Wellbeing

peaceful-wellbeing

Inspired by Martyn Reah’s post on teacher wellbeing and the #Teacher5aday movement

Wellbeing

Last year was pretty tough. Accumulation of seven years of working non-stop, not forming any meaningful relationships outside of work and an unwillingness to say ‘no’ had finally taking its toll. Added to this I was no longer looking after my body, through a healthy diet and regular exercise, I hit a low that I couldn’t deal with on my own. I needed help and support from a professional, but wasn’t willing to take the medication I was being offered. With kind and caring advice I was able to move out of the spiral I was in; focus on making new habits, not breaking bad. I withdrew from a number of positions I held within the school and implemented some changes in my life that I’m still doing and I can see the positive impact on my wellbeing. Taking time for others and myself outside of my job have helped hugely. The changes I made have worked for me, but would probably not work for others. They are also pretty standard. Exercise, sleep, eat well and make time for people you love. So perhaps vagueness of advice backed up with evidence may be a far better approach to helping keep our sanity and ensure our wellbeing. Here are two habits that I have started and will look to continue into 2015 that could work for you.

The power of writing #notice

writing

When talking through things at my lowest, I was advised to write, to help improve my state of mind. The recommendation was to keep a journal. Having never done this in my life I was confused about what to write. I hadn’t written extensively since being at university and couldn’t think of an occasion in my life I had written for myself.  The response was simple; just write what ever comes into your head. Wake up in the morning and for 15 minutes write in longhand whatever you are thinking about there and then. 3 pages of writing, no more, no less. My initial reaction was ‘oh no, not more work’ but I felt an immediate physical response after I had completed it for the first time. My usual state in the morning is one of tired anxiety, but after completing the task I felt more awake and less worried about the day ahead. I have since found later on that this writing task is called Morning Pages, and has had a significant impact in the quality of my life, as much as redressing my physical activity and diet.

There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that regular writing or journaling about how you are feeling has such a positive footprint on your wellbeing. The act of writing itself seems to be able to help with your emotional processing, it certainly has for me. Some research even seems to suggest it can have physical benefits as well.  However some research suggests that writing helps people who have suffered an emotional blow, more that someone who is suffering from ongoing or severe mental problems.

In the end the writing for me allowed me to observe my self. Re-reading what I had written in the morning, meant that with help, I could identify feelings, emotions and my body’s response to them. This allowed me to examine them and and explore why I might be feeling in a particular way. I was told this process was important, that when we could observe our strongest emotions, then we might not necessarily be defined by them. This gave me more clarity on my life, it allowed me to see a bigger world outside teaching, something that I hadn’t done for a number of years. It allowed me to see patterns of behaviour and choices I was making that were no longer working for me. Although I haven’t completely moved on from all my bad habits and emotions, I can see them more clearly now.

From doing my morning writing, I moved on to keeping a journal. I can recommend using Day One, a very easy and user friendly electronic journal. I took my first steps to sharing some of my thoughts and ideas through blogging, finding it a cathartic experience. I’m sure there are many other practical and creative benefits of writing regularly. I’m beginning to see at school how at times I am able to succinctly talk about issues that before I neither could find the words for or able to express my thoughts when I had an emotional response .

A word of warning though. Now I’ve taken to blogging to help with my mental health I can see potentially becoming a compulsive behaviour. Something that I have to do, even if it might not have a benefit for me. Extremes are not productive for me. If that becomes the case, then I need to see it early and step away for a while. Perhaps over Christmas might be a good time to stop for a while. However I plan to continue through 2015 as it has helped me to stay a little more sane.

 

Maintaining a habit of learning #learning

Reading

As a teacher of PE, I always encourage my students to put their bodies under stress. Good stress that is. Unless they overload their bodies with activity, then usually no long term physical or health benefits occur. The body doesn’t adapt unless it is regularly put under this stress. It seems this is the same for the mind. You would think that being a full time teacher would provide enough opportunities for this to occur, but I think of lot of what I have been ‘learning’ within my job has been in my comfort zone and learning overload wasn’t occurring. I was just doing more of the same and that is just increasing workload with no clear emotional or physical benefits. It was explained to me in one of my sessions that the type of ‘learning’ I should be experiencing should feel like going on a holiday to a new place. From the moment you step of the plane to the moment you return home, you are bombarded with new stimuli. Smells, sights, sounds, languages, cultures, histories and people. These can refresh you. This is an example of good stress for the mind. In 2015 I will look to give myself some good stress. I will look to continue learning photography, a hobby I have recently taken up. I will once again go back to University to study a part time Masters.  Radio 4 will be listened to on a regular basis (apart from the Archers). The biggest step is that I’ve started reading again, not for pleasure, but for learning.

