Thursday, April 7, 2022

Look after yourself first


When you travel by plane, in the announcements where it tells you what will happen if oxygen levels fall, you are always told to put on your own mask first, before assisting others.  In the same way, you might have heard the expression "you can't drink from an empty cup".  Basically, the meaning behind this is that when you take care of your body, you are better able to deal with your emotions - and those of others.

In Chapter 6 of Onward, Elena Aguilar shows us how our bodies and minds are intertwined - our physical state creates our emotional state, and our emotions are affected by our physical health.  If our bodies are strong, rested and nourished, then it will be easier to look after our emotions. 

The "danger time" for new teachers is October/November, when the high feelings of the new school year have faded and it seems like a long time until our next break.  This is the time that teachers start to question their commitment to the profession as well as their competence (as their hard work has not yet started to show results).  It's precisely this time of year that we need to spend time and energy on ourselves - to support each other, take walks, eat well and sleep.  Focusing on our self-care can prevent illness and enable us to continue to be effective in supporting students.  And yet as teachers we seem almost conditioned to put our own needs last.  The outcome of this is a lack of growth for us as teachers.  In contrast school leaders often find April/May to be the most challenging months as they are finishing off one school year and preparing for the next.

Things we need to take care of:

Sleep - A few years ago I read the book Why We Sleep.  I've recommended it to others as it's a great book for explaining how sleep is absolutely vital for our overall health.  If we are sleep deprived, our mental and emotional stability is eroded, because sleep allows our brain to process information, convert short term memories into long term ones, and it allows our bodies to rest and recuperate.  If you sleep more your resilience will be boosted.

Nutrition - In addition, sleep also helps regulate our hunger hormones.  We need to think about what we eat because this also affects our health and mood.

Exercise - brings more blood to the brain, providing energy. It's interesting to read that our brains developed during a time when our ancestors walked about 12 miles a day - our cognitive skills developed in conditions of movement!  Exercise is good for your heart and lungs, improves long-term memory, reasoning, attention and problem solving.  The risk of Alzheimer's, heart disease and cancer is lower in those who exercise - and at the same time exercise regulates the neurotransmitters that govern our mental health so it's good for depression.

You also need emotional and physical intimacy to promote wellbeing.  Being in nature makes us feel good as it improves mood, sleep and the ability to focus.  Sunlight provides us with vitamin D - many of us are deficient in this especially in winter.  When you are in the sun, your body releases serotonin, which elevates your mood and energy.  As you can see - everything is connected!

Another thing we need to learn to do is to say no.  Remember saying no is giving you the time and space to say yes to something else (for example prioritising your own needs).  Most of us say yes to things we don't like and don't want to do because we want people to like us, think we are good, smart, skilled and capable.  Also (and I'm guilty of this much too often) we fear that if we say no to something that people won't ask us again.  This leads me to totally overcommit and take on huge workloads.  It's interesting to read that at the heart of this issue is the sense of self-worth.  Like so many women, I struggle with the Imposter Syndrome no matter how successful I am.

This chapter is a great reminder that if we want to be resilient we must place more value on ourselves:  our minds, heart, body and spirit.  Resilient people set boundaries and take responsibilities for our choices, actions and mistakes.  And even more important - we forgive ourselves for our mistakes.

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