Well being. It’s vital no matter what career path, or life choices you make, time out is vital if our bodies and minds are going to be at their best. At the moment we’re in the middle of our long Summer Holiday and hopefully, we’re taking time to refuel and relax. However, knowing myself and my colleagues, there will be some of us who are already busy making plans for next academic year already!
It’s important to make sure that you do take time for yourself. For all us, whether in our first year out or our 30th, learning to get the balance between work, family and self is a vital skill. If we don’t get it right, we burnout. We’ve all seen the posts from teachers telling us that they’ve had enough, that their job is all consuming and they can’t take it anymore. There’s a lot of pressure to work every hour god sends and sometimes we simply get too caught up and forget how important it to prioritise “self-care”. Especially once we’re back in the classroom. Personally, I’ve taken a long time to learn the lessons around time out and wellbeing but I have learnt a few things that have helped me to figured it out.
If you want to avoid burnout, enjoy your work, get the balance right and find time for you then have a read of these 5 tips – all gleaned from my own experiences.
1. Define what you call “Self-Care”
It’s hard to take time for yourself, it’s even harder if you have no idea what that looks like! One of the most important things I learnt last year was to define what self-care looked like. It’s different for everyone and this is going to be personal to you. I know that I can spend a lot of time being distracted by things that might appear to be relaxing but really are not. For example, I definitely don’t count the time I mooch about on Facebook as self-care. When I sat down and really thought about what helps me to switch off and zone out I came up with this mind map of the things that help me to switch off. This is stuck to the door of my fridge as a consistent visual reminder that I should be doing something of this page regularly.
What activities do you count as self care? How much time do you set aside for Self-care?
2. 24 little hours
No matter how much we try, there are still only ever 24 hours in a day. Ever found yourself in a vicious cycle in which you get so tired that you can’t function properly? Got so stressed and anxious about everything that seems to be piling up that it feels like it’s never going to end and you inevitably end up in a mess? Maybe you forgot to take a slice of those 24 hours to prioritise your own need to switch off?
Recently, I learned of a little exercise that helped me to understand how to prioritise my time and make some space for “me”. We’re going to stop and think about what we do with those 24 hours. You’ll need a piece of paper… got one? Ok… here we go.
Take that sheet of paper and fold it longways
Now imagine that paper represents 24hrs of your day and follow these steps.
- We all have to sleep to function. So, rip of a section from your paper that represents the time you are asleep
- We all have to work to make money to keep that roof over our head so we can sleep. If, like me you do a bit of work and a bit of stay at home mumming you might want to just represent work here. Anyway… rip off a section that honestly represents the time you work… Not the time you’re paid to work, or your official office hours, but the time you actually work.
- Now… if you’re a parent and you haven’t counted it in the work section, rip off a bit of parenting time.
- Studying? That takes time too… so rip off the time you spend studying a day
- Chores…. making food, cleaning, gardening, making the bed etc… Yep… rip off a section for that too.
How much paper have you got left? Any at all? Some? Lots? You see, we can’t compromise on any of the things we have just ripped away from our day and what’s left in your hand? Well that’s what represents the time you have left for you. For your self-care.
When I did this exercise, I was left with a tiny strip of paper. I looked at the big pile on the arm of the chair that I had just created and I realised how precious and important that tiny piece of paper was to me. I have been guilty of seeing any ‘spare’ moment, no matter how brief, to tick off something from an imaginary, never ending, list. In doing so, I rob myself of that tiny, precious opportunity to recharge and reset.
It is definitely, NOT OK for us to allow our brains to use the precious time to be sabotaged by house work, marking, or to do anything other than take time out. The more we allow this time to be taken away and used for other things, the more tired we’ll become and the harder it gets to stop and consider what you need to be effective and well balanced.
As a teacher, it’s incredibly easy to be guilty of allowing our work to hi-jack these moments. There’s a lot of pressure to do everything, right now (or yesterday) and a lot of pressure to take it all home and carry on there too. I got better at NOT doing that by setting boundaries. Recognise your time, and make sure there is time for YOU every day – even if it’s 20 minutes. There needs to be some space in your life to enjoy something on the list you made in in our first suggestion!
3. Lead Wellbeing at Your Site
I’ve seen some fantastic examples of leadership teams working hard to help their staff keep balance in their lives. One leader I have had the pleasure of working with in the UK, has even set up a staff wellbeing programme at her site. Nothing on the timetable she has created is compulsory but when she’s busy scheduling the training and staff meetings for the year, she has a separate plan for social events, staff only theatre trips, weekend pub lunches, volunteering opportunities and after school time out. Last year, the school’s plan included items like, “Wine Tasting Competition”. “Car Maintenance for Winter”, “Relaxation – How to stay Calm”, “Soothing Hands Massage” (This was before student teacher interviews) and more.
Personally, I think that a schedule like this is an amazing testament to a school who understands the needs of its staff. Having a timetable with opportunities like the ones listed above sends a clear message about leaderships’ desire for all staff to take time out. To make sure they look after themselves and, perhaps, even goes some way to reassuring us not to feel guilty if we put the unmarked papers to one side for just one more day.
Putting together something like this isn’t all that hard and would make a great Lead initiative for your own career progression
4. Tools to Chill Out
There are lots of amazing websites and apps that can help to keep focus and feel chilled out. Check these three ideas out:
- Calm.com – I use this a lot in my teaching. I like to have i playing at the start of my sessions. Sometimes, the students request that we keep it on all session! Check it out
- Buddhify – This was introduced to me at a Teach Meet I attended last year. It’s wonderful. Download the app to your device and then, as the stress levels start to rise, you can tell it how you’re feeling and it will respond by taking you through a short meditation.
- @tinycarebot – A fabulous little twitter account
5. Let the Neuroscientists choose your playlist.
Music really does soothe the soul. This blog post by Inc.com, talks about some recently research into the science of sound therapy. Their playlist is amazing. The first song “weightless” has been known to take me from super stressed to fast asleep in under a minute! Check it out.
Do you have any suggestions for avoiding burn out and staying cool, calm and confident? What tips can you share? What works for you?