This type of reading is difficult. It takes me quite a few attempts to understand concepts, constantly referring to a dictionary, and even then I’m not sure I have fully understood. Making time for reading, especially challenging books, even though they might be on education or leadership has fired my curiosity. That curiosity has given me a real shot of energy, a dopamine boost, something similar to what I would get after I had finished a HIT session.  It has also made me feel a little vulnerable, especially as its making me come to terms with how little I know. (Punctuation, spelling and grammar rules are quite clearly an area that I have begun to realise I know very little about, as I’m sure you can testify when reading this). I’m hoping my ego will survive, but I suppose that is what part of growing and learning is about. Making time for these new learning experiences has been difficult, and I do slip into my old ways, but I think it is a must.

As teachers we must try to keep our heads when all around others are losing theirs. It is difficult to do that when what we do on a day to day basis has such depth, complexity and is so emotionally and physically draining. There is such a focus on teacher wellbeing at the moment, as there rightly should be, but giving advice is difficult. We are all uniquely complex creatures that are the product of both our genes and environment. You must take the time for yourself and for others that are close to you, even if that means that perfection in your job might not occur (and something that realistically can’t be achieved). Without that time you diminish yourself and therefore in turn diminish the support and guidance you can give to your students and your colleagues. Be well.

 

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13 thoughts on “Wellbeing

  1. What an honest and open blog. For those of us who regularly follow this blog it has been great to see the end product and the ongoing thought process involved in your decision to make life changes. As someone who has written a daily diary for more that 1900 days I can see the benefit of writing. It is so much a part of my daily life that the family are used to it and so are my colleagues. It has been a great experience (and remains so) and has led to some really insightful ideas (and some really dull reflections) that have helped me moving forwards. As a regular blogger I can also see the advantage of these types of reflections and take my hat off to you for your blogging exploits. As for learning that I can understand. For me the purpose of my blog was to read and be able to talk about stuff I wouldn’t normally read. Friends thought I was a little crazy but it has paid dividends. My knowledge of the broader field is greatly enhanced and it continues to whet my appetite to learn. Mahatma Gandhi said something along the lines of live like you are going to die tomorrow, learn like you are going to live forever. Wise words and ones that I hope to live by. A week before I graduated from my PhD and guy in his late 80s graduated from his. Now that’s lifelong learning.

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    1. Thanks for you comments Ash. Writing has really helped. A lot of times I would come back to my flat and my head would be full of thoughts and emotions. I couldn’t find a way to make it stop, exercise nor sleep was having an impact, so I stop them. Writing has allowed me to organise my thoughts in a way I’ve not been able to do in the last 14 years and by doing that, it has allowed me time with a clear head to engage in other things such as my health and to have a personal life. Thank you for your continued support, advice and time. It is hugely appreciated.

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  2. Your opening paragraph sounds very familiar. I think as passionate teachers and coaches we can often find ourselves consumed by our passions and doing right by our students to the point of losing track of ourselves.
    For me it got to the point where I was teaching & coaching boys at an all boys school and only surrounded by male company. Life did get a bit repetitive. However, bumping into an American girl in a bar in Piccadilly Circus changed my life and I ended up moving out to Chicago and starting my teaching career all over again. 6 years later and it’s proving to be a world apart from the male-dominated life of rugby touchlines and cricket teas.
    That said, I can see that your blog is proving to be an inspirational outlet for others in addition to providing you with cathartic release and I thank you for your writings and rantings.
    Here’s to a successful 2015 for you and yours!

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    1. ‘The male-dominated life of rugby touchlines and cricket teas’ is a perfect description of my life for the past 7 years, if you chuck into being a boarding tutor in a state boarding school in the mix. It’s crazy how shortsighted you can become in that environment, to the point that your own needs no longer matter. It seems we have had similar paths and a similar saviour to our potential path of destructions. Thank you for taking the time to comment. Here is to a happy and healthy 2015 for both of us.

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  3. Many thanks for sharing such an open and honest post. It was a privilege to read it. I also have to say I think this is well-written, so don’t sell yourself short re: your language skills! (And I was an English teacher for 30 years!)

    Very best wishes for Christmas, and good luck in the year ahead. Keep writing, reflecting and learning….

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