Technology will play a central role in the delivery of higher education this fall and into the future. Faculty will need to master e-learning platforms and exam proctoring tools. They will be exploring new ways to use artificial intelligence to train our future doctors and engineers. They will be leveraging online communication channels to deliver an engaging, high-value educational experience for students.
Going fully virtual will impact faculty health and well-being. It will be easier for faculty to slip into an always on mindset and always-in-front-of-a-screen routine, which can lead to frustration, fatigue and burnout. The secret to avoiding burnout, prioritizing well-being and staying focused doesn’t live in an app or software or online tool—it lives away from the screen in simple, daily habits.
Many faculty will also be distanced from the things they love most about working in academia. Educators – who were already experiencing significant stress – have had to quickly transform the fundamental way they do their jobs, navigate an uncertain future and continue to support students. The reasons they got into academia and the things they love most—from intellectual engagement to research—are no longer available in the same way.
It will be more important than ever to prioritize well-being as faculty work to stay connected and implement a positive virtual experience for their students. Not prioritizing well-being can exacerbate feelings of burnout, a syndrome recently recognized by the World Health Organization as leading to exhaustion, cynicism toward one’s job and reduced professional performance. Faculty have an opportunity right now to develop habits and routines that will set them up for a healthier and happier fall semester. Empowering and equipping faculty to adequately care for their needs helps them handle challenges with more clarity, resolve and positivity.
Some of the most effective healthy habits to build and to avoid burnout include:
• Movement: Exercise plays a critical role in stress and anxiety management, and improved focus. Getting away from the desk and walking outside for 15 minutes can inspire creativity, give eyes a needed screen break, and provide a chance to reset before the next task. There’s an added bonus on sunny days, when faculty will get some vitamin D during their walk.
• Nutrition: Nutritious is important for physical health and mental clarity. It fuels the brain and body for better productivity and energy. Consider using typical commute time to prepare a nutritious meal or look for new recipes.
• Sleep: Sleep plays a vital role in helping manage stress and anxiety, fight illness, and improve focus and clarity. Some tips for high quality sleep: turn off electronic devices and screens starting an hour before bed, keep the bedroom cool and dark, and try out a white noise machine.
• Hydration: Adequate water intake has the power to improve mood and reduce tension. Start every morning with a glass of water—yes, even before coffee—and then set a daily goal.
• Mindfulness: Taking mindful breaks or time to meditate restores energy and offers countless mental, physical and emotional benefits. This is one area where technology can play a positive role. Apps like Headspace or Calm are great tools for reminders and guided meditation for beginners and those with years of experience.
• Gratitude: Genuine appreciation deepens our collective sense of purpose, motivates collaboration, inspires great work and supports well-being. Consider keeping a gratitude journal. Start by writing down three things each day that you appreciate.
These practices can take some time to explore and develop. Remember to focus on progress, not perfection. Picking up even a few of these daily practices and turning them into regular habits can greatly improve focus, reduce anxiety levels and support overall well-being. Building in accountability can also prove helpful. Consider finding an accountability buddy or tracking new daily habits in a journal, phone note or tracking sheet.
Faculty will continue to adapt to and leverage technology to educate students and connect and collaborate with colleagues. It’s just as important to prioritize self-care. It makes faculty stronger and, in turn, elevates the student experience.
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