feel the mental well-being of their teacher and the classroom culture can be directly affected. Being thankful can help us be self-aware, not only of our own situation, but of those around us. This will in turn help us show empathy and patience.
For ourselves, thankfulness can help combat challenging days at work. Consider, “What did I do well today?” or “What did I or my students accomplish today?” This improves our self-esteem and makes us proud of the important work that we do. We learn to respect our limits and can give ourselves grace in breaks. Just as students are given brain-breaks to support their mental health, we can give ourselves these breaks to make ourselves feel better throughout the day. The enhanced optimism will shine through as motivation, happiness and in acts of gratitude.
While we may not think about our physical health when considering thankfulness, there are a host of health benefits we can incur by daily practice of these routines. By showing thankfulness, we learn to positively interact with experiences rather than avoid more challenging thoughts. This change in approach leads to several physical health benefits: reduced stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure, reduced cognitive decline, treatment of chronic pain, improved sleep and increased immune response.*
We know teaching can be unpredictable, and as teachers we are called to make many decisions throughout the day. To combat stress, we should remember to control what we can, which is primarily our response to the challenges, and our daily health care. For example, when a fire drill alarm sounds, we are prepared to physically handle the disruption and routine of carrying out the responsibilities that are required of us during this experience.
Our social health can also be impacted by thankfulness in relationships with our families at home, our students and families at school and our colleagues. As we think about what we appreciate in the relationships around us, we are developing stronger skills in empathy. We can seek out or provide a social support as we meet the needs of students in our classroom. Taking the time to consider our own social-emotional well-being helps us make connections with our students and model how to demonstrate emotions in healthy ways.
When speaking with families or colleagues we can more effectively communicate with positivity in our conversations. This helps us build healthy communities within our classroom as well as develop a strong sense of trust and mutual respect. For example, when a parent comes to visit you who is upset about a situation that took place in the classroom; you remember to take a moment to breathe deeply and think about verbalizing what you appreciate about their child. You are transitioning an upset parent to also think positively, thereby strengthening the relationship. This month and every day, when we consider what we are grateful for, we can take a deep breath and appreciate what we have. As teachers, we are truly blessed with many opportunities for great achievements within our classroom throughout the day. Consider this approach: Treat yourself as you would treat others. The health benefits will come free flowing as mental health, physical health, and social health.
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*Retrieved from Help Guide, A Harvard Health Article: Benefits of Mindfulness in November 2021
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.