Scanlan Center for School Mental Health
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Finding Balance: A Guide to Prioritizing Mental Health for Educators During the Summer Break

Educator Wellness

School staff have been under increased stress in the past several years. They are tasked with supporting the increasing mental health needs of their students. There have been staffing shortages and sub shortages.

To cope with these shortages, educators have been asked to cover classes, provide supervision at lunch and recess, and help out at schools in other ways.

For many educators, this has taken away from prep time and resulted in working longer hours (Restrepo & Chang, 2022; Steiner et al., 2022; Will, 2022).

A recent study found when compared to adults working in other jobs, teachers and school administrators reported frequent job-related stress, burnout, symptoms of depression, and not coping well with job-related stress at higher rates (Steiner et al., 2022).  

Summer is finally here. Can I really destress?

Summer is often a much-anticipated time for school staff to recharge and rejuvenate. But sometimes it can feel like there is a lot of pressure to squeeze in as many activities, appointments, and vacations as possible during summer break. 

So how can you truly take care of your mental health and well-being without being overwhelmed? 

#1 Set goals that are attainable.

Consider just picking 1 or 2 things you want to focus on this summer. Here are some ideas that can positively affect your mental health: 

  • finding ways to connect with family, friends, and neighbors
  • prioritizing general self-care needs (e.g., sleep, physical activity, nutritious meal prepping, meditation, spending time in nature)
  • tackling a house project that will leave you feeling accomplished
  • volunteering for a local cause that is important to you
  • reading that mystery novel you’ve been eyeing
  • binge-watching a new series with your significant other or friend
  • plan a mini-getaway. A change of environment can sometimes give us a new lease on life. And this doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming. While jet-setting to the ocean or a foreign country is always alluring, this could also mean exploring a state park, visiting a new city or town for a day, or pitching a tent in your own backyard.
  • learning a new skill or challenging your brain in a new way 
  • or simply doing things you enjoy (e.g., taking walks, biking, baking, painting, gardening, pickleball, golf) 

#2 Think about working with a therapist or therapy group.

There are many options for therapy. Many therapists specialize in working with individuals with specific mental health needs while others meet with clients who have more general goals or are looking for skill development.

There isn’t a one-size fits all approach to therapy; you can find a setting and schedule that meets your needs. 

  • If you think working with a virtual therapy group this summer would be helpful for you, consider signing up for our Educator Resiliency Group. The group will meet on Thursdays, 10 – 11 a.m. for 8 weeks beginning on Thursday, June 15. It is free to Iowa educators. More information about the group, including how to sign up, can be found here.

#3 The guilt is real. Recognize this feeling, and shift the narrative.

We’ve had the fortune of providing individual or group therapy to a number of educators across the state, and it always pains us when someone drops out of therapy because of the demands of their job. 

When it comes to prioritizing their own well-being, educators often feel guilt. While the selflessness of educators is essential in the classroom and in caring for students, it also often means that educators put themselves last.

By nature, educators are people pleasers and tend to say “yes” to every request, often resulting in feelings of guilt when they need to take time for themselves. (Does this sound like you?)

The emotion of guilt can be quite powerful:

  • Guilt for seeking out therapy or prioritizing their own needs in the first place.
  • Guilt for not spending that extra time on their families or students. 
  • Guilt for asking for time off work to take care of oneself.
  • Guilt for asking for coverage when an individual is away from the classroom for their sessions.

If this feeling of guilt bubbles up, ask yourself this question: does this emotion of guilt (or the intensity of the emotion of guilt) make sense?

If not, shouldn’t we act opposite of that emotion?  Shouldn’t we take time to take care of ourselves?  Wouldn’t this make us a better educator, partner, parent, even better person?

#4 A little goes a long way.

Even if it is not seeking out formal therapy, take time for you. This doesn’t have to mean making another appointment or adding another task to your “to-do” list.

A favorite quote from a famous therapist that we admire is:

It is hard to have a life worth living with pleasant events.”

Whether you can carve out 30 seconds or 30 minutes, do something every single day that is pleasant, and be mindful of that experience. This could mean: 

  • When sipping your morning coffee, feel the warmth in your hands, notice the color, and take in the aroma. 
  • When you are having lunch, savor, slow down, and think about how each bite is nourishing your body. 
  • When you are with a group of peers having fun, put your phone down, focus on the camaraderie, and let your inner child shine.
  • Or just be. Close your eyes and think about one thing you are grateful for in that moment. 

If you are looking for even more resources to support your mental health this summer, including how to find a therapist and join a free 24/7 online peer community, check out our recent livestream event “How to care for your mental health this summer” just for Iowa PreK-12 educators. 


  • Restrepo, M.L. & Chang, A. (2022, June 18). We asked teachers how their year went. They warned of an exodus to come. National Public Radio. 
  • Steiner, E. D., Doan, S., Woo, A., Gittens, A. D., Lawrence, R. A., Berdie, L., … & Schwartz, H. L. (2022). Restoring Teacher and Principal Well-Being Is an Essential Step for Rebuilding Schools: Findings from the State of the American Teacher and State of the American Principal Surveys. Research Report. RR-A1108-4. RAND Corporation
  • Will, M. (2022, June 15). Stress, Burnout, and Depression: Teachers and Principals are Not Doing Well, New Data Confirm. Education Week. 

This blog post was co-authored by Sam McVancel, Ph.D., and Ryan Kidder, MSW, LISW. Sam is a school psychologist and Ryan is a social worker at the Scanlan Center for School Mental Health Clinic.