With the year more than halfway over already and reports looming, it is timely to look at our own wellbeing as educators and busy adults. After all, nowadays we all seem to be living in an increasingly busy and stressful world. It is with these thoughts in mind that I want to discuss the importance of paying attention to arguably, the most fundamentally vital aspect of effective education – teacher wellbeing.
Teacher wellbeing, and consequently teacher stress, is significantly associated with teacher-student and peer relationships. It is also significantly related to effective teaching practice, effective classroom management and to student social and emotional competency. Furthermore, student social and emotional competency is significantly related to student academic learning, student resiliency and student educational outcomes.
Simply put, mentally healthy teachers have better social and emotional awareness than their stressed peers. They are able to form healthier relationships with others, have a greater capacity to teach and are better able to engage their students in a love of learning. Improved wellbeing and effective stress management can transform a good teacher into a great one.
So how can teachers improve their wellbeing and better manage their stress when life is so overloaded and busy?
Although there are many different strategies for helping teachers to deal with stressors at work and at home, I want to take this opportunity to focus on the importance of taking time out.
We all know how great it can be to take time out from the hectic pace of life once in a while. How good it can feel to go away for a week or a long weekend. Even a fleeting trip to the hairdressers can offer a much-needed chance to jump off the roller coaster for an hour.
Indeed, there is certainly no shortage of magazine articles telling us to put down our checklists and take some valuable and regular ‘me’ time to help manage stress effectively. In many of these articles we are told that meditation and yoga can be particularly beneficial for helping us manage our stress; and that additional exercise benefits us emotionally as much as it does physically. The arguments put forward to get us to the next yoga class or Bali retreat can certainly be very persuasive. But are they real?
Do we all need to be standing in warrior pose and clearing our minds in order to feel calmer and healthier in life?
The answer is a surprisingly loud ‘no’.
It is certainly true that yoga and meditation can benefit some of us, but for others these pursuits can actually create more stress than they alleviate. Simply put, if you love yoga and feel energized and relaxed after a class, it can indeed be a very effective means to manage stress and enhance wellbeing. However, if you find yourself excruciatingly bored after five minutes of downward facing dog, and consider your yoga class something to tick off your ‘to do’ list; your well-meaning efforts are likely to be stressing you more than they are providing relief.
For an activity to truly benefit your wellbeing it needs to do several things:
• It needs to engage you – to take your attention so that you are absorbed in the activity and not in something else (so that you are not wondering when the class will be over or daydreaming about whether or not to buy a coffee when you are finally free…).
• It needs to energize you mentally, so that you walk away feeling refreshed and more enthusiastic about the week ahead.
• It needs to take away your sense of time – so that time comes to a standstill during the activity and you can hardly believe how fast it has gone once you have finished.
• It needs to be fun – not necessarily in a laugh-out-loud sense, but certainly in a way that means you describe your chosen activity as ‘enjoyable to do’.
It does not matter what the activity is, although it certainly helps to find something sustainable and good for your health (this means drinking copious amounts of alcohol on a Friday night sadly does not qualify). For one person, their chosen passion may be yoga, for another it may mean playing Meatloaf songs in an amateur rock band.
It is also good to realise that when life is busy and we feel tired, we will not necessarily be champing at the bit to get to our football game or art group. It is far more important to realise the benefits during the journey, than before it begins. Indeed, many of us know only too well that we benefit from taking regular time to submerge ourselves in something we love to do. Still, it is all too easy to fall prey to procrastination and other tactics of avoidance.
In an attempt to make sure that you take action, rather than merely spend time in contemplation, consider the following procrastination beaters:
- Pre-empt obstacles. If you know that you are always running for your PJs and a bottle of wine by the time Friday evening arrives, choose a different day to take on that art class. If you come alive at night, but dread the alarm, maybe a dawn boot camp is not the best time to indulge in your love of exercise…
- Do not wait to ‘feel in the right mood’. Humans are resistant to change. Change is stressful – even when we want it to happen. Don’t be surprised if you are overcome with overwhelming fatigue just before you plan to leave for your first dance class… know that this feeling will pass as soon as you get started. Motivation and the energy of doing something you love come with task persistence, not in advance.
- If you can, find a buddy to take time out with – at least until you establish a routine. We are more likely to keep to a promise made to another (e.g. ‘I’ll pick you up at 6.00…’) than one we make to ourselves.
- If you really feel time poor, promise yourself ten minutes to walk on the beach or that you will simply complete five laps of the pool. Set yourself a small goal that you can envisage completing with relative ease. Generally speaking, we find that once we begin we will find our rhythm and keep going.
- Make sure you add your time out to your schedule – do not expect to simply fit it in. If you think you will start that novel at the weekend, or do some gardening for an hour but you do not schedule a time… it
is all too easy for the weekend to fill with other things.
• It is important to know that taking time out regularly (as in weekly) is far more beneficial than holding your breath for the next school holiday to come along. Beneficial time out needs to be taken in regular bursts, preferably for a couple of hours, at regular intervals, if it is to truly benefit our mental health.
And… if you are reading this thinking that with all the will in the world, taking two hours in a busy week is unrealistic. And in fact, if you had two hours free every week, you probably wouldn’t be feeling stressed in the first place… then you may need to take a leap of faith for a while. Give ‘time-out’ a go and see what happens. You may well find that you feel less pressured and less overloaded on a day-to-day basis simply because you are taking regular time to lower your stress.
Sometimes the best way to make more time in life, is to take some time for yourself.