Editor’s note: This is an updated version of a blog post published on August 7, 2019
Stress is a part of life, and as adults, we know that there’s no getting away from it. The daily strain of responsibility weighs on the shoulders of every person who works in a school. Some loads are heavier than others, but they all add pressure during school time.
The relief of a long summer holiday is what keeps many school staff going through the year.
Most of us know all about this before we even enter the profession. We’ve heard the horror stories. Over the years, the stress that comes from curriculum changes and increasing expectations has put our health and well-being at risk.
But there is a way to deal with the pressure and keep your sanity. There are ways to develop mindfulness habits to cope with everyday teaching stress.
Making mindfulness a habit this summer
When forming a new habit, you should:
- Set a reminder: the trigger that initiates the behaviour. Set an alarm on your phone that goes off daily to remind you that it is time to practice a mindfulness strategy.
- Make a routine: when the alarm goes off stop whatever you are doing and practice the strategy.
- Reward: when you’re finished, smile and give yourself a mental pat on the back. Recognise how you are feeling in those first moments following the meditation.
Mindful strategies to practice
Here are five ways teachers can develop mindfulness habits:
1. Practice S.T.O.P.
Developing mindfulness has a lot to do with shifting perspectives. We have some deeply laid neural pathways that allow us to fall into a habit of reactions. We don’t even realise we are reacting; we just do it. These are deeply ingrained responses — many of which are negative or destructive to our health and well-being.
When we’re working with children, we can easily get caught up in their emotions, upset, anxiety, and frustrations. A vicious cycle can put you on edge and creates reactions devoid of all mindfulness.
You need to focus on changing that perspective and challenging your response. STOP is a ten-second easy strategy that allows you to take back control over your emotional response.
Just remember the acronym for STOP.
Stop what you are doing.
Take a deep breath. Breathe in for a count of 5, hold for a count of one and exhale for a count of 8.
Observe what is happening around you at this moment.
Proceed with what you were doing.
2. Make gratitude a habit
In the hustle and bustle of the school year, we can sometimes forget to bask in the success. We tend to think about what else we need to do rather than celebrate what we have done.
This summer, do these two things:
- Take some time to write out all the wonderful things you can think have happened this last year.
- Now, start to make it a habit! Each day write one thing that has happened during the day that has made you grateful. Write it on an ongoing list, on a calendar, on a scrap of paper saved in a jar. It doesn’t matter how you do it. Each day, take time to remember that good things are happening in your life, even if they may be very small.
3. Bask in mindful daydreaming
Daydreaming is the state of consciousness that happens when our brain triggers a thought process that is not anchored in the immediate surroundings. It is usually pleasurable and takes us to a place that allows us to relax and be happy. On average, a daydream lasts only 14 seconds!
Many of us are told that daydreaming is a waste of time. But, it’s a way teachers can develop mindfulness habits. It falls into the category of natural mindful reflexes. We can make mindful daydreaming a part of our mindfulness practice by making the daydreams the object of the mindful focus.
When we are mindful of our daydreams, we can:
- Receive feedback on our own conscious or unconscious well-being.
- Manipulate our thoughts and engage with our emotions without physical risk.
- Take a mini-holiday allowing us to explore places that bring us peace, and relaxation. This may be a particular landscape, activity or alternative reality.
If we mindfully daydream we are bringing focus, formality, and purpose. Treat these daydreams as a meditation.
- Find a quiet place and sit or lie in a comfortable position where you will not be disturbed.
- Set a timer to give a time limit or you can use this as a bedtime meditation to fall into a peaceful sleep.
- Allow your mind to roam without any specific purpose.
- As the thoughts come through, pay attention to them but do not judge. Just note them and allow them to flow.
4. Learn something new
Studies suggest that adult learning has a positive impact on self-esteem and self-efficacy. This happens when the learning provided meets the needs of the learner.
If we learn something not because we have to learn it, but because we want to learn it, the positive benefits support our well-being. What will you learn to do this holiday? Knitting, crocheting, making tissue flowers, baking?
5. Perform a RAK
Pledge to do one random act of kindness (RAK) each day. It doesn’t need to be big. Let a car go ahead of you in a traffic jam. Pay for the person behind you at the coffee shop. Give a lonely looking person a sincere smile. Or leave little positive notes in high traffic areas.
There are no right or wrongs in RAK. It’s about leaving behind a little something that gives someone else a moment of happiness.
Use this summer to recharge and show yourself a bit of loving-kindness. Look after yourself, your mental health, and your well-being. Give yourself time to develop mindfulness habits that can support you through the school year.
Remember, mindfulness is not about getting rid of stress. It is about giving you the tools to deal with stress. This summer holiday, make mindfulness a habit!