In a previous Newsletter (4th September 2018) we spoke about the importance of looking after yourself while working in a stressful classroom. At that time, we discussed things that you can do to maintain healthy levels of stress on an ongoing way. Suggestions were to:
- Debrief – Discuss the incidents with a trusted other; why they happened and how to avoid a repeat of those situations that generated that stress.
- Boundaries – This is a topic that has been examined in recent postings but in general it is how to protect yourself in the stressful situation.
However, as we approach the end of the school year, this article focuses on the recovery from a long and stressful year at the chalk-face.
It is a tradition that teachers are all asked to ‘enjoy a well-earned break’ by the authorities of the day but to do so would rely on an ability to control our bodies through some cognitive instruction. Such a statement demonstrates the lack of understanding of how the brain works. It is as useful as telling a dysfunctional child to behave themselves! If it was only that easy.
At the end of any school year even the most competent teachers suffer from an annual ‘burn-out’. This happens because during any day the teacher is confronted by situations that ignite our fight/flight response. It is this reaction that prepares us for the release of hormones like adrenaline, norepinephrine and epinephrine. The energy generated by this response should be released as we actually physically fight an opponent or flight from the situation. Following that sequence, we release cortisol into our system to readjust our physical sense of wellbeing.
But, as teachers it is inappropriate to take physical action against our students and so the energy we created for survival is not used and remains in out body. Further the cortisol that naturally follows has no real work to do and so remains taking a corrosive toll on our body.
During the year, with the overwhelming schedule that demands a teacher’s time there is little opportunity for ongoing maintenance for each episode and so there is a cumulative cost on teachers’ physical wellbeing.
When we come to the ‘big-break’ teachers are tired, worn out and even though there is a demonstrated link between stress and illness. Paradoxically, when the teacher goes on leave and the situations that constantly generate that stress somehow that ‘readiness to protect’ is removed and it is common for teachers to suffer some physical disintegration. How often do you hear of colleagues getting the flu at the beginning of any holiday?
So, to take advantage of the annual opportunity to recover the first consideration is on our physical wellbeing.
It is well understood that exercise uses those stress hormones and importantly releases the endorphins that promote a feeling of mental health. Exercise uses our energy budget and then promotes healthy sleep patterns that also support our physical wellbeing.
Just how much exercise depends on your own physical shape. It would be pointless for someone in their twilight years to take off on a marathon run. For some a brisk walk is an appropriate holiday start to recovery.
If you take these walks outdoors you will restore your connection with nature. This is called ‘earthing’ or ‘grounding’ that calms the nervous system and reduces inflammations and increases our blood circulation. This ‘earthing’ is also associated with working in the garden.
Finally, think about undertaking some relaxation activities. These can be formal joining some meditation classes or yoga or it could be a restful hobby like painting or knitting.
Just make sure the exercise is pleasurable – resist any thought of building another challenge. This is about recovery not kicking off another ‘task’!
Feed your Recovery
There is plenty of information about the use of food and supplements to reduce your stress. If you look at any of these resources they will include the obvious warnings about fatty foods, too much alcohol or caffeine. This will be a bit of a challenge around the celebrations of Christmas especially on ‘the day’ but use common sense.
What will be helpful is to take time to prepare your ‘special’ meal with someone you enjoy sharing wonderful moments with. Take the time to find that particular recipe, source the ingredients and delight in being the ‘Master Chef’ in your kitchen.
Share Your Love
Take the time to reconnect with family and friends. Shelley Taylor of UCLA coined the phrase ‘tend and befriend’, the reverse of ‘fight or flight’. Instead of generating the defensive stress response; ‘tend or befriend’ releases oxytocin that enhances our wellbeing.
This is reported to be stronger for woman than men but I would encourage all men to give this a go. Taylor cites the benefit of cuddling, hugging kissing and loving intimacy as a great way to rebuild your body.
Not only share the intimacy, share activities like going to concerts or sporting events. Share laughter and those moments that are so rare in your working life.
Finally, take control of your smart phone. For most of my career I did not have any way to contact the ‘Department’ when I was on holidays and I got through. If something is so important you will be contacted so take control of your digital life. The friends on Face Book will not ‘tend or befriend’ you so get some human contact!
This is the last Newsletter for 2018 so we would like to thank you for your support and also thank you for all the work you do for those children who need you. Have a great break and we will be back next year!